Meet the Iraqi National Baseball Team | NBC New York

Meet the Iraqi National Baseball Team

Sport grows in an unusual place

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    The Bambino of Baghdad makes another play.

    The decision to invade Iraq may not have led to the discovery of weapons of mass destruction, and it may not create a lasting, stable democracy in a region short on them. That doesn't mean that it won't have any positive results, even if they are on a much smaller scale.

    Iraq may become the next hotbed of baseball talent providing players to the big leagues, although it's probably not worth scouring the wires for news of the first signing just yet. The national team is brand new, and they're working to overcome obstacles that go beyond those faced by most developing baseball nations. They've only got one bat, three balls and no uniforms (save one cap) which are made harder to deal with thanks to threats from countrymen who aren't happy to see them playing an "occupation game."

    Bashar, 28, is the only non-student on the team. The physical education teacher is captain and asked that his last name not be used because he still fears Sunni retaliation. "Shiite people don't have a problem with playing any kind of game, whether it's American or not," he says.

    They're clearly enthusiastic about the sport, though, and say a lack of money is a much bigger obstacle than any opposition to baseball's origins. In fact, a previous effort at a national team fell apart because there wasn't enough financial support for the team. The current group is trying to find money to travel to a tournament in Afghanistan, of all places, in September, but aren't having much luck shaking loose dinars from the Iraqi Olympic Committee. 

    The mention of Iraqi players in the big leagues was somewhat tongue in cheek, but how far-fetched would the thought of Hideki Matsui or Daisuke Matsuzaka have been in 1945 Tokyo? Baseball was popular in Japan before the war, but the American occupation encouraged the sport and provided equipment for players.

    It doesn't seem like that's part of the mission in Iraq, and it probably shouldn't be, but what about some private donations? Encouraging baseball anywhere is a good thing, and winning a few hearts and minds after years of alienating them makes it all the better.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.