If it weren’t for the film Million Dollar Arm, most of us may not have known of India’s connect to the American sport. Baseball in India is quite unheard of, thus with the objective to bring “Baseball to the billion”, social entrepreneur Gurmat Raunaq Sahni co-founded Grand Slam Baseball. Trained under Blake Doyle, the current hitting coach for Colorado, Raunaq played baseball locally and internationally for more than 15 years. We caught up with Raunaq to share his story on opening India’s first professional baseball stadium Field of Dreams:
How did you get into baseball?
My neighbour and best friend was an American. His family introduced me to the game when I was 8 years old. I was good at cricket but I wanted to try something different. I was fascinated by the bat and ball dynamic. Baseball seemed like a more fast-paced version of the bat and ball game. I ended up playing baseball at the US Embassy for over 15 years and went on to train under the Colorado Rockies hitting coach, Blake Doyle.
Baseball isn’t too famous in India, what made you go after this?
Being one of the first private school kids to play Baseball in Delhi, I realized how the sport contributed to the development of my character. I learnt from the multicultural setting at the league where we played with players from over 15 nationalities. The league sponsored over 80 players from low income backgrounds. The beauty of sports was evident in how baseball brought so many people together irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds and a diversity of cultures. On that field we represented only our team and the values that came with it.
After completing my Masters in Social Entrepreneurship, I realized that I was interested in helping underdogs succeed. Baseball was an underdog sport in India and I wanted to use the sport to address the socio-economic disparity in the city. Our mission is for baseball to be known as the most diverse and inclusive sport in India. With over 15 nationalities and 200 government school players participating in our league currently, I believe that we have moved one step closer to our mission.
How open are Indian schools to the idea of including baseball as a sporting option?
With a few major schools already offering baseball programs, the demand is definitely picking up. Due to limited capacity we are most interested in partnering with schools where parents and faculty are supportive of sports programs. The youth sporting culture that we want to introduce to schools can only be developed in schools which recognize the importance of sports in their students’ character development. Our goal is not to get a lot of schools but to get schools which are progressive and have transparent procedures.
Fill us in on Grand Slam Baseball
The birth of Grand Slam Baseball was the result of a childhood friendship and a dream to bring baseball to a billion Indians. Raunaq, a five year-old local, would hop his home’s perimeter wall to play baseball with his new neighbour, Jackson, an American expat who lived in India for almost 16 years. Playing together daily at home, in the New Delhi Little League and summers at the Doyle Academy in the Detroit Tigers Spring Training Facility, Florida, baseball was the lens through which we experienced a unique cultural upbringing.
We at GSB noticed that the physical, mental and cultural links between cricket and baseball are undeniable. We also saw that sporting culture at the youth level had not developed to its full potential in India. We are focussed on grassroots development of baseball talent in India through world class training for our players and coaches. “The complete baseball experience” promised by our programs, has been integral to our early success. Through live commentary, team branding and live stats tracking – never present before in Indian youth sports – we have built a professional sporting environment that kids were craving for.
Explain the idea behind Field of Dreams – India’s first professional baseball stadium
India already has more than 80,000 baseball and softball players, but they lacked access to equipment, facilities and proper training. The quality of our youth programs and successful partnering with Play Global and Major League Baseball has convinced the international baseball community that India can become the next hotbed for Baseball and Softball talent. We are using this opportunity to create a national umbrella organisation that can manage the needs of all state level associations and independent bodies and set much needed standards for baseball/softball programs throughout the country.
We have built India’s first regulation size baseball field, “The Field of Dreams”, in the heart of New Delhi to accommodate growing interest in the sport and to generate exposure outside the US Embassy, where strict security protocols limit access only to NDLL players and families. This field will act as the national hub for baseball and softball by hosting national and international tournaments, nationwide coach accreditation programs and major corporate and cultural events. Having an easily accessible field in the heart of the capital allows us to build a critical mass of players and supporters by marketing our programs and events to the affluent trend setters and early adopters in the city.
How can one sign up?
The registrations for the summer academy will be open to everyone starting March 15th and you can visit our website for updates about upcoming registrations.
How do you plan to generate revenue to sustain this?
When not hosting major events, the field will create new sources of revenue through a private training academy, individual lessons, tournaments and league fees, equipment and merchandise sales, international travel events, F&B, retail partners and much more. Delhi, like many Indian cities, is nearly devoid of outdoor leisure spaces- particularly ones safe enough for children and expats. Our leagues and corporate events have been an ideal way to bring expats and local business leaders together to network, socialize and reinforce the value of sport in society.
If you could sum up the motivation and objective for Field of Dreams, what would it be?
All the glamor and sparkle aside, the goal of Field of Dreams is to set the standards for youth sports in India. We have made heavy investments in and are committed to the grassroots development of talent. By partnering up with organisations like Major League Baseball and Play Global, we are trying to create a group of world class coaches and players.