Ugandan team may make history

Updated: July 16, 2012, 4:33 PM ET
By Steve Wulf | ESPN The Magazine

For the first time in the 66-year history of the Little League World Series, Africa may be coming to Williamsport.

Lugazi, Uganda defeated Kuwait City, Kuwait 5-2 on Monday in the Middle East and Africa Region championship game in Kutno, Poland, giving the Ugandans the opportunity to be the first Africans in the World Series, which begins Aug. 16.

Another team representing Kampala, Uganda had won the same region last year, but too many of the players were denied visas by the U.S. State Department because of incomplete and faulty documents. To avoid a repeat of that scenario, officials from Little League International have been working with representatives from both the State Department and Uganda baseball.

"As a result," says Little League International senior vice president Patrick W. Wilson, "we are now cautiously optimistic that the Uganda team will be joining us next month."

Uganda didn't have its first chartered Little League until 2005, but the sport has had a presence in the country for some time thanks to Christian missionaries and members of the Japanese peace corps. In fact, one of its early pioneers, Henry "Bouncer" Odong, is the coach of the team from Lugazi, a sugar town 30 miles east of Kampala.

The road to Williamsport wasn't easy: Uganda lost 2-1 to the team from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. But Kuwait beat Saudi Arabia 12-10, and that left three teams with identical 3-1 records after the five-team pool play. On the basis of Little League's tie-breaking rules, Kuwait and Uganda were the beneficiaries.

If the Uganda players are cleared by the State Department, Lugazi will meet a team from Aguadulce, Panama on Aug. 17 in South Williamsport. Back in January, the players had a chance to meet with Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who conducted a clinic in Lugazi as part of a goodwill tour sponsored by Right To Play. When told that Uganda is on its way to Pennsylvania, Rollins texted: "Awesome! I'll be there if the schedule allows. Fingers crossed."

The Phillies have a long homestand starting on Aug. 20.

Steve Wulf

ESPN The Magazine senior writer