Recently work took me to Kochi and like every diligent working professional, I decided to wrap up work early one day and head out to explore the city. As I moved from MG Road towards Fort Kochi, the busy hurried working professional in me took a backseat and the traveler in me came to the forefront.
When I visit a new city I don’t like being a tourist. I like being a traveler. The idea of ticking off a list from Lonely Planet puts me off. I prefer wandering in the streets and letting stories and places find me, rather than the other way round. In Kochi something similar happened.
As I walked past the St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi I saw a rather interesting sight. Right in front of me in the Parade ground a group of girls were playing softball! I find the sight of people playing a sport very inviting. I am always tempted to go join them. Usually it is a group of men and so I restrain myself. But watching a group of girls play, I decided to give in to my temptation.
Even though I do not speak Malyalam and the girls did not speak English, we ended up deep in conversation for 20 minutes. We were speaking the universal language of sports. While throwing, pitching, catching and batting, we got to know a little bit about each other.
These girls were not just playing the sport for recreational or fitness purposes, but, to my surprise, they play softball competitively. The girls I had spotted are part of the Ernakulam team and were being coached by Shakul Hameed. Some of the team’s members had recently competed in the softball nationals and were currently preparing for an India team try out.
Hameed gave me a rundown of the history of softball in India. In the 1970s Rajasthan become the first Indian state to start playing softball and by 1981 Kerala was introduced to the sport. Currently about 28-30 teams compete in the softball nationals.
The state of Kerala has 14 Softball teams, one of which is the Ernakulam team. The Ernakulam team was formed in 2000 and had quite the fairytale beginning. From 2002 to 2012 it was the state champion in all age categories (sub junior, junior and senior). Part of the reason could be Hameed himself, a dedicated coach who invests his personal funds for the betterment of his team.
The investment that the sport demands is also quite significant – a bat costs Rs 1200 while a ball and glove around Rs 800. While the government does support the state team, it does not provide any assistance to the district teams. More than immediate financial aid, Hameed would prefer if the government supported these girls with jobs and college scholarships. Only one softball player from Kerala has managed to get a government job through sports quota.
Om that Thursday afternoon, jobs and funding was not on their minds. The only thing that was on their mind was hitting the ball harder, pitching faster and catching better. They had a task at hand and I did not want them to be distracted. Wishing them luck and promising them that I would tell their story to the world we parted ways.
So next time you spot a group of girls playing this American sport in India, don’t be surprised. They are just a part of the growing breed of softball players in India.
P.s: Another coach who trains his wards at the Parade Ground, Rufus, thought I had a great batting swing. He was very pleased with my follow through. He insisted I start training for the sport seriously. Spending my weekday afternoons playing softball near the backwaters sounds very tempting.
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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2014 17:11:58 IST