By Leivon Jimmy
IMPHAL, November 24: The spirit of sportsmanship in Manipuris, and their passion and love for sports, need no further introduction. Literally, sport is a religion in this part of the north-eastern region.
Renowned for its performers and athletes, Manipur introduced sports like Polo and Thangta, to the world.
Its warrior culture has produced five forms of martial arts, however Manipur also excel in modern sports and athletics. A dozen Olympian athletes, the starts of almost every major soccer team in India, Olympic bronze medalist, MC Mary Kom, and India’s top swimmer (who trained without a swimming pool) are some of the outstanding athletes who hail from this small hilly state.
Living up to its reputation, yet again Manipur has recently held the attention and interest of the world, especially the United State of America learning that a handful of sport loving men and women are ‘keeping alive and kicking’ America’s favourite pass time, a volunteer non-profit called First Pitch, made up of American baseball lovers are nurturing the baseball culture of this Northeastern state.
Baseball was first introduced (Baseball) in India in the year 1984, under the aegis of Baseball Federation of India (BFI). Subsequently, Manipur warmly accepted the game and affiliated with the BFI in the year 1985.
And, as the living proof of their agility and enthusiasm, Manipuri boys in their maiden venture, participated as under-dogs in the first senior National (Indian) Baseball Championship, in 1985 at Delhi under the aegis of All Manipur Sports Association (AMSA).
Despite the little technical know-how about Baseball, the Manipur team somehow made a significant impression on the crowd. Gradually, Baseball found its niche among some sport enthusiasts of the state.
While the popularity of Baseball remained impervious to the sports craze mass, the Baseball players of the state have excelled its compatriots.
In almost three decades of its promotional venture of baseball, Manipur team has considerably made its presence felt in National and International arena. Apart from winning several National Championship and Federation, it had participated in Asian and other similar Championship showing the world the potential of its sportsmanship and what it takes to make baseball a professional sport.
Remarkably it is the Women baseball team that has been doing exceptionally well, against all odds. With seven National Championship and Federation titles and other significant titles under its belt the Women Baseball team has outshone its male compatriot by a mile. Of the seven major titles three federation titles, three national and Zonal title.
Although the male baseball team failed to earn major titles of late, some of the players had made significant appearances at the Japan, Netherland and Korea, representing India.
Coupled with lack of dedicated support in all aspects, and AMSA the apex body major sports, no longer able to sponsor the baseball team the spell of baseball declined sharply in the mid 90s. Baseball pioneers of the state assumed the opinion that this was a major setback that became a deterrent effect in convincing the masses.
In 1997, the fate of baseball took a significant turn with the establishment of Manipur Amateur Baseball Association (MABA). The objectives of MABA, an independent body was to establish baseball as professional sport, to produce more players and to lead the talented players upto international stages.
“With right technical supports, fundings and training Baseball can finally see the light of the day it has been carving for”, said, T Brajabidhu Sing, former coach and President of All Manipur Baseball Association.
Brajabidhu also believed that with the right kind of support from various angles especially widespread awareness about the game there will be a lot of takers.
The relentless efforts of MABA apparently starting pay off with prominent baseball organisation like Major League Baseball (MBL) showing its keen interest to provide necessary support.
Under the aegis of MBL, in 2006, the first ever US Manipur Baseball Project was launched in the state by the First Pitch, New York-Imphal extending its generous help to MABA in shaping new approaches and attitudes for development of the game.
Over the years of the introduction of the project several camps have been organised in for baseball players of all ages in the state under the MBL International Envoy coaches like M/S Jeff Brueggemann and David Palese.
“If we are given proper training, equipment and infrastructure, Manipur has every potential to compete in major international competition”, opined I Laxmi, a pitcher.
Laxmi also participated in Asian level championship and known for its tremendous power of her throw.
“With powerful country like America extending its generous supports, it is would be wise for the Government to start encouraging and promoting the game like it has been doing for other major sports”, Laxmi added.
Very recently a group of documentary film titled “The Only Real Game” by Mirra Banks overwhelmed the viewers in America. It is a documentary on women baseball players in the tiny state of Manipur, and their relentless enthusiasm for the sports, despite a thousand hurdles. The film has also bagged the best documentary titles at the New York Indian Film Festival. 2013.
Many are now envisioning baseball as the next potential sport that could probably put Manipur at the roadmap of the international sports. More importantly, the sports provide a sense of hope and joy to a people living under the shadow.