Inspirational Ugandan catcher Dennis Kasumba will play in MLB Draft League
Ugandan orphan and social media sensation Dennis Kasumba has been granted a visa to travel to the US after MLB and State Department intervene.
If you are a baseball fan and have even a cursory interest in social media, you will have no doubt seen Dennis Kasumba. The 18-year-old Ugandan orphan has a passion for baseball and trains with whatever is at hand: bricks, rocks, car tires, you name it.
Videos of the catcher doing his gruelling workout even in torrential downpours have made him a cause célèbre online, garnering public support from baseball podcaster Ben Verlander, brother of ace Mets pitcher Justin Verlander and social media star in his own right.
The exposure generated led to Kasumba being invited to play with the Frederick Keys in the MLB Draft League this summer. The team is managed by 17-year MLB veteran catcher René Rivera.
Earlier this month, Kasumba’s followers were stunned, however, to find out that the US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda had denied him a visa to travel to the United States.
It seems that the fact that he is an orphan was the key stumbling block. With no family ties in Uganda, the Embassy felt that there was no assurance that he would return there when the visa expired.
The outcry online and in the press seems to have caught the attention of several people at the highest level of the Ugandan government, as well as MLB itself and several NGOs working in the country. The Ugandan officials reportedly intervened in the strongest terms on Kasumba’s behalf and after a series of meetings with staff in the US State Department, the Embassy has reconsidered his application and have now granted Kasumba a visa to travel to the United States.
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world, largely due to decades of conflict and a weakened infrastructure. In this country where finding food is difficult enough, the odds of playing professional baseball seem impossibly steep. Only around 2500 people in the country even play the game.
But perhaps that very poverty is an impulse to give baseball everything you have. If you have nothing to lose, anything that you gain is a success. In America, if you don’t make it to the Show, you are seen as a failure. Even many who have made it into the big leagues are seen as a failure for not living up to some perceived potential. But when your goal is to eat, then just playing baseball for enough to survive on can be a life well lived.
It would seem as if MLB is taking an interest in Uganda, signing their first players from the country, when the Dodgers signed 21-year-old relief pitcher Ben Serunkuma, and 21-year-old outfielder Umar Male, and the Pirates picked up 17-year-old pitcher David Matoma.
Paul Wafula had played in Japan and the Ugandan national team, and he spotted Kasumba four years ago when the orphan was working in a butcher’s shop trying to earn enough to eat. Wafula promised to feed him if he came to baseball practice instead.
The determination shown by the young man was, and remains inspiring, not only in Uganda, but thanks to social media all around the world. And now, thanks to his visa, Dennis Kasumba will continue to inspire in person, right here in the USA.