It wouldnt be an understatement to term Baseball a fringe sport-both in terms of fan following and people playing it- in this part of the world. Unlike Cricket and Football, Baseball is confined to certain sections and doesnt find a permanent fixture in the sports calendar of schools across the valley.
The attraction to the sport has largely been due to TV coverage of USAs Major League Baseball-the most followed tournament of the sport. In Kashmir, Baseball is slowly and steadily finding its feet despite the fact there is no exclusive ground for the sport.
Last five years or so have not only seen emergence of players, a couple of clubs have come to the fore giving the aspiring players an opportunity to fine-tune their skills and exhibit their passion. Jammu and Kashmir has started to field its team in various inter-state competitions regularly.
Rouf Ahmad Sofi is one of those players who have been in thick of this surge. At the minute, Sofi is the face of the sport in the state.
Sofis maiden brush with the sport was something interesting. He was just another amateur Baseball player till his teens. He didnt play the sport professionally. He would mostly watch it on the tele before he met a local coach who turned his fortunes big time. From someone who didnt know much about the game to a player who is on brink of making an India debut, Sofi has had a dream run as a Baseball player.
It was in 2010, seasoned coach Fida Hussain Fidvi saw Sofi playing the sport and it didnt take him long to earmark him as one for the future. Fidvi wasted no time in taking Sofi under his tutelage. He infused passion into Sofis endeavours. Sofi didnt disappoint, putting in the hard yards to complement his natural talent.
I wasnt that much interested in Baseball till I met Fidvi Sir. He has helped me a great deal in improving my game and guided me all along. I wouldnt have reached the place I have had there been no intervention from Fidvi Sir, Sofi, 26, told Kashmir Observer.
Sofi plays as a batter having excelled at a big level consistently. Fidvi made sure Sofis talent wasnt wasted, sending him to Dehradun where he had a 45-day stint with Uttrakhand Club. This is there he learnt nuances of the game and shaped up as a better player.
I went to Dehradun and got to learn lot of things there. The stint with Uttrakhand Club did my confidence a world of good, said Sofi.
Sofi has played six nationals for the state and is currently leading the side. J&K Baseball Association and Sports Council, Sofi said, have been all help over the years.
On back of his brilliant show in the Nationals last year, Sofi has been picked for Indian side that is set to take part in International Rober 58 Cup in Netherlands. Before leaving for Netherlands next month, Sofi and his teammates will have to attend a training camp in Chandigarh.
I have been performing well in the nationals over the years. Last year, I wasnt picked despite called for the trials. But this year I had a decent run in Karnataka and was part of 45-member team that underwent trials. I was one of 16 players picked for India. It is such a great feeling to be selected for Indian team, said Sofi.
For Sofi, there is no major difference when it comes to talent seen in the J&K players and those plying their trade outside the state.
Players are same, but lack of exposure hurts our progress. We lack in infrastructure big time and dearth of upto date equipment doesnt help either. The popularity of Baseball is on the rise and government and stakeholders need to make sure they provide players with the best of facilities. Hopefully we will have full fledged ground in coming years, said Sofi.
As of now, baseball is a work in progress in Kashmir, but if players like Sofi sustain the passion and love for the sport, it wouldnt be a surprise to see the game making its presence felt in this part of the world.
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