A couple of years ago, I wrote about a tenuous start to organized baseball in Brazil's favelas and the inclusion of a Brazilian baseball team in the Pan-American games as two signs of hope in the spread of the sport.
Well, there's another "ray" of hope that baseball may be spreading, slowly but surely:
The Tampa Bay Rays are breaking new ground by sponsoring an academy in Brazil, according to The Associated Press.
The Rays are investing $6.5 million over the next five years to promote the game in the South American country with over 190 million people and will offer free after-school training to up to 4,000 young people. [...] The Rays [...] will operate the Brazilian academy in Marilia, a city in the state of Sao Paulo. Mario Bulgareli, the mayor of Marilia, told the AP that the city will provide transportation to and from the school and the Rays will provide the equipment and administration.
From the strict standpoint of a baseball lover, this is awesome news. I think the biggest obstacle to the spread of baseball in Brazil is the need for equipment and space. If one kid has a ball and a few friends, then anybody can start a "pickup" game of soccer; it's more difficult (though not impossibly so) to do that with baseball. The fact that the Rays are making the investments in terms of space, equipment, administration, and transportation is outstanding, and an essential step if baseball is to gain any traction at all in Brazil.
At first, I was a bit dismayed by the rhetoric of the article and the Rays in painting poor kids' options to get wealthy as either A) play soccer or B) play baseball. Things like decent education, infrastructural improvement, and social programs to reduce the widest income gap in the country would go a lot further to giving these kids a chance. However, the Rays certainly have absolutely nothing to do with the state of Brazil's education or poverty. Would I like to see those opportunities arise? Of course, but it's more than unfair to expect that of the Rays, and the fact that they're willing to spend $6.5 million over the next 5 years to give low-income Brazilian children better access to baseball is nothing but wonderful news.