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Ugandan Makes His Pitch

FILE: View of Yankee Stadium on Wed., May 26, 2021, in New York, where the top U.S. baseball league plays, as it does in other major U.S. cities.

GUYAZA, UGANDA - Ugandan major league hopeful Dennis Kasumba is off to play in a top-flight amateur baseball league in the United States this summer, the chance of a lifetime for an orphan raised in a slum who dreams of going pro.

"I am very, very happy. I can't explain my feelings, I feel blessed," said Dennis Kasumba, who comes from Gayaza, a town about 12 kilometers from the capital Kampala, where he was raised in grinding poverty.

Spotted online after videos of his on-field performance went viral, Kasumba received an invitation to the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft League, which starts on June 1 in the United States.

"Today I'm starting my Journey," Kasumba wrote on Twitter on May 28 alongside a video of family, friends and supporters waving him off at the airport.

Determined to impress the scouts and do his coach and teammates proud, Kasumba has been fine-tuning his pitch and swing ahead of the MLB fixture where prospective stars are put through their paces.

Ahead of his departure, Kasumba trained day and night at Gayaza, running drills with a worn catcher's mitt and bat held together with tape at the local diamond.

Off the field, he keeps fit any way he can, using everything and anything at his disposal.

Puffing away in the equatorial sun, Kasumba runs through squats using barbells made of concrete and discarded car tires, with water-filled plastic bottles taped to his legs for resistance.

Friends and relatives have filmed his sessions and posted them on social media, and Kasumba has attracted thousands of followers inspired by his grit and cheer.

Raised in Gayaza by his grandmother, Kasumba never knew his parents.

By the age of eight, he had dropped out of school to work for his meals, slaughtering animals in an abattoir until meeting volunteer coach John Bosco Sempa, who invited him to the local baseball pitch.

As his natural talent and determination became clear, Sempa encouraged his protege to promote his skills on social media, where the rising star found another source of motivation and support.

"It started like a joke, but now I am going to U.S. for MLB," Kasumba told AFP.

It has not all been smooth sailing.

Kasumba was twice rejected for a visa to travel to the U.S. before his application was at last granted in May.

"I am so excited," he said.

The quest to become a pro is a tall order in a country that has never produced a major league player, and where interest in baseball is dwarfed by that for football and athletics.

"We want Kasumba to play in the highest league in the world, that's our hope," said coach Sempa.

"As a coach I'd love all our players to be successful. Kasumba's news is not only for himself but for our country," he added.