Two men are bringing baseball to Benin, Africa

The power of an idea and a commitment to a mission could bring baseball to Benin, Africa, badly in need of giving poor young people something constructive to do.

(Benin is a small French-speaking country of 8 million people, sandwiched between Nigeria and Ghana.)

Two men who are involved in the Robbinsdale Little League program are convinced they can have a baseball league under way in Cotonou, Benin, Africa, a year from now.

They need money and used equipment to bring a baseball league to Cotonou, a major city in Benin.

Gary Tonsager, an optician in Elk River, and fellow coach, Wally Langfellow, are leading this effort.

Tonsager got the idea when he went to Benin with OneSight, which serves countries in need of free eyecare and eyewear. He met Alban Guidi, his interpreter, who had been in the United States and wanted to bring baseball to 6- to 12-year-olds in Benin. That comment sparked the idea.

Tonsager has shipped some gently-used equipment to Cotonou, where young people already are learning the game on the beach.

At the same time, Tonsager is concerned that over half of the young people of Benin do not go to school, primarily because they don’t have school supplies.  By introducing baseball and hopefully getting it into the school curriculum, he believes more will get an education and learn the game.

Denard Span, Minnesota Twins center fielder, and Al Newman, a former Twins player, plan to be involved in the project.

As word spreads, people are offering used equipment. One of Tonsager’s former players had an equipment drive at Totino-Grace High School and produced enough equipment to fill a garage.

Money is needed to ship equipment, buy school supplies and to build baseball diamonds.

Tonsager guarantees that he can store and ship the equipment and that it will be handled responsibly in Benin by his contacts there.

He plans to gather enough used equipment to fill a container for a league, at a cost of $4,700.

For more information, go to baseballinbenin.org.

Bringing baseball to Benin can be a winner for young people in Africa who just need a break that could come  by playing America’s favorite sport. — Don Heinzman

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