by Don Heinzman
The Elk River Rotary Club is going to bat for a program that is bringing American baseball to Contonou, Africa, in the country of Benin.
In keeping with its objective to have an international project, the Rotary is allocating $1,000 to help Elk River optician Gary Tonsager send used baseball equipment to Contonou.
Benin is a small French-speaking country of 8 million sandwiched between Nigeria and Guana.
Recently, Fernando Adannon of Benin was a guest of the Rotary, along with Tonsager. He recently went to a ball game at Target Field where he met Tori Hunter, former Minnesota Twin and now a member of the Detroit Tigers. He also went to a Twins game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Target Field with Elk River Rotarians.
Tonsager already has shipped some equipment to Adannon, who uses it for two teams of 30 members each to play American baseball, a first in the country.
Adannon said he didn’t know a thing about baseball before he saw a movie about it.
Tonsager’s mission to bring baseball to the African country started when he visited Benin to take part in OneSight, offering free eye care and eye wear.
There his interpreter, Alban Guidi, who had been in the United States, wanted to bring baseball to 6- to 12-year-olds who had too much idle time.
Tonsager and a fellow baseball coach, Wally Langfellow, decided to take on the project and collected equipment, and now there are two teams playing baseball on the beach of Cantonou.
Three more teams are waiting for equipment. There’s a need for lots of used balls, bats, gloves and uniforms.
Adannon said the boys and girls really like the game and practice sliding, pitching and catching three times a week. They even have their favorite bats.
Most of the families cannot afford the equipment but approve their kids playing baseball, even though they don’t understand the game.
Adannon said he’s motivated by the desire to do something for his country, recalling how the late President John Kennedy implored, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”
Rotarians may launch a drive in Elk River for used equipment so more young African kids can play baseball. There is a waiting list.