Twelve Little League-aged baseball players from the small West African nation of Benin got to meet former Twins great Torii Hunter July 31 during Twins batting practice at the Twins stadium. Team Benin was in Minnesota last week to compete in the 14th Annual Robbinsdale Woodbat Tournament.
Team Benin arrived in the Twin Cities on July 23 and had a busy first week, including visits to the Mall of America, Gopher Baseball Camp at the University of Minnesota, the observation deck of the Foshay Tower, Minnehaha Falls, and a Twins game with Cleveland.
The team visited Twins Baseball Camp at Minnetonka High School and met with Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng at Lakeview Terrace Park in Robbinsdale. Dieng is from Senegal, West Africa, also a French-speaking nation.
Team Benin’s game schedule began on Thursday, August 2 and continued through Sunday afternoon, August 5, at Lakeview Terrace.
Team Benin’s trip was funded by donations to Baseball in Benin. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2011 by two former Robbinsdale Minnesota Little League coaches, Gary Tonsager and Wally Langfellow, who had a vision of bringing baseball to the small French-speaking country of Benin.
Since 2011, the program has sent gently used baseball equipment, uniforms, and shoes from Minnesota to the players in Benin. In 2016, a first-ever team from Benin traveled to Minnesota to compete in the Woodbat Tournament, which exclusively benefits the program.
In May of this year, Tonsager and Langfellow traveled to Cotonou, Benin where they evaluated players, met with players’ families and helped organize the team’s trip to Minnesota. They also met with Beninese government officials and US Embassy personnel to help further awareness with the goal of baseball becoming a national sport in Benin.
In addition to bringing America’s pastime to Benin, the Baseball in Benin program is working to provide books and school supplies to the players and families involved in the program. Currently, there are over 400 youth playing baseball throughout Benin.
For more information or to donate to Baseball in Benin, visit baseballinbenin.org.
Information provided by Baseball in Benin.