It’s Delhi’s own little league, waiting for a strikeout. Every Sunday, the team diligently delivers its pitch in makeshift fields with enthusiasm and every time a home run is scored, there is a childlike cheer all around.
On the ball: Jyoti Kataria, captain of the Delhi women’s baseball team. Sudhanshu Malhotra
Little league? Strikeout? Home run? Unfamiliar terms for most, but not for these 20-something Delhi women, who have rejected conventional team sports such as cricket and hockey in favour of the patently American sport of baseball.
The 22-year-old captain of the Delhi women’s baseball team is Jyoti Kataria, or just Kataria, as teammates call her. She has been leading the side for four years. The team won the 2009 senior nationals at Cuttack and tied with Goa for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 trophies. “Every year, we start with around 35 girls and narrow it down to 14. At the international level, the Indian team fares reasonably well. We are ninth in International Baseball Federation rankings,” says Kataria.
This year, the team is practising at the Lakshmibai College sports grounds in Delhi University’s north campus. Since there are few baseball grounds in Delhi, the team makes do with a cricket-cum-basketball field.
One of the two assistant coaches of the team, 29-year-old schoolteacher Ashish Negi, painstakingly explains the game: “Though a lot of people know about baseball through video games, it’s not popular in India. Essentially, there are four bases that make a 90ft diamond. The batter stands at the home base, or the tip of the diamond. The object of the batter is to sprint over to the remaining two bases and back to the home base to complete a run without being caught or struck out. Three consecutive missed pitches will strike a batsman out.”
The effusive captain adds: “There are five innings in each game and every time three players are out, there’s a side or innings change. The women’s game is usually shorter than the men’s game. Five innings is probably the maximum we’ve played.”
Kataria, who was introduced to the game by her coaches in school, says one of the biggest disappointments is lack of recognition for baseball as a sport for government jobs. “I could have gone on playing hockey (she was a state-level player) but baseball enticed me.”
Two years ago, their prize money increased marginally for the senior nationals. Each player of the team that bags gold gets Rs31,000. The silver medallists get Rs21,000 and bronze, Rs11,000. Kataria admits the money isn’t enough for a living. “Eventually, I will have to quit the game. I have finished my graduation and am studying to be a physical education teacher.” She is also studying for her Junior Basic Training (JBT) for an additional career option of becoming a primary schoolteacher.
“My family is more than supportive of me playing the game,” she says. “Their curiosity is understandable but I like the sport and I’m doing fairly well at it too. It has no money, not even the promise of a job like other sports in India. Most of us spend our own money on travel, ground rent and even sports kit. Most of us are playing for the love of the game.”