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Making the right pitch in Uganda

Van Lehman brothers see their African baseball dream come true


Luke and Owen Van Lehman made a recent venture to Uganda and played baseball where they have tried to grow interest in the sport.It has long been the dream of identical twin brothers Luke and Owen Van Lehman to play baseball in Uganda, the African nation where they had helped push the wave of interest in the sport.

This dream came true during spring break when the Lake Oswego lads traveled to Uganda and got on the baseball diamond with the kids who they had sent huge boxes of baseball equipment. The experience was everything they hoped it would be.

However, something totally unexpected happened to Luke. He became the re-incarnation of Charlie Root in the 1932 World Series. Root was pitching for the Chicago Cubs when he entered the Baseball Hall of Infamy by giving up the famed “Called Shot” home run by the great Babe Ruth. On an 0-2 count, with the Cub crowd and players jeering and mocking him, the Bambino stepped out of the batter’s box and majestically pointed toward the center field bleachers of Wrigley Field. On Root's next delivery Ruth launched a mammoth line drive right into the vicinity where he had pointed. Ruth had a hard time getting around the bases because he was laughing so hard.

Move the clock forward 83 years to a location 7,651 miles from Wrigley Field in a dusty, rocky field in Uganda. Luke Van Lehman, American baseball lover, was on the mound and getting ready to strike out a batter named Asharaf Kawanguzi, who had a very healthy ego. Luke was relishing the moment. But Asharaf did not seemed daunted by the 0-2 count.

“He pointed to the left field fence and said, ‘Luke, I’m gonna hit a home run off of you!’ “ Luke said.

Luke struggled to hide his smirk and delivered another smoker toward home plate. CracKKKKKKKKKKKK!

“He hit the ball a mile over the fence,” Luke said. “He was laughing as he rounded the bases.”

The Van Lehman brothers will probably remember this moment with mixed emotions, but their long-awaited trip to Uganda was a total blessing. Playing on the same field with the kids they had sent so much baseball equipment was the closing of a circle for the brothers.

“They love the game,” Owen said. “We still want to do as much to help them as we can. We sent 10 boxes of equipment and uniforms to them, and we’re still looking for new connections to get the boxes through.”

From birth, the Van Lehman brothers were Africa oriented. Both of their parents had served with the Peace Corps in Africa, and their father Dan Van Lehman has spent his entire career as a business man and social worker in Africa. One time, upon returning home to Lake Oswego, Dan showed his boys videos he took of Ugandan kids playing baseball. The twins quickly noticed that the Ugandan children had no uniforms. That was the inspiration for an equipment gathering drive that proved to be stunningly successful. With much help from their friends in the baseball program at Lake Oswego High School, the brothers accumulated a huge amount of uniforms, shoes, cleats and other equipment. They even gathered lots of softball uniforms for Ugandan girls.

“Some of them were running around barefoot,” Luke said. “It was really cool to see them in cleats.”

Once the Ugandan kids put on their baseball uniforms they were truly baseball players, and they were ready to play in one of the few African nations where baseball has really taken hold. The cancellation of baseball as an Olympics sport caused a huge drop of interest in baseball in most African nations, where the game had only shallow roots.

As Owen noted, “They asked, ‘What’s the point?’ “

But in Uganda, South Africa and Kenya interest in baseball remained very much alive. Ugandan kids are still very raw at the game, but they are willing to learn and they’re already putting a Ugandan spin on the grand old game.

“They’re so dynamic,” Owen said. “When they do their stretches before the game they turn the warmup into a dance.”

The Ugandan kids also have great talent, and some of the players are awesome. Like Asharaf. He is 18 years old, 6-2, and 180 pounds.

“He’s just one of those kids who is built big,” Luke said.

Some momentous changes are ahead of the Van Lehman brothers. They will be graduating from Lake Oswego High School in June. Then they will finally be breaking up when they go to Oregon State University in the fall.

“It’s important that we separate and do our own thing,” Owen said. “18 years is long enough.”

Still, the brothers may reunite in the future, and the place they might do it is Africa.

“If things go south in the USA we can go to Africa,” Luke said. “There’s plenty of opportunity there.”

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