During his playing days, Gurmat Sahni didn't have a million-dollar arm, and though he was a solid contact hitter, he lacked power. But he always possessed the one quality common to the grittiest baseball players from around the world: a love for the game.
It's this passion that prompted Sahni, SIS/MA '17, to start Grand Slam Baseball, a business focused on growing America's pastime in his native India. With youth programs in 10 schools in New Delhi, construction of a 1,500-seat field of dreams in the center of the city scheduled for completion soon, and plans for a modest professional league and more academies throughout the country, the organization is thriving. About 1,000 kids are enrolled in Grand Slam programs—a 400 percent jump in the four years since it started.
Sahni, 25, started playing the "obscure" sport—it's far overshadowed by cricket, soccer, and even basketball in India—at the age of 8. He was introduced to it by an American neighbor who competed in a little league sponsored by the US Embassy.
"Every Indian kid is influenced by Western culture," Sahni says. "Playing baseball was my unique way of saying, 'Hey, I'm cool.'"
With Major League contests starting at 4 a.m. in New Delhi, he didn't get to catch a whole lot of Yankees games (he's wearing a New York hat in the photo), but like every little slugger, he dreamt of a career in the big leagues. Those hopes were dashed one fastball at a time when he visited an academy in Florida run by the Colorado Rockies hitting coach. There, he realized the caliber of competition he had faced growing up was nothing compared to the commitment of time and effort Americans put into the sport.
Now, he's determined to change that. When he and his partner founded Grand Slam in 2012, they took over management of the embassy's little league. He's been focused on acquiring top equipment, training coaches, and improving infrastructure so the sport can grow in popularity.
"We're not going to reach a billion people, but I do think in the next five years we'll be in all the major cities in India," he says. "My main goal is to have a national network of youth leagues, a small pro league, and at least a few players playing internationally."
Powerful plans from a light-hitting first baseman.
"For me baseball brings back all the happy memories associated with my childhood and the valuable lessons that I learned from my teammates and coaches. Every day at Grand Slam, I can put myself in the shoes of my players and see how my work is shaping their lives."