Staff writer

To many, Ghana conjures up images of a poor developing country in west Africa, depending largely on cocoa and other export crops.

But to Shinya Tomonari, a 33-year-old assistant resident representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency in the capital city of Accra, the hot African country is a field of dreams.

Tomonari, a Yokohama native, was sent to Ghana in 1996 to assist with medical care, agriculture and maintenance of infrastructure, but in an unexpected turn of events, is playing another significant role — as the first foreign manager of Ghana’s national baseball team. “Baseball may be of minor significance in comparison with social development and medical service in Ghana,” said Tomonari, a former infielder with Keio University’s ballclub who began his Tokyo visit in late May. “But through such a cultural contribution (as my baseball managing), I hope to help the people in Ghana enrich their lives and learn something from each other,” he said.

In the short run, Tomonari’s dream is grander, if not outrageous — leading his Ghanaian baseball squad of over 30 players to the Olympics as early as 2000, with the help of Kenji Sharyo, 30, his right-hand man with the team and a resident employee of Itochu Corp. in Accra. “Our team has been making remarkable progress since we started instructing them in January 1997,” said Tomonari, reflecting on the time when he was first asked to coach the players while they were playing sandlot baseball together.

Tomonari said the Ghanaian members, who formerly played in a scattered manner, now play as a team and even utilize such strategies as the sacrifice bunt. He said that overall, the Ghanaian players have excellent reflexes and noted that some played baseball in Cuba while receiving job training there during the Cold War era. Tomonari is confident his ball club will soon be able to hold its own against such African baseball powerhouses as Nigeria and South Africa.

No matter how much the Ghanaians improve their skills, however, lack of funds is a problem for his baseball squad, Tomonari said. “Soccer is the national sport in this country of 20 million with a low per capita gross domestic product, so the (Ghanaian) government cannot afford to allocate its budget to other sports such as baseball,” he said.

Before returning to Ghana in mid-July, Tomonari is raising money and gathering used baseball uniforms in Japan to promote baseball there. The JICA public relations section can be reached at (03) 5352-5058.

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