Rwanda is a small nation in east central Africa, dominated by rainy seasons that drench mountains to the west and savannas to the east. Green bananas are a mainstay of the country’s agricultural commerce, occupying more than a third of its farmland. Other exported crops include potatoes, wheat, maize and coffee.
But if 11-year-old Jack Fones has his way, baseball will soon be introduced to the African country where activities like soccer, cross-country mountain biking and basketball are the most popular diversions.
Thanks to the Orioles and Oriole Advocates, and the Advocates’ popular Cardboard to Leather program that provides youth players in impoverished nations with baseball equipment, Fones will have a head start in introducing America’s national pastime to a new audience when his family relocates from Baltimore to Rwanda for a multi-year posting with the U.S. State Department.
On Thursday night, Fones will be recognized in a pregame ceremony before the Orioles entertain the Royals. Through the Cardboard to Leather program, the Oriole Advocates have donated full sets of baseball equipment - including uniforms, bats, balls and other gear - so Fones can start a baseball program when he moves across the Atlantic Ocean. Before the game, the Fones family will be treated to an up-close glimpse of Orioles batting practice.
“We get inquiries from all over the world,” said Mike Licea, the Cardboard to Leather chairman for the Oriole Advocates. “We’ve done different shipments, some of them smaller shipments like this, all across the world. We love doing that.”
Since its inception, Cardboard to Leather has grown from shipping 24 boxes of equipment to more than 500 boxes of equipment per year. Shipments have been delivered to countries including Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Belize. Smaller shipments have been sent to Mexico, and one shipment went to an Indian reservation in South Dakota. To date, more than 17,000 children 5 to 17 have benefited from the equipment donations.
Each year, the Oriole Advocates host a collection of gently used baseball and softball equipment - anything from bats and balls to uniforms and bases - at Oriole Park. This year’s collection is scheduled for Sunday, July 15. Monetary donations are also accepted, with the Advocates turning funds into other needed equipment or using them to pay for the erection of backstops on fields that lack them.
Here’s a video detailing a recent Cardboard to Leather collection at Oriole Park.