Batter up! These women are bringing baseball to Gaza.

The young Palestinian women don baseball caps on top of their headscarves and field tennis balls with fabric baseball gloves, giving a decidedly local feel to the game that is known as the great American pastime.

They are bringing baseball to the Gaza Strip, in an effort that is still in its early innings.

The players, who work out on a small soccer pitch in a southern Gaza town, admit they are still learning the rules of the complicated sport. (With pitches lobbed underhand, the game they play is closer to softball.)

“I only know it through TV,” said Valentina Shaer, a 23-year-old English literature student.
Mahmoud Tafesh, the team’s coach, said he has dreamed of bringing baseball to Gaza since he was introduced to the game in 2016.

Baseball coach leading exercises for all-woman team (© AP Images)
Palestinian coach Mahmoud Tafesh leads warmup exercises on a soccer field in southern Gaza Strip. (© AP Images)

Although baseball is a fringe sport throughout the soccer-crazy Middle East, the game has grown in popularity. Iraq has a national team, and one of the country’s coaches introduced Tafesh to baseball in 2016 while both were in Egypt, which now boasts a baseball and softball federation.

Tafesh admits he still has much to learn. He is unfamiliar with any of the teams or players in Major League Baseball and gets most of his knowledge from YouTube videos.

He first approached girls at the only sports-education college in Gaza. To his surprise, he found interest in baseball was stronger among girls than boys.

“We targeted this group because they had permission from their families to play sport as sports students. Through them, we started to spread, attracting girls from other fields such as journalism and accountants,” he said after finishing a two-hour training session for the girls.

Palestinian women tossing tennis balls (© AP Images)
Palestinian women practice with tennis balls, since baseballs are hard to find. (© AP Images)

“While we face difficulties, we would like a specialized softball field to learn it correctly and train freely without any obstacles,” said Iman Shahin, an athlete who studies sports education.

Tafesh said he found just one baseball glove in all of Gaza, at the Sports Ministry building, and took it to local tailors, who used it to make replicas out of black fabric. With no proper bats in the territory, the team took a piece of wood and shaped it to look like one.

And even while seeking real equipment, the women dream of eventually competing abroad.