The legendary ML Jaisimha and Marredpally are synonymous with cricket. But, Marredpally has another unsung hero in VS Jagannadham, popularly known as ‘Jagan Sir’. The 89-year-old coach was instrumental in popularising many a sport, particularly hockey and baseball, at Marredpally playgrounds (MPG), opposite Shenoy Nursing Home, in Secunderabad.
MPG is still the nursery of baseball of the State. Today, this ground has produced 30 internationals, including seniors, juniors and sub-juniors. An early morning visit to this ground, one can see young baseball players practising with L Rajender.
But it was Jagannadham and Rajender who planted the roots of the game at this place. Rajender says it was Jagan’s drive that helped the game to grow in the State. “It all started when Secunderabad players felt ignored by Hyderabad while selecting the State team.
So, it was then decided to form a baseball team at Marredpally as Jagan sir was also passionate about this game. He encouraged the softball players to switch to baseball. We were lucky to have a sincere coach in Jagan,” says Rajender.
The State association was formed in 1985 in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. “We had our own initial problems. Luckily, the ground was available but, most importantly, late L Venkatram Reddy, then director of sports of GHMC, extended his support. He gave the required permissions and also donated the baseball equipment,” adds Rajender.
Rajender had to double up his duty as a coach and player. “Those days there were no coaches to train the baseball team in the State. So, having played softball at the senior level, I knew some of the rules of baseball though. It was slightly different. But we could quickly adapt to the new version,” shares Rajender.
Apart from Rajender, players like BY Phani Raj, V Aravind, Srikanth Goud, Srinivas Prasad, Dilip V Rao, Sanjay, D Dharmesh Yadav, Syed Farooq Kamal, C Sudhir Reddy and S Venkatesh who took active interest in the game. They went on to represent the State in the Nationals in the ’80s and the ’90s. In fact, Rajender led the Indian team in the Asian Baseball Championship in Japan that had Phani Raj and Aravind also.
Aravind points out that there was less patronage of the game in the State. “It was a struggle but we took it as a challenge and with the help of Jagan, the game caught the attention of young players,” he says.
Baseball, which is the top sport of the United States, is, in a way, a bit expensive sport. According to Venkatesh, most of the equipment was imported and it continues to be so. “A slugger (bat) starts from Rs 3,000, the gloves around Rs 1,500. We had to raise funds to purchase the equipment. The game is very exciting. It requires good power, endurance and speed,” adds Venkatesh.
In this game, the pitcher plays a vital role. Rajender says that the State was fortunate to have an ace pitcher in Phani Raj, Srikanth Goud and Preet Anand. “They were accurate and fast,” says Rajender. For Phani Raj, it was all about a good swing of the arm. “I somehow mastered the art of pitching the ball. The team depended a lot on my form,” says Phani.
The Indian training camps were held and foreign coaches like Sang Kyu Park (Korea) and Fuku shima (Japan) were invited by the Amateur Baseball Federation of India to conduct the camp here.
Later on, Srikanth Goud and Uday Goud played for the country with distinction. Under Srikanth’s captaincy, India won the first-ever bronze in Asia Baseball championship held at Philippines. AP won the first-ever national championship in 1994 but thereafter they could not repeat that performance. The game is now popular in northern States like Punjab, Delhi and Chandigarh.
R Harinarayana observes that many youngsters keenly watch the Major League Baseball (MLB) matches of the USA. “That we can see a few enthusiasts is because of the MLB. They throng to the grounds on week days,” says Harinarayana.
Young players like Noah and Nathan have played Little Leagues in Korea. A few women like BMR Vinila, Ramya Reddy played for India in World Cup 2004, Shaheen Begum in World Cup 2008, G Sai Architha Reddy in the World Cup in Korea, and Asia Cup in Hong Kong in 2018. Shaheen Begum is incidentally the first woman qualified umpire in international baseball tournaments from the State.