Robbinsdale Community Gets Behind Baseball in Benin
Churches and volunteers fill the gap to provide housing and food for Baseball in Benin, a program that brings an African baseball team to Robbinsdale every summer. Gary Tonsager and Wally Langfellow organized the baseball effort after returning from a mission trip to Benin in 2010.
How it began
Eight years ago Robbinsdale’s Wally Langfellow and Gary Tonsager introduced kids from the tiny West African nation of Benin to the sport.
“A lot of more kids are getting signed up for the game and they are learning a lot,” said Fernando Atannon a coach for Team Benin. “That’s pretty fun.”
Now some of those youngsters are in the northwest metro ready to show off their talents.
“It’s really taking hold,” Tonsager said. “There is a lot of interest.”
Team Benin arrived in the northwest burbs last week, ready to play ball and explore Minnesota.
“They’ll be at the Mall of America,” Atannon said. “We went to the cabin and they’ve been having a lot of fun so far.”
The roots of this unlikely story date back to 2010. On a trip to Benin, Tonsager had an epiphany – Africa was a potential gold mine.
“It’s sort of an untapped resource if you are thinking about baseball,” Tonsager said.
Tonsager teamed up with Wally Langfellow. They launched a mission to teach baseball to the kids of Benin and make a positive impact.
“It’s a conduit to other things,” Tonsager said. “Education. Opportunity.”
“Kids Are Getting Better”
More than 500 kids now play in Benin, a country where soccer is dominant.
“The kids are betting better,” Tonsager said. “They are playing better fundamental baseball. They’ve learned the game. They’ve played longer than our last group.”
In 2017 Team Benin visited Target Field and received a special visit from Justin Morneau.
This year’s group showed up wearing MLB caps and has a strong allegiance to another ex-Minnesota Twins star.
“They like Torii Hunter,” Atannon said. “Torii Hunter is my favorite player.”
During their two-week visit to the Twin Cities, Team Benin is staying at Robbinsdale United Church of Christ.
“It’s what we do as a congregation,” said Robbinsdale United Church of Christ Pastor T. Michael Rock.
The church also has a congregation from Togo, which borders Benin. On Friday they met for a special meal where French was the dominant language.
“They’re going to get to speak in their native language and not have a translator,” Rock said. “That just makes the kids feel like they are at home.”
On the field, Benin could be a sleeping baseball giant, that someday produces a major league player.
“For sure,” Atannon said. “I’m positive about it.”