Legends On Deck

Baseball in the Bahamas: An Interview with Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is the founder of BaseballBahamas.net and a very popular writer at Legends on Deck. I was able to catch up with him and hear about his baseball journey.  Here’s what we covered. 

History of Baseball in the Bahamas

BK:  Jeff, thank you for taking the time to tell our readers about your history and relationship with the game of baseball. I would first like to say that I really enjoy all the work you contribute to Legends on Deck. We are very fortunate to have a writer of your caliber at LOD and someone who is covering the game in a place that is often overlooked. We all know about the influence of the game in the Caribbean, particularly in places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Tell us a little bit more about what kind of impact baseball has on the Bahamas. What is the history of the game there? What impact does it have on the people?

JF: In the early days when the American warships would dock in the Nassau Harbor, a man name George Ferguson would go out to ships and bring some of the sailors over the hill to play baseball with the locals. This sparked an interest in the game of baseball in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. And after the signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues, the interest draw more players and fans to the game of baseball in the Bahamas.

At that time in Nassau, the men mostly played softball. Then in 1954, a young softball player by the name of Andre Rodgers was signed by the New York Giants.  The same year the first organized baseball league was formed in the Bahamas.  Ten years after the signing of Jackie Robinson, the Bahamas had its first players go to Major Leagues Baseball, so it had a significant impact on the people and young men trying to also make it the big leagues. 

Discovering his Passion

BK:  What is your experience growing up in the Bahamas as it relates to baseball?  When did you begin playing?  What were the highlights of your playing career, and what made the game so important to you? 

JF:   I started playing the game in 1973 at the age of 12, but I was listening to MLB on the radio from the time I was 8 years old.  I was always undersized as a kid, but the love for the game kept me playing and I eventually becoming a very okay player (laughs).  Some of the highlights of my career were playing at the senior level baseball in the Bahamas. It was a league of the best players in the Bahamas (full of former minor league and college players) and in my third year (at age 20) I was playing at that level. I hit in the only run in game seven of the championship, scoring my teammate Brad Wood from second base with two outs.  Wow, the park was overjoyed that night!   

I went on to coach and manage two Bahamas national teams. The most memorial one was coaching Third Base against Cuba in Havana, in 2006 when we shocked the Cuban squad 2 to 1 in front of over four thousand fans and their whole nation listening.

Finding his Team

BK: As someone who grew up in the Detroit area, I cannot help but ask you why the Detroit Tigers became your favorite professional team? Have you been a loyal fan of the team all these years? 

JF:  As kids, we would listen to the MLB game out of Miami, Florida. They carried mostly Baltimore Orioles games, and most of us became Orioles fans except for me, I went the other way.  Orioles and Tigers games were the mostly what we listened to, so I pulled for the Tigers with a limited knowledge about the team at that time. Then in 1973, at my first baseball practice, the first bat I picked up to hit with was an Al Kaline wood bat (Mr. Tiger) and that sealed the deal.  I have been now a full blown Detroit Tigers fan ever since.  

Teaching the Game 

BK: I understand you began coaching the game at an early age. How did you get into coaching at such a young age? What kind of teams have you coached over the years? Are you still coaching today? 

JF: In 1980, at the age of 18 (going on to 19), I was playing senior league baseball and was also eligible to play junior baseball. But one of the coaches did not think it was fair for me to play junior league. So my coach, Fred Papa Smith, told me to continue to come out and help him coach the team. That same year I coached two 12U teams and I enjoyed it.  Since then, I have really enjoy coaching and managing the game of baseball.  I am still coaching in the Freedom Farm Baseball League, the largest youth baseball league in the Bahamas headed by Greg Burrows Sr.

 

Every year, I coach the Freedom Farm 16-18 division at the Bahamas National Baseball Championships, where I had some success. I was also the head coach for the Bahamas National Team at the World Baseball Challenge in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. A 14 hours’ drive from Seattle, Washington. It was a power pack tournament with the U.S.A., Canada, Germany, Bahamas, Team British Columbia, and the Xaman, a local team. The U.S. team feathered Geritte Cole, Yasmani Grandal, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Kolten Wong, and Michael Choice.

One highlight from that game was when one of my young players came to me and asked me who the pitcher was warming up in the bullpen for the U.S.A. team? I said I don’t know, but it sounds like he is throwing upper 90s. So Garrit Cole came into to shut the door on the Bahamas with three strikeouts, the U.S.A. won the game 8 to 4. 

Highlighting Talent

BK: Your website, Baseball Bahamas, highlights the top prospects coming out of the Bahamas. What made you decide to start a website to showcase these players, and what is your relationship to prospects coming out of your country? 


JF:  Growing up in the game of baseball in the Bahamas, I found out that it had a rich history. I understand that the father of our nation played a little. My friend Dillon Bethel was a web designer and designed a website for our local senior league. Dillon also played on my baseball team. I ask him to teach to build a website, the ins, and outs, and I caught on to the basics and got a little better each time I posted.  My main reason for learning how to build a web site was to document the rich history of baseball in the Bahamas.

At the same time, many players are heading off to high school and college in the U.S.  Soon, many of our kids were getting drafted or signing as free agents, like our former players in the 50s, 60, 70s & 80s did.  We had one international signing in the Bahamas 1997 and 2014, but in 2015, 4 players on international players signing day was historical. By then, we had close to 15 players in Minor  Leagues Baseball. 

Growing the Game

BK:  When you consider the Bahamas have less than 400,000 Citizens, the fact that these many prospects are emerging from your country seems quite significant. What kind of development system currently exists in the Bahamas, and how are these players getting noticed by MLB teams? 

JF:  Youth league baseball is big in the Bahamas. The fact that baseball wasn’t being played in the school system was a challenge for a while.  For some time, baseball-playing ages were 11-12 and over.  The introduction of T-Ball and Coach Pitch baseball really strengthened the game of baseball in the Bahamas. The ability to get the kids at a younger age was key. Then more and more players started playing at a higher level. 

Somewhere around 2014, four friends decided to try a baseball academy type structure and they named it MaxD. Greg Burrows and Geron Sands ran the operations, while Antoan Richardson and Albert Cartwright Jr. were still playing Minor League Baseball. These young men were able to build a relationship through former teammates and friends in the game of baseball at the pro scouting level. All four played high school, college, and pro baseball in America. Yes, the Bahamas in a hotbed for minor league prospects. Stay tuned! 

Baseball’s Growing Popularity

BK:  What is the popularity of baseball in the Bahamas? Would you consider baseball the country’s most popular sport? Are there sports more popular than baseball? Is baseball growing in popularity there? 


JF:  I would say because the Bahamas is only one of few English-speaking countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.  I would say it’s popularity is a close third but holding its own. Track and Field in big in the Bahamas.  From primary school all the way up to high school, here many large track and field meets throughout the region of the Caribbean and Latin America. Basketball is also popular. 

As for baseball, most of our competition is local and the many tournaments in the US., like Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth Leagues and Pony Baseball America. By the way, Freedom Farm Bahamas won the 2010 Cal Ripken 12U 70 World Series in Wilson City, North Carolina. That featured top MLB prospects like Jasrado Jazz Chisholm Jr (Marlins), Lucius Fox Jr (Royals), Chavez Young (Blue Jays), and Quinten Rolle (Reds). Baseball is growing at a sturdy pace in the Bahamas. 

Discovering Legends on Deck

BK: You have been writing with us at Legends on Deck for several years now. How did you discover L.O.D., and what do you enjoy about writing for our website? 

JF:  I follow most of the baseball players through high school, college, and pro baseball. One day I came across a baseball article on Todd Isaacs Jr.  The action photo was impressive, and so was the write up on him.  So,  I began to following LOD and became a fan because it featured some of our baseball players. One time I read all the way to the bottom and saw a button that said “Join Our Team.”  At that time, I was writing about our minor leaguers and gained a following among local fans. 

I wrote to the email and then got a contact number to call and so I called LOD’s David Conde.  We talked about the ins and outs of Legends on Deck.  When we talked, he invite me to start writing articles.  Let me tell you, Brian, I butchered up that first article.  It was so bad that David could not edit the story (laughs)!  In the beginning, it took me weeks to write one story, but now I can write a piece in a matter of hours. The photo gallery is awesome, thanks, Mathew Carper and David Conde.  Thanks to LOD, I can keep the world up to date on prospects coming from my country.

The Future of Bahamas Baseball 

BK:  Final thoughts. What is your take on the future of baseball in the Bahamas?  And what personal goals do you have as a writer, coach, and promoter of baseball talent in the Bahamas?

JF:  I think there is a lot of uncertainty. My league is hoping for a venue to start playing again.  Many players want to know when we will get a field to play night league baseball. We want to continue the momentum we have with the game.   

Personally, I will continue to ride the wave that is out there and continue to do what I am doing. That means writing more and continuing coaching.  I love doing it!  So with good health and strength from God, I will always be a part of promoting baseball in the Bahamas.  Baseball practically saved my life, around that made me a better citizen and person. I must encourage playing baseball to keep young guys busy and doing wholesome and positive activities.

Authors Notes

Jeff Francis is one of our most popular writers at Legend on Deck.  We are fortunate enough to have him bring his unique background and decades of experience in baseball to our readers.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the Bahamas impacts the game of baseball in the years to come.

Brian Koss
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