LOD Exclusive Interview: Ernest Ohandza, 79th Pick of the Baseball United Draft
In the first ever Baseball United draft, the Wolves selected Ernest Ohandza, a native of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, Africa, with the overall 79th pick.
In fact, Ohandza being selected to play in the new Dubai-based professional baseball league, is historic in more ways than one.
In his early life, Ernest’s father passed away when he was just three years old, and his mother made a choice that may have changed the path that he was set to be on. “It is wise for a young boy to grow up with a father figure, who is a sign of authority, so my mother decided to entrust me to her older sister who lived with her husband and their six daughters”, shared Ohandza.
Ernest’s uncle, Jean Mvondo Nyina, became his guardian and it was he who would implant the passion of the game into Ernest’s life. “My uncle is one of the pioneers of Baseball in Cameroon and founder of the Wonder Dream Baseball and Softball club, and he introduced me to baseball, while passing on the love and passion of the game to me.”
Even though Jean Mvondo Nyina was the person to show Ernest how to play baseball, he didn’t put pressure on Ernest to only play just one sport. “My uncle never forced me to only play baseball. As a child I even trained in a soccer academy, but my heart had already made its choice.” Ohandza continued,
“Baseball and I, it’s a bit like a romance story”, ‘They fell in love at first sight and no other sport has been able to break the bond.’
The game of baseball is a love affair for sure, as many fans even here in the states, share that passion for the sport and their favorite teams. But for someone who never grew up in a country where baseball is regularly played, and to love the game that much, says so much about how the sport has evolved around the world.
Ernest was drafted by Baseball United as a pitcher and the selection was more of a hunch, since Ohandza plays baseball in Cameroon and there aren’t many ways to catch his games, unless he posts the videos on social media.
Those training sessions were started by a man that learned about baseball through American Army diplomats who went on missions to Cameroon and in turn, Jean Mvondo Nyina, decided to take that newfound knowledge and share with his own people. As a result of the dedication, Ernest Ohandza will become the first professional baseball player ever to come out of Cameroon, Africa.
Not only did Ernest learn to love the game from his uncle, but he made great friends playing the game. One of those friends is Arsel Giowou, the founder of Harmony Baseball Academy, who Ernest played against at the little league level with the Wonder Dream Baseball and Softball club.
That friendship grew, especially when Arsel started Harmony Baseball Academy, as Ernest shares, “Arsel approached and asked me to join him at the Harmony Baseball Academy as a player and he also recommended that I create my own academy for young children. With that advice, I created the Bastos Baseball Academy.”
Ernest’s love for the game grew as he shared it with the younger kids in his country, but he still wanted more and more meant continuing to train and grow in the game that could eventually lead to a professional career. “In February 2022, I took part in Arsel’s camp, which was supervised by scouts from the Los Angeles Dodgers.” Ernest Continues, “In August 2022, I played in the third edition of the Harmony Baseball Academy Championship and in mid 2023, the Baseball and Softball Federation was finally able to resolve its internal problems and organized the Senior National Championship and Cup.”
A new Baseball Federation meant that both Arsel and Ernest could put their clubs to the test and give others the same opportunities to also fall in love with the game. “Arsel and I saw the opportunity to compete again like the good old days, so I joined my training club to compete and in the end Harmony Baseball Academy won the Championship by beating us in the semi-final, and the National Cup, by beating us in the final.”
Ernest states, “The games were fun, but the opportunity to put all our programs on the baseball map, was huge for what we have been working so hard for the past few years.”
And the hard work and dedication for Ernest paid off as his persistence earned him the opportunity to be a part of what will be the biggest stage in history in Dubai, when the new baseball league starts next year.
The confidence of this young man, believing that he has what it takes to play at the next level, proved to be a success as he connected with the owners of Baseball United, which eventually put him in front of the powers that be, who would make the decision on what players they chose to draft. From a recent LOD Podcast with President/CEO of Baseball United, Kash Shaikh, the numbers of those wanting to be drafted into the league soared to 1800, an astonishing number, especially since the league was only drafting 80 players.
So the intense feeling of stress of not knowing if one would be perceived ready for this enormous challenge, to play alongside some of the greats of the game, could change to pure joy if in fact their name was selected and for Ernest, he had to endure both.
“On October 23, 2023 at 2 p.m. Cameroon time, I watched the draft live on the Baseball United website, and to tell the truth, when I saw the pedigree of the first few picks, I almost had no more hope.”
Ernest continues, “At this point, I decided to go outside and work on my training, so I gathered my equipment and when I put my bag on my back, I looked up at the screen and I saw my photo displayed as the 79th pick for the Wolves. Instantly my bag fell to the ground and I called out to my mother, who was in the kitchen, to come and confirm if it was really my photo and my name that appeared on the screen. She confirmed and instantly I screamed and tears of joy followed. Funny thing, my mother didn’t understand what was happening, and when I told her,” ‘Your son is now a professional baseball player,’ “she also suddenly burst into tears of joy. I was so excited and I just couldn’t believe it.”
As Ernest reflected on what he is about to embark on, he thought about the ballplayers that he will call his teammates, “Every day I worked hard to strive to achieve this opportunity, but it’s still crazy because many of them inspired me when I was a child, and today I am called to share the same locker room with them. I am super excited and looking forward to learning a lot from these great ball players.”
Ernest has many goals for his life, as do probably most of the young men that make up the baseball clubs in Cameroon, but he knows that he may be able to do so much more, not only for himself, but for all of Cameroon. “My biggest dream has always been to play in a big leagues, to be part of a Hall of Fame, and it starts with the opportunity that Baseball United has awarded me.” Ernest continues, “But most of all to actively participate in the expansion and the development of Baseball in Cameroon and throughout Africa.”
Ernest, the Bastos Baseball Academy and Harmony Baseball Academy are doing their part to grow baseball in a part of the world that is looking for the opportunity to be noticed and now Ernest along with Baseball United, will have that opportunity to showcase him to the world and bring great attention to Cameroon, Africa.
We wish Ernest good luck in his new adventure, as we will be rooting him on and the hope that more baseball or softball players come out of Cameroon, Africa and into the professional ranks.