Minnesotans welcome young baseball team from west Africa

Well before their arrival, the welcoming committee was ready for Team Benin.

On Monday, 12 jet-lagged kids from a small country on the west coast of Africa started two life-changing weeks in Minnesota.

“This is an entirely new experience. This is their first time on an airplane, this is the first time they’ve left their neighborhood – let alone leave their country,” said Wally Langfellow with Baseball in Benin, an organization that founded a baseball community in Benin.

Langfellow and Gary Tonsager traveled to Benin in May to bring donated equipment and uniforms, and to iron out the details of bringing a team to Minnesota. The story began in 2010 when Tonsager went there on a mission trip to provide eye-glasses and his interpreter starting asking about baseball.

He decided to introduce the game, and now it’s grown into a league of its own, with hundreds of kids now taking part.

They first brought a team here two years ago. Now, an entirely different roster of boys wanted to do it again.

“It’s just really about touching lives and getting people involved and changing people’s lives. That’s what we’re here to do,” Tonsager said.

They’ll stay in a Robbinsdale church and practice for a week on nearby fields before the little league tournament next week.

“This is great for them – a dream come true. You know, a lot of people wanted to come to the U.S., but they never have the chance before. But these kids, it’s more than anything,” said coach Fernando Atannon.