Student hits ‘Grand Slam’ in India

Baseball is far from India’s most popular sport, but that hasn’t stopped Jackson Golden from working to bring America’s pastime to the nation’s makeshift diamonds.

Last spring, Golden, SSH’15, cofounded Grand Slam Baseball, a nonprofit umbrella organization aimed at increasing participation and promoting upward mobility among players at all levels.

The fourth-year anthropology major spent eight months in India on a self-made co-op, convincing coaches, players, and league officials to join his effort to streamline the sport. To date, nine baseball leagues, academies, and tournaments have joined Jackson’s cause—and even more are waiting in the wings.

“We’re trying to legitimize the infrastructure for youth, college, and amateur baseball to create a clear path to success for talented athletes,” says Golden, an American who grew up in New Delhi, where he developed into a catcher and second baseman. “My goal is to give Indian baseball a cohesive voice.”

At least one big player in the baseball industry has been listening to Grand Slam’s clarion call: According to Jackson, Nike plans to donate hundreds of bats, gloves, and helmets to India’s fledgling ballplayers.

Other partnerships have more to do with promoting social mobility than hitting home runs with new equipment. In the last few months, GSB has connected with Korean, Japanese, and American companies based in India to build a league in which low-income Indian ballplayers would hit, pitch, and field alongside corporate players.

“Indians will learn corporate culture, network with players at the company, and build new opportunities through baseball,” Jackson explains. “They’ll be thrown into a melting pot of many different nations and cultures, but they’ll all be able to unite through the game.”

The young humanitarian is not the only one who believes in baseball’s power to generate social mobility. Alan Klein, a professor of sociology and anthropology who oversaw Jackson’s creation of GSB, says baseball “does have the possibility of giving low-income Indians an opportunity to build upward mobility.”

In Klein’s view, Jackson comprises the perfect attitude and academic makeup to grow baseball in a nation known for that other bat and ball game—cricket. “He’s very interdisciplinary in his thoughts, and he’s a great self-starter,” Klein says. “He’s going to take the ball and run with it.”

As a case in point, Jackson recently received an Undergraduate Research Initiative grant from the College of Social Sciences and Humanities to delve deeper into the inner workings of GSB and other organizations aimed at building baseball programs for low-income athletes in India. “I want to use baseball to connect people,” he says.