Sean Fekete’s fastball has undeniable heat, not unlike the many Dubai summers he’s spent popping catcher’s mitts in the hope of reaching where he is now.
On the mound, the 6ft 3in American is an intimidating force with a devastating array of pitches, but off the field he’s become a trailblazer and a symbol of hope for all baseball players not just in the UAE, but in the Middle East.
After completing his upcoming senior year at American School of Dubai, Fekete will head to the United States to attend Sacramento State University in the autumn of 2018 on a Division I baseball scholarship – the first person to ever do so from the Middle East, according to GCC university admissions specialists Hale Education Group.
The 17-year-old’s ambitions extend further to one day playing pro ball, but for now his achievement is the culmination of a journey that spans three continents.
“That’s the goal, to hopefully get drafted and work my way up, playing the game I love,” says Fekete.
Dubai, of course, is where the lanky teenager calls home and where his life has been shaped.
After moving to the UAE in 2011 at the age of 11, Fekete has blossomed as a baseball player despite living in a region whose vernacular is far more familiar with wickets than strikeouts.
Sport in general may be as big as ever in the UAE, but scholarships to US universities remain rare, let alone to Division I programmes.
“Coaches aren’t able to see you play, you have to send video,” Fekete says. “There (in the US), they can just go to a high school game.”
Whether or not Fekete would be in the same position had he grown up in the States, he did learn of one advantage Dubai afforded him while going through the recruitment process.
“When you send video and in the subject line it says ‘Sean Fekete: Dubai UAE’, that sort of catches their eye and they almost have to open the email you send telling them about yourself and what kind of player you are,” he adds.
Dubai has been integral for Fekete, but it’s not where he began.
He was born in Budapest and picked up a baseball for the first time at the age of seven in Moscow.
Though his first two stops were just as unlikely of places for baseball passion to flourish, Fekete’s father John, who’s now president of Dubai Little League, was there to pass the game on.
“Before every game, on the way to games, he’d have me say what I needed to work on for that day. He’s always been super supportive and he always thinks about me first and what the right decision is for me, first as a person and secondly as a baseball player,” Fekete says.
“My first glove was one of his old ones, some worn-down glove. His passion for the game went from him to me.”
For Fekete, a three-sport varsity athlete (volleyball and basketball), baseball has always been his true love. It wasn’t until last summer, however, when he started to feel playing Division I could be a reality.
As part of a trip to the US with World Baseball Showcases and Boston Red Sox scout Steve Fish, who’s helped Fekete along the way, he went toe-to-toe with Pac-12 players and more than held his own.
It’s no wonder then that Sacramento State, Villanova and Ohio University showed interest.
Ultimately, Fekete chose the West Coast school for its proximity to professional scouts, Fish’s connection to head coach Reggie Christiansen, the financial support it offered his family and a likely opportunity to play as a freshman.
Baseball still has plenty of room for growth in the UAE and while Fekete is certainly the exception and not the rule, in his eyes he could very well be opening the door for future players.
“I think I could pave the way to show coaches there’s talent out here, because right now they don’t really see what the talent is internationally and in Dubai especially,” Fekete concludes.
“As long as people work hard and put in the effort, they definitely have the chance.”