The game of baseball is growing in Pakistan, and Amaan Khan is a prime example why
October 2nd, 2022
16-year-old Amaan Khan joined Team Pakistan in a way most kids his age join or do anything these days.
Over social media.
A father of a player on Team Pakistan had seen Khan post one of his local tournament outings on Twitter and reached out to him. The Chicago native, whose grandparents grew up in Pakistan, is a 6-foot-4 junior at Lane Tech high school — a college prep institution that has produced numerous MLBers over the years, including many pitchers.
“Every year, they’re constantly putting guys out there,” Khan told me. “You know, kind of defining a new name every year for our school.”
Khan, again, still just 16 with room to grow, already throws a four-seam fastball in the low-to-mid 80s. He also has a changeup and curveball — the latter he believes is his “go-to pitch.”
The right-hander was, of course, in to play on the national team — telling me it was “always his dream.” He would join a couple other 16-year-olds on the squad — Salik and Yahya Hasan out of Santa Clara, Calif. — and a hodge-podge group of former cricketers and ballplayers from the U.S., Canada and Pakistan. Amir Asghar, also out of Chicago and maybe their best pitcher, is a college starter at Bethune-Cookman — a brain Khan said he “can pick at.” Their shortstop and leadoff hitter Zan Von Schlegell just committed to play at the University of St. Thomas next year. There are also a few veterans on the team — like pitcher/outfielder Osmad Ahmad from Toronto.
“I’m the 43-year-old,” Ahmad right away said to me, smiling.
What does he think of playing with someone almost 30 years younger than him?
“I mean, it’s not weird. Age is just a number,” he told me. “The kids are cool. We joke around. They’ll sit at the back of the bus and be like, ‘You’re three years older than my dad.'”
Some of the Pakistani pitchers — like Muhammad Aslam or Muhammad Zohaib — had to learn how to perform a pitcher windup as adults. That’s where bullpen coach Wayne Randall Arms came in (a quality name for a guy who works with pitchers).
Arms had worked in the Mexican League as a pitching coach and wanted to go more international — helping out in places where baseball might not be so popular, but might also be slowly growing. He caught on with Team Pakistan before the pandemic and spent a month over there recently to work with potential pitchers.
“They didn’t have baseball fields, just cricket fields,” Arms said. “But that’s OK, we made it work.”
Conditioning and strength building were big parts of his workouts, but also, just basic mechanics for these athletes who knew mostly cricket.
“Some players, it’s easy, because they’re already in the motion of that,” Arms told me. “My first day there, though, there’s this guy who comes running with the ball and I’m like, ‘Oh no, wait, no.'”
So, that was the team headed to Panama City for the games, a group which manager Patrick Anderson noted only practiced “a couple times” together.
Team Pakistan had appeared previously in a World Baseball Classic in 2016 — only to be mercy-ruled twice and sent back home. Still, because of the fact that not many knew Pakistan even played baseball, they became the darlings of the international version of the sport.
Once Panama’s Rod Carew Stadium and the Twitterworld heard about Khan’s age, Pakistan was again a team to root for. The teenager didn’t get into the first game — a hard-fought 7-4 loss to Argentina, but, in the 5th inning of Game 2 against a heavily favored Nicaragua team, he got his chance.
Khan got two quick outs, then walked the bases loaded and gave up a run on a wild pitch. His final line was: 1 IP, 2 ER, 0 H, 3 BB. His mom was closely, and emotionally, watching from behind home plate.
Not bad for a teenager pitching with a nation of more than 220 million people on his shoulders. His manager agreed postgame.
“I thought it was good,” Anderson said. “He’s 16 years old! I thought he held himself pretty good, he got some quick outs. He went a little sideways and then got himself back in the zone. That’s a 16-year-old. Sit back and think about what you were doing when you were 16.”
“It’s the best experience I’ve had and probably ever will have,” Khan said. “It’s an honor to be able to make this team and represent my country. It’s just awesome.”
Pakistan, once again, was sent back home after two games — including a tough mercy-rule loss to Nicaragua on Sunday. But they stuck around close to Argentina in the opener, even after visa issues caused a handful of players to arrive late, including the aforementioned pitchers Aslam and Zohaib. They pitched three innings that game and gave up zero runs. That pleased the team, and mostly pleased Arms.
“What do you think?” Arms said. “I’m like a proud papa. They made me cry.”
The entire few days pleased everyone. You could see it in their relatively large, and fervent, fanbase at the ballpark. You could see it in the enthusiasm of the players and coaches and parents. The sport seems to be gaining a foothold in a place most probably didn’t think it would.
“Yeah, it’s growing,” Ahmad said. “Credit to [head of the federation]Mr. Shah who, in the last eight to 10 years, has done a great job with the program. You see it on social media now and just feel it. It’s not just one city or province, it’s going to all different cities and provinces.”
“The academy I went to had 200 kids in it,” Arms told me. “Yeah, wow. They toured me a lot when I was there. There’s a lot of academies and there’s some really good talent. These kids are developing.”
Khan, barely old enough to drive, talks fondly of the future like a grown adult. He sees big things among his Pakistani-American and Pakistani generation.
“I saw in the bullpen the other day, these guys picked up the game 10 years ago when they were 17 and now they’re 27,” he said. “The game is really growing. These guys will go back and help out the youth. I’m sure in 10 or 15 years, we’ll have even more guys playing college ball.”
And hopefully again at World Baseball Classic 2026.