The first time Nomi Ansari stepped foot on a baseball diamond, things didn’t go too smoothly for the young immigrant from Pakistan.
“On my first day, I didn’t know what a glove was,” he said. “I didn’t know what a ball was. I didn’t know what baseball was. My parents … like typical immigrant parents, were like, ‘Just go play.’ The first time a ball was thrown to me, it hit me right in the face, and I got a black eye. And I thought that was it for me with baseball.”
Luckily for Ansari and eventually the Dr. Phillips Little League organization, he would give baseball another shot.
Now in 2024, Ansari — a former DPLL player, coach, board member, safety officer and president — celebrates the league moving to its new home. The complex sits on 16.06 acres near the corner of Buenavista Woods Boulevard and Bissell Street. It features four grass fields: one dedicated softball field, two smaller baseball fields — to accommodate games for the 12-and-under division — and one big baseball field to accommodate games for the 13- to 16-year-old division. It also includes a concession stand and restrooms.
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In 1988, when Ansari was in the fifth grade, his family moved to the Dr. Phillips area and similarly to his first experience with baseball, Ansari was dropped into then-Dr. Phillips-Windermere Little League — except this time he was being welcomed in with open arms and not a baseball to the face.
“I was struggling with learning English,” he said. “I was struggling with just social anxiety because of the language barrier, the cultural shock. Everything was a struggle. And so I was introduced to Dr. Phillips Little League, kind of the same way I was introduced to baseball the first time … but I still remember my first coach, Coach Ramos.
“I was really out of my element, but he was so welcoming to me, and the kids on the team were so welcoming to me that I really started to enjoy it,” Ansari said. “By the time the next season started, I became a pretty good ballplayer. But more importantly, everything in my life started really to change for the better. I became more confident in myself and who I am, I became a better student and it all started because of that feeling of community and being welcomed and encouraged by that group. … I can truly say that I will always feel indebted to Dr. Phillips Little League for what it’s done for me and continues to do.”
From that first season in 1988 through all of middle school, Ansari played baseball, learned English, met new friends and made lifelong memories on the DPLL old fields near the corner of Wallace Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard.
“I tell the kids that I coach now: All I remember from my playing days are the special moments of friendship, camaraderie and hanging out at a friend’s house in the neighborhood across the street from the fields,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what our records were or anything like that. But what I can remember is that my experience had a lifelong impact. I believe who I am today, in every aspect of life — personally, professionally and academically — I attribute a lot of it directly to my introduction to Dr. Phillips Little League and to all the good people that I encountered there.”
One of those memories came in a game where his team was up seven or eight runs. Ansari, who predominantly played in the infield but occasionally pitched, had made multiple errors in a row that shrunk his team’s lead.
His coach, Joe Hoffman, didn’t pull Ansari. Instead, he put the game in his struggling shortstop’s hands.
“At that point, Joe comes out to the pitching mound and he calls me over,” Ansari said. “ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to the bench.’ But instead, he takes the ball from the pitcher, hands it to me and says, ‘Hey, if you really don’t want to win this game, do it from the mound.’”
Ansari recalls his teammates’ parents in the stands were outraged at the decision, feeling as if the young Ansari had dealt with enough after making those errors, but Hoffman didn’t flinch.
“I proceeded to walk like three or four batters in a row,” Ansari said. “At that point, the parents are coming over the fence. They’re wanting to fight Joe.”
But Hoffman was a veteran coach, he knew his player and his capabilities.
“I strike out the next couple of kids,” Ansari said. “We get three outs, and we win the game by two. … Now, as a dad of three boys, I understand that putting them in a situation where they may fail is OK. And if they fail, that’s OK. But hey, maybe they won’t, and they’ll come out of it with a new sense of who they are and what they’re capable of. That happened to me with that coach, on that ball field, representing Dr. Phillips Little League.”
These sorts of experiences shaped Ansari’s life. So, when he signed his oldest son up for T-ball, the itch to give back to the organization that gave him so much was undeniable.
“When I moved back to Orlando in 2011, my oldest at that time was 5, so I put him in T-ball,” he said. “At that time, Little League didn’t have T-ball, but they played at the YMCA right next to the Little League fields. So I started going out there a lot, and we were right there next to these ball fields where I grew up. The rush of memories and positive experiences started coming back.
“And I was like, ‘Man, I would love for my kids to experience half of what I experienced,” Ansari said. “I signed my kid up when he got to the age, and I was just drawn to wanting to be more than a spectator. And I felt the sense of obligation to the community to not just sit in the stands and watch. … I just felt that internal debt because of my experience there, that I felt like I needed to be more involved. So I started coaching.”
That’s when he met former MLB player James Parr, DPLL’s coaching coordinator, and Ansari’s involvement grew from coaching to eventually serving as the local organization’s president.
“I was just talking to James and telling him that I used to play here and telling him some stories and he was like, ‘Well, since you played here, you coach here and you’re always here now that you have two kids, you might as well join the board,’” Ansari said. “When I got on the board, because of everything that I had experienced, I knew I wanted to provide that same experience to every kid that walked through those gates. I wanted them to feel like they were in a place where they could just be kids and play baseball. And beyond baseball, be among friends, be among people who support them, people who encourage them. Hopefully, through the game of baseball, they would learn lifelong lessons that will be way more beneficial to them than learning how to hit a fastball or catch a pop fly. So I decided to be as involved as I could be, and obviously, being the head of an organization can be stressful … but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.”
To those who saw Ansari in action, he succeeded in his drive to provide kids a space to fall in love with America’s pastime like he did.
“I’ve never seen a more dedicated guy to the league’s people and the overall well-being of the league, and I’ve served under some really, really, really good presidents,” Parr said. “Nomi is there all the time. He wore more hats than anybody. I’m a big believer that actions speak louder than words, and Nomi’s actions were just something else.”
Now, more than three decades since Ansari first stepped foot on those fields as a fifth-grader, the league is heading to a new home and he has passed the presidential baton to Andria Estrella-Roa.
As the league transitions to its new facility, Ansari is going to miss the fields that had such an impact on his life.
“I really point to that specific facility, that field as the starting point of who I am,” he said. “Before stepping foot on those fields, I felt like I was just a kid, kind of lost and not really knowing what direction life would take me. That was a place that just really set me up for success in a lot of aspects of my life. So, I just have such an affinity for those fields.”
Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.
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