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WBUR: Baseball team taps into tradition to boost Navajo youth

WBUR travels to the Navajo Nation to learn more about Naat’aanii, a baseball team that promotes leadership in youth:
“Being Navajo is being able to handle the struggles of life and to understand that in order to be successful you’re gonna get knocked down more than once,” said Dineh Benally, a youth baseball coach with teams in Farmington and Albuquerque.

Benally learned baseball as a kid on a reservation in Shiprock, where New Mexico borders with Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. The Four Corners was the Navajo ancestral home until 1864, when the tribe was forcibly marched to a desolate reservation 500 miles away.

Benally’s had his share of hardship. And failure. Growing up on the reservation was fun. But farm chores often kept him off the ball field. And when he did play, there wasn’t much in the way of coaching. Still, the tall right hander was MVP of his all-Navajo high school team. He pitched two years in junior college. Then he got a break: a chance to make the team at New Mexico State University—and to prove that a boy from the rez could play Division I ball. He threw well in tryouts but was cut on the final day.

A few years after graduation, in 1999, he started a youth team, to give Najavo kids the type of training he wishes he’d had growing up. He called the team “Naat’aanii,” a word that’s hard for Anglos to pronounce. In Navajo it means leader. He scoured the state for native talent, boys born on and off the rez who he could shepherd toward college baseball and maybe even the pros.

Get the Story:
Navajos Leave Footprint On The Diamond (WBUR 3/22)

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