Moving to a new country is never an easy transition.
There are always many new things to get used to: a new language, a new culture, new people to connect with, and a new home, just to name a few. One thing that remains constant across almost every culture is the love for sport. That is what a group of baseball and softball enthusiasts from Hong Kong discovered upon immigrating to Toronto.
Benny Wu has lived in Toronto for about 10 months. He first played softball in university when he was in Hong Kong and continued to play in amateur leagues for about 10 years, as well as coach high school teams. Thanks to his knowledge of softball, he was able to easily pick up baseball when he came to Toronto.
Along with Matthew Ho, an old student of his, Wu was able to put his skills in both sports to use and help others like him make the adjustment. They started a group called the Hong Kong Baseballers and Softballers in Canada.
“We make a lot of new friends, and they are from Hong Kong too, so we kind of have the same experiences,” said Wu, who helps with teaching other members who are new to the sport so that they may enjoy playing with at least the basics. “We also make new friends from different countries.”
What started out as just a small group of people with a common interest in baseball and softball quickly spread to many more people in the community. Coming together to play sports they love and having fun with a common hobby that they all enjoy turned out to be a very welcoming activity for newcomers looking to adjust to a new home.
As word spread along mutual friends and group chats to more and more new immigrants from Hong Kong, their group continued to grow, with more than 250 members of all ages and backgrounds that include even immigrants from other places such as Iran, Japan, and mainland China.
“Some of them never played (baseball) before, but they want to try it because we have the Blue Jays here,” said Wu on the popularity of the group. “They want to know the game, and they want to watch the game with the knowledge to enjoy the game.”
For Ho, who was already very well-versed in both softball and baseball even before he arrived in Toronto back in October of 2022, the familiarity and prior knowledge of the sport really smoothed out his transition of living in a new place.
He played softball in high school under the tutelage of Wu. When the pandemic put a pause to all school activities, he turned to baseball, where his knowledge of softball came in handy.
“Baseball is a big sport in Canada, so it really helps me (learn) the culture and get into small talk with people,” said Ho, who is currently studying in Toronto. “Talking about baseball helps me know more about my classmates and professors, because we can have chats about it.”
As more and more people were interested and joined the group, they were able to start a co-ed softball team within a local recreational softball league. This led to even more camaraderie, as they could now compete against other teams using the skills and knowledge they developed together.
“It was my first time playing softball, so I kept on playing because I found it different from the sport I played before,” said Nicole Lee, who had played badminton in Hong Kong before coming to Toronto in August of 2022. “This one is more of a team sport.”
She added that it was very helpful to be in a team with others who share a similar experience as her. “For those who came earlier than me, I can ask them some questions if I encounter any difficulties.”
Kenneth Lai, who came to Toronto at the end of 2021 with his wife and his son, had a much bigger transition bringing his whole family to a new country. He had never been introduced to neither softball nor baseball until he came here, but was still able to enjoy playing and building relationships with others through this softball team.
“We moved here from (another) country, so it’s good to play with someone that is from our own country,” said Lai. “Every one of us has a different connection to the community, so it will be good for us to come here to play baseball and exchange experiences.”
For many more of the members of the softball team and the group in general, one thing was constant: they were looking for a community to call their own, with people that had gone through the same hardships that they can relate to. Through the power of sports, they were able to do just that.