NEW YORK -- A contingent of former Major League stars and current management personnel left on a four-day baseball goodwill tour to the African nation of Ghana on Thursday. The group includes Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Mets general manager Omar Minaya, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Al Jackson and Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations. The tour, sponsored by the African Development Foundation, is earmarked at delivering baseball equipment and spreading the ethos of the sport to the children of the West African nation. But Winfield, a vice president of the Padres, has a more far-reaching task. After the main group leaves, Winfield will travel into villages on a humanitarian mission along with John Moores, San Diego's majority owner, and President Jimmy Carter.
"At 6-foot-7, Winfield will be the most visible American on the trip," Moores said when reached by phone on Thursday. "And that includes Carter. He'll stick out like a sore thumb, but it will be great to have him along." The core baseball tour was the brainchild of George Ntim, founder and president of the ADF. Moores and Carter plan on making Ghana their first stop on a nearly three-week, four-country trip, during which their group will deliver medicine and educational materials to local villages. In Ghana, Moores said, his group is tracing the eradication of the Guinea Worm from the population of some 21 million that inhabit the country. "We're checking the water supply and making sure that it's filtered," said Moores of a Guinea Worm parasite that is largely carried through drinking water. "Then we want to be sure people aren't drinking from the wrong source." Winfield, who was elected to the Hall in 2001 and played the first eight of his 22 seasons with the Padres, initially jumped at the chance to join his colleagues on the baseball portion of the trip. But, he said, the chance to do some humanitarian work while he's over there was too important to pass up. "We're going to be bringing some medicine into the rural areas of Ghana," Winfield said on Thursday after a bon voyage press conference at the SNY-TV studios in Rockefeller Center. "So after we finish this baseball end of the trip, I'm just going to stay over for a few more days and go with them. It'll be a great thing. It's a great opportunity to do something like that: to provide high-level humanitarian services to that part of the world. I'm very excited about it." Moores is the director of the Atlanta-based Carter Center and is providing his personally-owned plane to ferry the former president from Georgia to Africa and all other points. The day's proceedings were emotional enough what with Ntim, a native of Ghana now working in the U.S. for the Marriott Corp., choking up while describing his relationship with Minaya, who called the Mets' participation in the baseball tour an extension of his club's "world vision." "When you're talking about the New York Mets, this is part of our global plan," Minaya said in an interview after the main presentation. "We have a global plan that not only includes Ghana, but it is not restricted to only one country or one continent. We'll be in Latin America, we'll be in Africa and we'll be in Asia. "When I was hired [two years ago] as general manager, it was important to me that we would be an organization about giving back. I want to have that capacity as a GM and this is about giving back." MLB's previous commitment to the African continent centered on the development of baseball in South Africa, the now apartheid-free state to the south, which was one of 16 countries or territories to send a team to the first World Baseball Classic last March. But the Ghana trip is the beginning of a grass-roots effort to introduce baseball into that culture. The four-day excursion is scheduled to include a minicamp, an equipment giveaway, a visit to local schools to promote Tee-Ball and various social functions with the top politicians of a country that achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1957 and has since employed a thriving two-party system.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.