Finding Fifi Baiden

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    READS: 1,202
    Updated: May 22, 2014
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    From the Streets of Ajumako, Ghana to the Columbus Crew of the MLS

    Hero…

    The definition of the word hero according to the Webster’s dictionary is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.”

    Hero…

    Growing up I idolized Michael Jordan. My room was decked out wall to wall with his posters and Sports Illustrated covers. 

    I have watched every conceivable movie from “Michael Jordan’s Playground”, to the unforgivable “Space Jam” and read every book from “The Jordan Rules” by Sam Smith to “For the Love of the Game” by Michael Jordan himself. 

    I tried to emulate every one of his dunks on an eight foot rim and even though I was a 5’10” shooting guard I would go to the low post and practice his patented fade away jumper (to no avail I might add).

    I was so mesmerized and in awe of the guy I tattooed the “Jumpman” symbol on my shoulder my senior year of high school….no really. 

    As the years have gone by I have noticed my tune has changed a bit in regards to Mr. Jordan.   

    It is not because the stories of his infidelities in his first marriage or his extreme gambling habits that my opinion has slightly altered.  Everybody has their vices and that is simply not in my realm to judge. 

    I became more concerned with the tales of how his obsession with winning at any cost, whether it be basketball initially and more recently in his entrepreneurial life, led to the abrasive treatment of a TON of people. 

    Whether it is friends, teammates, or the just Average Joe waiter/waitress in a Las Vegas lounge, the stories out there of him belittling people are jaw dropping.  Pun intended for the time he dropped Steve Kerr during a practice because Jordan’s team was losing as his frustration got the best of him. 

    Michael Jordan’s work ethic, competitiveness, and sheer determination is something to be admired and taught in all facets of life.

    His character on the other hand might be a different story. 

    I realize that the American media has glamorized numerous figures in mainstream sports with the title Hero.  

    Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will realize that a Hero is an endangered species because as we catapult those undeserving of the title, we lose sight of those that have spent a lifetime earning something which they never even wanted.

    The problem with heroes is sometimes their actions make you feel inept.  Bare with me here and I shall explain. 

    If you have ever been lucky enough to actually have met one of your heroes you likely experienced that small but personal interaction that later left you critiquing the shortcomings you see in yourself.

    Whether it be how they overcame a monumental challenge and turned it into a crowning achievement, or simply how they took a pressure packed situation and made it look as easy as tying your shoelace, in both instances you are astonished by their composure and marvel at the way they remain humble throughout the endeavor. 

    The following is the story of one of my heroes, Kingsley “Fifi” Baiden, and with all due respect to the Rapping Canuck otherwise known as Drake, this young man “started from the bottom now HE’S HERE!!!”

    I met Fifi through the Right to Dream Academy. Tom Vernon, the founder of RtD and Manchester United African Scout, had heard that I had prior experience teaching in the classroom and invited me to Dawu, Akuapim where the academy was located to teach English lessons and observe the boys daily regimen. 

    Entering the academy gate was like walking into a grassroots football heaven. There was only one grass pitch, the classroom doubled as the cafeteria and was barely covered enough from the beating sun, and the “weight room” was a tetanus shot waiting to happen. 

    I fell in love with it the first day!  The week I spent with those kids just may have been the greatest week of my life.  Watching kids so eager to learn and participate in the classroom was a dream come true as a teacher and a coach. 

    Add to the equation they had impeccable manners and displayed prodigious self-discipline.  

    They were the breath of fresh air I was so desperately seeking in my life.  Fifi is the epitome of what the RtD Academy stands for. 

    If you look at the RtD website they have a character development page with building blocks such as self-discipline, passion, initiative, integrity, social intelligence, giving back, and winning.  They may as well have posted a picture of Fifi next to it because that is what this young man embodies.

    Fifi was born in Ajumako which is in the Central region of Ghana. 

    As a youngster, he sold kerosene to help his parents pay for his school fees which they could not always afford.  He realized at a very young age, it was going to be up to him to find a way out.  That way out was football. 

    At the age of ten, Fifi was one of nine players selected out of 300 kids in a three-week football tryout put on by the RtD Academy in Dawu. 

    He left his family for a full scholarship that included tuition, training, food and boarding.  He spent five years at RtD and earned a scholarship to Dunn School in Santa Barbara, California. 

    I met Fifi the summer before he left for school in the United States.  Some people just have a “presence” upon meeting them.  You sense it immediately as you engage in conversation.

    In the first five minutes you know they are going to be successful in whatever it is they decide to do in life.  Fifi had that “presence”…at fifteen years old!!!  We talked for hours and by the end of the day, I knew, with every fiber of my existence, meeting Fifi had just changed my life.

    Fifi and I kept in touch via text and in the summer of 2009 his club team, Santa Barbara SC, had a tournament in Irvine, California which was only a forty-five minute drive from where I lived. 

    Watching this kid play against others his age was like watching Lebron James playing against fellow high school players. It simply was not fair. 

    The speed, precision, and intelligence that he played with was so far superior that I almost felt bad for the other kids. 

    During the middle of their double-header (which they won with ease) I got to catch up with Fifi and another RtD graduate, Emmanuel “Nana” Akyen.  One of their host families invited me to their house and we did what Southern Californians do, swim and eat In N Out burgers. 

    It had been two full years since I had seen Fifi and I was astonished at how well acclimated he had become to the American lifestyle and how well he was doing academically.  Actually, astonished is a poor choice of words. 

    After all, this was Fifi we were talking about. The kid would have been successful had you put him on the planet Mars.  I followed him through his collegiate career at UCSB (where he was selected to the All-Big West First Team, as well as the Big West Academic All-Conference Team) and every time they played Cal State Fullerton I would be giddy in the stands telling anybody who would listen how special of a person, not just football player, he was. 

    True to form being the gentleman he was, he would find me in the stands after his game and come shake my hand and say hello.  The kid just habitually impressed me over and over again.

    In 2013 Fifi accomplished one of his own goals by going home and interning at the NGO, Orphan Aid, in Ghana. 

    To this day he credits the RtD Academy for the foundation it provided for him.  On January 22, 2014, Fifi was drafted with the fourth pick of the third round by the Columbus Crew of the MLS.  His lifelong dream to play professional football had become a reality. 

    I texted him congratulations and to inform him that I had a new favorite MLS team and that I could not wait to buy his jersey. 

    In typical Fifi fashion he replied, “will be great to see you at our games, and don’t worry about the jersey, once everything goes well I will send a signed one your way”.  I cried that day and thanked God for introducing me to this young man.

    I have three heroes in my life, two whom I know and one whom I have never met.  The first is my father, Abe Alba.

    He played football collegiately at New Mexico State University, setting numerous records, and was a three-time Academic All-American.  Ironically the university has not been relevant since…http://grantland.com/features/the-future-new-mexico-state/.  

    Albeit through all of his athletic accolades and getting inducted into the Aggie Hall of Fame, I am most proud of my father for his heroic act he endured on August 30, 1985. 

    He was a field agent with the FBI and they had stationed him in Puerto Rico undercover doing surveillance on Filiberto Ojeda-Rios, the lead terrorist of the Macheteros. 

    He took a bullet in the eye that day for his country while in pursuit of Ojeda-Rios.  Upon return of his accident, he was advised to take a desk job but refused and through his final years in the Bureau he became one of the top hostage negotiators in Southern California. 

    He later received the Medal of Valor for his courageous act that solemn day in Puerto Rico.

    Joe Delaney is a name you have most likely never heard of but makes my list.  I would love to try to elucidate (…and to my English professor my freshman year at Citrus College who commented on one of my papers that elucidate “wasn’t a real word”, it means to make clear or explain. 

    Maybe he should check HIS Webster’s dictionary next time) how extraordinary of a man he was but I do not think I could match the eloquence of this Rick Reilly piece so I am not even going to try. I am assuming you skipped over the link.  No worries, I usually do the same thing. 

    Just do me a favor and trust me on this one.  Take four minutes of your time and read how one article could change somebody’s life. I must have read it over a hundred times and once my tear ducts were as dry as the Sahara Desert, I decided my heart could not take the guilt of complacency anymore and that is when I decided to do something for someone else other than myself.

    Upon gathering information for this article via text with Fifi, in my mind the focus of the piece started to shift. 

    He knew I was going to tell his story but he DID NOT know that I would be referring to him as a hero and somebody I had admired and looked up to. 

    The fact of the matter is if he did he probably would not have let me written what you are currently reading.  Because that what heroes do.  They do not live exemplary lives to just to be acknowledged publicly, it simply is not in their nature. 

    I always knew Fifi was my hero, but, until I wrote this article, I never knew why.  A close friend of mine posed some difficult questions that felt like an epic body shot from the Arturo Gatti/Micky Ward trilogy upon hearing them. 

    What would I do if Fifi died today?  What would I say if I had to stand and give his eulogy? 

    How would I live the rest of my life to pay homage to a hero that forever changed mine?  I am not sure if I have the answers to these questions. 

    What I am sure is that I put an inordinate amount of time thinking about them and that process alone had a resounding effect on how I now look at things.  That is how I KNOW Fifi is my hero.   

    I concur with Rick Reilly when he points out at the end of his very poignant article that it is imperative to remember the “good guys” such as Fifi the next time you are reading about Aaron Hernandez in a double murder trial or the terrible tragedy of Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend. 

    Do not let a handful of knuckle heads skew all that is right with sports. 

    I met Kingsley “Fifi” Baiden in the back of a crowded, rickety taxi cab on a pot hole infested seemingly endless dirt road under the scorching Ghana sun.  My point being, keep your eyes, mind, and heart open because you never know when or where you might meet your next hero.

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    6 Comments

    1. steve horoshak

      June 9, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      James,

      Thank you so much for sharing this great article by you. YOu are an amazing writer and this was a very inspiring story. Keep up the good work.

      Steve

    2. steve horoshak

      June 9, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      James,

      Thanks so much for sharing this great story and life experience. YOu are a very talented writer and this was a very inspiring story.

      Steve Horoshak

      • James Alba

        June 9, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        Thank you very much Mr. Horoshak. The piece wrote itself. I was just blessed enough to be given the pen & paper. I am glad you enjoyed it.

    3. Big Game James

      May 26, 2014 at 4:47 PM

      Nice piece James, I can read how enlightening and valued your friendship with Fifi means to you. I anticipate seeing him play vs. the Galaxy.

    4. loriJohnston

      May 23, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Thanks for writing this article! I completely agree- My family had the pleasure of hosting Fifi 2 summers ago while he coached a soccer camp in our town. Our lives were forever changed! We could NOT be more proud of what he has accomplished and never had a doubt that great things will happen for him. LEJ

      • James Alba

        May 23, 2014 at 4:00 PM

        It was an emotional piece that was very draining but I felt had to be told. I’m glad you enjoyed the finished product & thank you for your feedback!

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