Don’t Forget About Canada, Eh?

Canada is perhaps the most forgotten country when it comes to baseball. However, it shouldn’t be!

For a while, both of the Milwaukee Brewers’ eight and ninth inning pitchers were from Canada—Jim Henderson and John Axford. This past summer, I saw Rockies’ first baseman Justin Morneau have a multi-hit game at Coors Field, another Canadian. Other well-known players include the Reds’ Joey Votto and the Blue Jays’ Russell Martin.

John Axford and Jim Henderson in their Canada uniforms

John Axford and Jim Henderson in their Canada uniforms       Twitter: @Todd_Rosiak

There is clearly talent in Canada, but it always seems to be forgotten in the flashy play of the Latin Americans or the unorthodox play of the Japanese. Canada is the only country in the world with a Major League Baseball team for crying out loud!

In fact, the Toronto Blue Jays just signed one of the players I just mentioned—Russell Martin. Welcome home, Russell.

Baseball in Canada isn’t bad by any stretch. The national team is ranked sixth in the world.

So why does it seem to be forgotten by baseball fans as a place where baseball thrives?

1. Hockey

Hockey is definitely king in Canada, so it’s reasonable that more young athletes choose to play hockey instead of baseball. Another reason is that the National Hockey League (NHL) has a much larger footprint in Canada, than MLB’s one club that isn’t geographically friendly for the western and northern parts of Canada.

The NHL has franchises in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary, whereas the MLB has one team in Toronto. Baseball simply can’t compete with the popularity and exposure of hockey

2. Low Interest

The lack of interest in baseball in Canada is another reason. There is proof of this with the Montreal Expos. I was fortunate enough to catch a game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal when I was younger, and I distinctly remember the crowd being smaller than a UW-Whitewater football game’s crowd.

An Expos fan with a "Save The Expos" sign

An Expos fan with a “Save The Expos” sign                                             ESPN.com

The Montreal Expos had such poor attendance in the mid-2000s they eventually had to relocate to Washington D.C. They are now the Washington Nationals.

3. Just one, mostly irrelevant MLB club

This ties into the idea of hockey being dominant in Canada. Unfortunately MLB has just one team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto isn’t exactly accessible for many Canadians, especially those in Nova Scotia or British Columbia (though they have the Seattle Mariners nearby). Furthermore, the team hasn’t seen much success, though they do have one shining moment courtesy of Joe Carter.

4. Baseball is too linked to American culture

Finally, baseball is too linked to American culture, so it tends to be forgotten by baseball fans. If you go overseas, the team that people recognize is the New York Yankees. Few people even realize Toronto has a team.

***

Baseball is a game that has gone global, so let’s try not to forget about our neighbors to the north, eh?

The Dominican Republic: Part II, The Experience

Last week, I posted an overview of baseball in the Dominican Republic. This week I’m moving on to Part II: The Experience. What is baseball really like in this ultracompetitive country? Is it all business or is it for fun?

The answer is quite complicated. Baseball in the Dominican Republic is like nowhere else on earth. Here are some reasons why.

Youth

The archetypal image of youth baseball in the Dominican Republic typically consists of a kid literally swinging a log at a projective that is relatively baseball-shaped. This is not far from the truth. Children in the D.R. are practically born into the fabric of baseball culture, and many are born into poverty. For many, baseball is the quickest way out.

Kids can be found practicing baseball on one of the many fields that dot the island, in crop fields, in the streets, in wooded areas, and even in junkyards. They use anything they can to practice—broomsticks, logs, pipes, you name it. Gloves that you would find in the trash in America are treasured here. The “infields” are choppy and rocky, as are the outfields.

Youth playing baseball in a livestock field in the Dominican Republic

It is incredibly popular, and nearly every boy dreams of playing in an American Major League city. As a result, many youth drop out of school to play baseball full-time at a time when youth of the same age are learning multiplication tables in America.

This is common because of the presence of Major League Clubs’ baseball academies in the Dominican Republic. Players can sign with clubs after the 16.5th birthday, so the love of baseball turns into business in the teen years.

 Teenage Baseball

If a player is fortunate enough to sign with a club and play at one of the prestigious baseball academies, their lifestyle of playing baseball for joy turns into business.

Players will undergo rigorous training, often with private coaches, or buscones, as they try to develop into a professional prospect by the age of 16.5—when they can sign a pro contract.

A Rays signee with youth looking on in Boca Chica, D.R.

A Rays signee with youth looking on in Boca Chica, D.R.                                                  Slate.com

Players at academies will live, eat, and sleep there. They will learn American customs and the language, and above all, they will practice, practice, practice baseball. All of this combines to create a country full of teenagers that dominate the game.

Games

So how is the game actually different? It’s not any different. It is still baseball as American know it. However…

It’s way more intense than a Major League Baseball game. Not only because it’s ultra competitive, and the players are among the best in the world, but because the fans are boisterous and incredibly passionate.

For starters, the games feel more like an American college football game full of students who just hit a few too many beer bongs.  Simply substitute the beer with rum, and the sport with baseball, and you got a game in the Dominican Republic. Fans will scream, wave flags, paint faces, and drink lots of rum…from the bottle.

It’s an intense environment, and it’s no wonder that the Dominican Republic players carry that fire with them in the United States. It’s their home, it’s their culture, and it’s how they know baseball.

Next Post: Baseball, eh?: Canadian Baseball

The Dominican Republic, Part I: An Overview

If someone asked me what country was the best at baseball other than the United States, I would say the Dominican Republic without hesitation.

In fact, other than Japan, it is the only country to have won the World Baseball Classic. They also are the first team to roll through the WBC undefeated.

Dominican Republic celebrates WBC win

Dominican Republic celebrates WBC win                                                             SportingNews.com

Turn on any Major League Baseball game and you’re likely to see a player from the Dominican Republic. In 2014, over 80 Dominican Republic players were on Major League Opening Day rosters. The Dominican Republican also contributes more MLB players than any other country, save for the United States.

This trend jumps out when watching my hometown Milwaukee Brewers as one-third of the everyday starters are from the Dominican Republic—Carlos Gomez (OF), Jean Segura (shortstop), Aramis Ramirez (3B), and if Wily Peralta is pitching, it’s more than one-third. This is remarkable.

Go south on I-94 to Wrigleyville in Chicago, and you’ll see the Cubs, a team with six Dominican Republic players.

These players are no slouches either. Household name players like David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox) and Albert Pujols (L.A. Angels) are from the Dominican Republic. Star pitcher Johnny Cueto for the Cincinnati Reds also hails from the D.R.

Brewers' shortstop Jean Segura

Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura                                                                  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Clearly, the talent coming out of the D.R. is paramount in Major League Baseball.Other

Players From the Dominican Republic: A Very Condensed List

Jose Bautista – Blue Jays

Jose Reyes- Blue Jays

Jhonny Peralta – Cardinals

Nelson Cruz – Orioles

Starlin Castro – Cubs

Robinson Cano – Mariners

Of those players listed, every single one of them has been an all-star at least once in their careers.

There are no signs of this trend ending either. MLB has established baseball academies in the D.R. to train prospects and educate them in American language and culture. Players as young as 14 are trying to get noticed by professional scouts, with hopes of being signed into one of these elite academies.

The pressure of baseball in this country makes it ultracompetitive, bringing out the best players. These players eventually become names that resound throughout sports media and baseball fans. This system clearly works, because MLB clubs continue to do it.

The popularity of baseball in the D.R. makes it a hotspot for talent, and this talent transcends in the Major Leagues. It looks like baseball in the Dominican Republic is for real!

Next Post: The Dominican Republic: Part II, The Experience

African Baseball: The Final Frontier

African Baseball: The Final Frontier

The first continent to show signs of human life, Africa, is also the last continent to be introduced to baseball.

To get a sense of how young the game of baseball is in Africa, it wasn’t until 1990 that the Africa Baseball and Softball Association was formed despite sending a South African national team to the 1974 Amateur World Series. The first African Baseball Cup was held in 1992.

The game of baseball is relatively young in Africa, but the game continues to grow. It currently the most popular in South Africa, but it has never sent a player to the Major Leagues, though that could change soon with Cubs’ prospect, Tayler Scott. In attention to Scott, there are nine members of the South African National Team that are under contract with MLB organizations.

National Friendship Stadium, the first full-size baseball/softball field in Central Africa.

National Friendship Stadium, the first full-size baseball/softball field in Central Africa.                       urbanhype.net

South Africa is also the only World Baseball Classic qualifier from Africa.

Other countries have made a name for themselves in baseball such as Uganda, when a team from Uganda competed in the Little League World Series

In 2012, a team from Lugazi, Uganda won the Middle East/Africa (MEA) region, and the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS) in Williamsport, PA. They were the first African team to compete in the LLWS.

Lugazi Little League Baseball team in Williamsport PA                     ugandalittleleaguebaseball.org

They were immensely popular in Williamsport, but got smoked by Panama and Mexico in the tournament, being outscored by a total of 21-3. However, the team would go home happy with a 3-2 win over Oregon in the consolation game.

Since then, Uganda Little League Baseball has grown tremendously. It currently serves 15,000 children, but they share only 700 gloves!

However, it may be a while before seeing another African team in Williamsport because Africa now has to compete in the “Europe” region of the tournament, which features teams from more-established leagues.

Even though Africa hasn’t seen much success in baseball, there are signs that success will come, perhaps sooner than later. This is, indeed, the final frontier of global baseball.

 

NEXT WEEK: The Dominican Republic: Part I

Brazil: Trading Fútbol for Baseball?

It is the place where the beaches and streets thrive with the synthesis of samba music, flowing chacaça, and sexuality. It is where mountainous terrain is dominated by the largest rainforest in the world, and flanked by the Atlantic Ocean—Brazil.

Brazil is also a place that has seen a surge in the popularity of baseball.

Wait…

Baseball… in a country that is as synonymous with soccer as Santa Claus is with Christmas? A country whose national soccer team wears one of, if not the most iconic sports uniforms in all the world?

Brazil's iconic sport and team uniform

It may be hard to believe, but there is certainly an interest in baseball in Brazil. In fact, a Brazilian friend of mine named Beatriz was extremely excited to learn that I was a baseball player, and asked me to explain it. She said she was aware of it, and had always wanted to know how to play.

Such an attitude is not uncommon in Brazil these days. The increased interest in baseball has given rise to a national baseball team, baseball leagues, and even the first Brazilian Major Leaguer, Yan Gomes.

The History

Unlike many nearby Latin American nations such as Venezuela or Cuba that have a significant baseball culture, Brazil has not had a large United States military presence. Because of this, Brazil hasn’t had as much exposure to American culture as Venezuela or Cuba, and therefore, baseball never really made its way to it.

It was actually mostly because of Japanese immigrants, who introduced the game to Brazil. However, the Internet and wider access to viewing baseball has also catalyzed this surge in popularity.

 The Future

Change is on the horizon for baseball in Brazil, beginning with the first Major League Baseball player from Brazil, Yan Gomes.

Brazilian-born, Indians catcher Yan Gomes fires down to a base

Indians’ Brazilian-born catcher, Yan Gomes fires a throw down to first base.             espn.go.com

Gomes debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. The 27-year-old catcher is currently with the Cleveland Indians. Gomes has been quite successful at the plate, even earning a Silver Slugger Award in 2014.

There are already over a dozen players signed to pro contracts in the United States. Now, with a star in the making, Brazil is poised to see more players take interest and perhaps find their way into the Major Leagues. Though, baseball will never take over soccer in Brazil, it could very well be on it’s way to becoming another big sport there.

Next Post: African Baseball: The Final Frontier

Baseball in Japan: A Whole Different Ballgame

Japanese Baseball is a Whole New Ballgame

Baseball is very popular in Japan. It is high quality baseball, too—several players have worked their way over to the United States to play in the Major Leagues.

These players include Norichika Aoki, who is with the 2014 World Series runner-up Kansas City Royals, Koji Uehara (Red Sox), Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees), and others. Tanaka even earned a BIG contract.

Sure they’re star baseball players in America now, but their careers began in Japan, where baseball is incredibly different. Here are some reasons why.

Smaller baseballs

The Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan actually uses baseballs that are wound tighter than in the MLB. This causes balls to travel shorter distances, break better, and are far more pitcher-friendly.

 Fans don’t keep foul balls

At MLB games, fans will beat each other up for a foul ball, except for Chicago Cubs fans that throw opponents’ home run balls back in a hissy fit. Japanese fans are more courteous and will return foul balls to ushers at Japanese baseball games.

Gaijin limits

Unlike, the MLB, which has no limit to how many foreign players can be on a roster, Japanese baseball actually does. Teams cannot have more than four gaijins (foreigners) on their teams. These foreigners are often former Major Leaguers.

Fans are much better!

Baseball fans in Japan are more like college football fans in America. They will chant all game long, stand up and scream, pound thundersticks, and even sing songs. They put American baseball fans to shame.

Oh, and during the 7th inning stretch, they’ll release thousands of sperm-shaped balloons, and, no, I’m not making this up. It seems like something a section full of drunk college kids would do at a football game, but that’s baseball in Japan for ya!

 Style is different 

The way the game is actually played is remarkably different. Pitchers throw more breaking balls, and there is an irregular strike zone, which is typically bigger than the one in the MLB. This challenges even the best hitters in Japan. Even though the MLB has become more pitcher-friendly in recent years, Japanese baseball still remains much more favorable for pitchers.

The parks are smaller, perhaps to compensate for the smaller baseball, and some parks even have “skin infields” (all dirt). And this is the professional league, mind you.

The players play with a more unorthodox style than American players. Japanese pitchers will have very different windups, sometimes even turning their backs to the batter before throwing. Hitters will have wacky batting stances, and their swings are more often less compact..

Next Post: Brazil and NOT soccer

Baseball in India: The Next Big Thing?

Indian Baseball: The Next Big Thing?

I recently watched the movie, Million Dollar Arm this past week. While it was just an okay movie (worth a watch at least!), it sparked my interest in learning more about baseball in India.

The movie is based on the story of how a sports agent, J.B. Bernstein, set up “The Million Dollar Arm” contest in India which resulted in the first two Indian men to ever sign a professional sports contract in America, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel.

Bernstein, Patel, Singh

Bernstein, Patel, Singh (Pictured from left to right)                                             The Daily Beast

Such a improbable story is monumental in the growth of baseball in India.

India, a country with a population that exceeds one billion people, could be a gold mine in finding baseball talent. So far, it’s been proven to produce professional-quality baseball players. Patel and Singh both signed contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates as pitchers.

Baseball hasn’t taken India by storm yet, but the potential for that to happen is poised to occur if Patel or Singh can make it to the Major Leagues. Baseball is already played at local, club, and university levels in India.

However, if these young men make it to the Major Leagues, Indian people will view them as national heroes, and the brand endorsements they can provide for Indian products will put their faces on billboards throughout the country. The more exposure to them, the more exposure baseball will get.

 

Imagine this on a billboard in Mumbai.

Imagine this on a billboard in Mumbai.                                                                                 ESPN.com

India is dominated by the sport of Cricket, and so perhaps baseball isn’t so far off. The people there are always looking for ways to grow economically, and if baseball can be another outlet, then it could also grow there.

Personally, I think baseball is poised to explode in India if a player can make it to the Major Leagues.

Explore on, baseball fans!

Next Post: Japan!

The Best of the 2014 Season: International Players

With the playoffs in action, I think it’s a good time to reflect on the long 2014 season. In this post, I will discuss several moments involving an international player that I consider to have been the best in baseball this season.

Salvador Perez’s walk-off single to send the Royals to the ALDS.

The Venezuelan-born Kansas City Royals’ catcher had been 0 for 6 in the AL Wild Card game until he was instrumental when it counted. In the 12th inning, Perez reached out on an outside pitch, and drove the ball down the third-base line for a game winning, walk-off single, sending Kansas City into a bear-y awesome celebration.

Because of Perez’s clutch hit, the Royals’ first postseason run since Ronald Reagan was president was able to continue. Most UW-Whitewater students weren’t even alive the last time the Royals were in the playoffs!

Salvador Perez sends Kansas City into a frenzy with his walk off single

Salvador Perez sends Kansas City into a frenzy with his walk off single over the Oakland Athletics          Photo Credit: Kansas City Star

Guilder Rodriguez gets first MLB hit

Another Venezuelan player makes this post. Rodriguez, a career Minor Leaguer made his Major League debut on September 9, 2014 with the Texas Rangers. Big deal, it’s only a September call-up, right?

Wrong.

Rodriguez has played the most Minor League baseball games without any MLB experience of any player—1,095 games. After all these years, Rodriguez finally got his first hit, which ended up being a game-winning RBI single. To sweeten the achievement, he got his first hit with his parents in attendance.

John Axford “pitches a perfect game” with the 2014 Oscars

Even though this took place during Spring Training, it was still a pretty great story. The Canadian pitcher predicted ALL of the Oscar winners perfectly. The former Brewers/Cardinals pitcher, now with the Cleveland Indians, entertained fans by live-tweeting his pick and anxiety during the 2014 Oscars. He’s a great follow by the way.

Sung Woo Lee, Kansas City Royals Superfan

Okay, so he may not be a player, but he’s an insane baseball fan from Korea. I chose to include this because it’s too cool of a story, and another indication that baseball is going worldwide!

Sung Woo Lee, Royals Superfan

Sung Woo Lee, Royals Superfan                                                                      The Kansas City Star

It is clear that that the Royals and Sung Woo Lee have a mutual appreciation of each other. The excitable fan was treated to a one-of-a-kind experience at Kauffman Stadium. You can bet he’s definitely cheering like crazy during the Royals’ ALCS matchup with the Orioles this weekend!

Explore on, baseball fans!

Next Week: A look at Indian baseball

The Oxymoronism of Baseball

Welcome back! I mentioned that I would have another post ready for your reading pleasure, and here it is.

Baseball is Dying

Yes, I believe that baseball is dying. At least it seems to be in America.

Driving by baseball fields here in Wisconsin is a clear reminder of that. There’s hardly anybody using them, and when they are, it’s for a pick-up football or soccer game. Unfortunately, that’s the harsh reality of baseball in this country.

I believe this is because of a few reasons:

1. Travel and Club Teams

The rise of the “travel,” “club,” and “select” at the youth level has impacted the sport’s survival.

It’s ridiculous, really, how young these “select” teams are. Especially because dashing an eight-year-old’s Major League dreams is not a recipe for baseball success. I certainly wouldn’t blame them for not wanting to ever play again.

Not only that, these teams are often “elite” and expensive. This dilutes the product of youth baseball because only a select few can play it, provided their family can afford it, which further reduces the quality of baseball at higher levels in the future.

2. The Internet

Today’s society is one that has gotten used to instantaneously accessing information through the Internet. I think this has led a shorter attention span in many people.

Baseball, being a slower game, simply doesn’t resonate with people as much anymore.

3. Individual Sports

It seems like more young athletes seem to be turning to individual sports like Tennis or Track and Field, and fewer participate in team sports, like baseball. One reason, perhaps, is that they are cheaper to play so parents are more supportive of these sports.

Another, more likely reason, is that kids end up devoting all their time and energy to baseball, but then end up hating it and their interest dissipates by the time they get older. Especially if they’re getting squeezed out of play time through “parental politics.”

But Baseball is also ALIVE.

In other countries at least.

Despite the “death” of baseball in America, the sport has never been in better shape. Baseball is growing in foreign countries, particularly with Major League Baseball making inroads to foreign countries.

Major League Baseball having held the 2014 Opening Series in Sydney, Australia is evidence that they are embracing baseball becoming more international. Perhaps, MLB realizes that the survival of the professional baseball product lies outside of the United States.

Regardless, the expansion of the sport into countries not normally associated with baseball is an indication that baseball is also more “alive.”

Dominican Republic

In countries associated with baseball, like the Dominican Republic, the game thrives. In these nations, young players view baseball as a source of economic income, not a sport, so the competition is incredibly fierce.

Players, as young as 13 or 14, are already focusing on earning a professional contract, sign with an MLB team, and participate in one of their baseball rookie academies.

These are essentially boarding schools tailored specifically for baseball players in the Dominican Republic trying to get to the Major Leagues. This is covered extensively in a documentary called Ballplayer:Pelotero. 

Rookie Baseball Academy design for Chicago Cubs in the D.R.
        – Chicago Cubs Baseball Organization

Japan

Japan is just as alive for baseball. MLB players who don’t make teams in the spring sometimes opt to play in Japan. Two of my favorite players have gone this route, Chris Narveson and Nyjer Morgan.

Japan even provides a chance for players to use the professional Japanese baseball leagues as a way to the Major Leagues. Recently, Matt Clark, a first basemen for the Milwaukee Brewers found his way onto their MLB roster after playing in Japan.

 ***

Overall, it’s clear that even though baseball may not as popular as it once was in the United States, and appears to be dying out. It remains alive in countries overseas. So with that, I thank you non-US Americans for keeping the “American” pastime alive.

Explore on, baseball fans!

Next Week: The Best of the International Players in 2014

Hello world!

My name is Chris Fischer, and welcome to my blog, BasebALL Over the World.

I love the sport of baseball, and have always been interested in international culture. In recent years, baseball has become more global, and Major League Baseball  is reflecting this trend. In fact, the 2014 Opening Series was held in Sydney, Australia, and many of baseball brightest players hail from foreign countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Japan, and the Dominican Republic, just to name a few.

This blog will examine America’s pastime as it is played in other countries, and I will offer my opinions on what it means for baseball in America. My goal is to show how the game has been transformed by the growth of international interest in baseball, and where I think it could be headed.

Baseball is one way in which all different cultures all come together in a single, unifying way. Though the players come from different backgrounds and played baseball in different countries, the rules are still the same, the goal is still the same, but there is still, sometimes, a clash of cultures in a game with rigidly-defined rules.

Latin American players tend to play baseball with more fire and intensity than Americans or Japanese players. Just look at guys like Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers or Carlos Gomez of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Japanese players tend to be funkier and more unorthodox in their playing style, while American players are more classic and methodical. Just compare the swings of Nori Aoki of the Kansas City Royals and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.

Norichika Aoki homers in a game and so does Bryce Harper.

It’s interesting that there is a noticeable difference in how players play the game.

So why should we care?

I believe it is important to understand international culture, especially now that we live in an age where global connection is available at our fingertips. It’s important for progressive ideology, and understanding and respecting others’ cultures and belief systems. I think it keeps the world from going completely insane.

Explore on, Baseball fans!

Next Week: Why I think America’s Pastime is Dying and Growing Simultaneously