Baseball is one of the most played sports on the planet. Its popularity is largely unrivaled next to soccer. How did “America’s pastime” become a global game?
The four semifinal teams represent three continents and millions of baseball fans across the globe. Let’s go nation by nation and examine each country’s unique baseball origins.
Bert Blyleven is the only native Dutch player to make the Hall of Fame (Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images).
The Netherlands has become a baseball powerhouse with one of the top teams in the WBC. It comes from humble beginnings like most empires.
The origins of baseball in the Netherlands can be dated to the early 1900s. J.C.G. Grase is credited with introducing the Netherlands to baseball with his foundation of the Dutch Baseball Union in 1912.
Grase was an English teacher in Amsterdam, and was first introduced to the game on a vacation to the states. His ability to translate the rules from English to Dutch was vital to the growth of baseball in the Netherlands. However, it wasn’t until Emile Bleesing founded the team “Quick Amsterdam” that the game started to grow.
Quick Amsterdam was founded in 1913, and is the longest continually running baseball team in the Netherlands. Bleesing is the most important baseball pioneer in Dutch history. His trips around the Dutch countryside to spread the game planted the seed that sprouted into what baseball in the Netherlands is today.
Dutch baseball goes farther back than just recent history. A longstanding tradition of baseball dominance in Europe has the Netherlands increasing its baseball empire. The Dutch influence continues to grow with multiple Dutch players in the majors.
With 3,030 MLB hits, Ichiro Suzuki is the crowning jewel of Japanese baseball (Bill Boyce/AP).
Japan will be making yet another WBC semifinals appearance this week. Their championship pedigree has its roots deep in Japanese history.
Americans Horace Wilson and Albert Bates are credited with introducing Japan to baseball. However, it was Hiroshi Hiraoka that helped grow the game.
He became a die-hard Red Sox fan while attending school in the states. This lead Hiraoka to found the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics in 1878. The evolution of baseball in Japan ended up being much different than that of the Netherlands.
Baseball in Japan began to grow just after the dawn of the 20th century. Amateur ball became the major form of baseball in the country. Baseball was able to take root at a younger age level since the focus was turned away from the pros.
Kids in public schools and universities became players of the sport. This encouraged them to become baseball fans for life, and led to the development of the pro leagues.
The first professional league was founded in 1936. The current highest level of baseball in Japan, Nippon Professional Baseball, was founded in 1949. Japan has come into its own with such a long baseball history.
Carlos Beltran has represented Puerto Rico in every WBC played (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North Americ).
The previous two countries can be traced to a few individuals, but Puerto Rico is much different.
Baseball was introduced to Puerto Rico by a group of Puerto Ricans and Cubans who had learned the game in the United States. The first impressions by the locals were poor, but the first two teams were founded in 1897.
The Almendares Baseball Club, owned by Francisco Alamo Armas, and the Borinquen Baseball Club, owned by Santos Filippi, were the first two baseball clubs on the island. On January 11, 1898, the first baseball game between the two teams was played. Baseball began to explode in Puerto Rico at the end of the Spanish-American War in the summer of 1898.
Puerto Rico was passed from Spanish possession to U.S. possession with the conclusion of the war. Americans brought baseball with them when the United States began stationing troops in the territory.
The U.S. troops on the island formed their own baseball club. They were beaten in 1900 by the Almendares Baseball Club 32-18.
Baseball began to expand after the war. Towns and schools founded their own teams. Professional ball began in 1938 with the founding of the Puerto Rico Baseball League.
The growth of baseball in both public teams like school and town teams and the development of a professional league really set a firm foundation for baseball in Puerto Rico. The island has grown from that foundation to become one of the leading nations in baseball.
Alexander Cartwright was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 for his work with the Knickerbockers (baseball.org).
As “America’s pastime,” baseball has a longstanding history in the United States. Accordingly, the game is almost as old as the country itself.
Baseball can be traced back to a Pittsfield, Massachusetts law written in 1792, which prohibited the playing of the game within 80 yards of the town meeting house. The first team to organize was the New York Knickerbockers, who were founded in 1845 under the leadership of Alexander Cartwright.
The Knickerbockers established the modern rules for baseball. These “Knickerbocker Rules” dealt with laying out the rules of the game, as well as organization. Even with their own rules in place, the Knickerbockers were bested by the New York Nine in the first official game played under the new rules in Hoboken, New Jersey.
A few years later in 1857, the National Association of Base Ball Players was organized. It was the first entity to govern the sport and establish a championship. The game grew in popularity with the outbreak of the Civil War.
Union soldiers introduced their southern counterparts to the game, and it was quickly picked up in the south. The growth of baseball in the south became a uniting factor during Reconstruction. People all over the country were introduced to the game, and its this spread in popularity that lead to it becoming “America’s past time.”
Luckily for us and the rest of the world, it isn’t limited to just the United States.
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