The old adage that baseball is America’s great game and favourite pastime is something that practically every sports fan has heard.
However, the fact is that baseball has made huge strides around the world in the last 60 or so years and is quickly and quietly leaving the United States in their dust.
To realize that, all one has to do it look at a few facts.
Let’s take a peek at the rosters for Major League Baseball and just note the diversity in nationalities sprinkled throughout. A total of 17 other countries are represented that make up nearly 30 per cent of the total number of players – that’s the most in the last 15 years.
One can see that the Dominican Republic immediately jumps out among the top producers of baseball players with 83 followed by Venezuela with 65.
Despite the recently calming of tensions and a renewed relationship with the U.S., Cuba sits third with just 18.
You can also include Puerto Rico, Japan, Mexico, Columbia, Panama, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Nicaragua, the Netherlands and Taiwan.
And that’s just at the big league level, but that passion and spirit for the game has been filtering down – sometimes it isn’t always done with the best of intentions – to the amateur and youth levels as well.
That can be witnessed just by watching the growing television coverage of the Little League World Series, that now sees games being broadcast in several languages – by commentators from their own country that actually come to the U.S. for the tournament. Toss in the fact that new countries have join the competition in recent years and no one can deny there is certainly growth in the game across the globe.
And that fact hasn’t been lost here in Canada either.
Currently, there are six Canadians playing at the major league level – give or take one or two on any given day, what with players moving up and down from the minor leagues. Some of the more recognizable names on that list include Russell Martin with the Toronto Blue Jays and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.
That number has been higher in the past, but fell off somewhat when baseball started to fall off the chart of activities Canadian kids were interested in during the 1990s. It also coincided with the advent of more children being immersed in video games, which also did help the sport somewhat as it did help expose baseball to a group that may not have been too interested in playing sports before.
However, in the past decade, the number of children taking up baseball has been steadily growing as the sport becomes a little less expensive than it used to be, combined with more exposure in Canada and the move toward making the game more fun for everyone.
That exposure was really ramped up last year when Canada defeated the U.S. to win the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto in addition to the tremendous outpouring of excitement that the Blue Jays run in the playoffs brought to fans last fall.
It demonstrated just how far the country has come in developing its players – to the point where bigger number of Canadians are heading off to colleges in the U.S. to further develop – as well as began a bit more of a love affair with a sport that had lost its lustre. One other big factor leading to the increase has been the installation of a female baseball program from the national down to the local level.
And that has begun to translate down the line, including in Ponoka, where baseball has become at least an option for those wanting to play and learn new skills. Even those that want to play at a higher or more competitive level don’t have to go far to find what they want, and for the most part, those kids are dedicated to doing what they can to achieve their goals so the distance isn’t a hindrance.
So, baseball is no longer just a game or passion for those south of the border and maybe it’s time to put that old adage to rest.
But that is, just an observation.