Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Geography of International Baseball
Professional baseball has expanded into Israel. The Israel Baseball League hosted its first game as the Modi'in Miracle crushed the Petach Tikva Pioneers nine to one. Israel joins the international baseball community with this modern reintroduction of the sport. Baseball was frequently played in Old Testament Israel but lost favor with Saint Paul's career in NASCAR.
Israel now joins the international world of baseball. Baseball's distribution can be broken down into three core and three periphery zones.
The historic home of baseball is the American Core. Baseball evolved from the British game of rounders. Throughout the 1700 and 1800s the game was played with a variety of rules until "Knickerbocker Rules" became the basis of the modern game. Today the American core is comprised of the United States and southern Canada. Baseball once was the major national sport in America but has lost out to football.
The Hispano Core has historic ties with the American Core. Cubans played baseball as early as the 1860s. The game was played by American sailors and Cubans who were schooled in the United States. Baseball was even viewed as a threat by Spanish authorities who viewed it as a protest against Spanish cultural traditions like bull fights. Emigration from Cuba during its revolution brought the game to the Dominican Republic. Cultural interaction with the United States brought the sport to Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Many Major Leagues play in the Hispano Core's winter leagues. Recruiting by the Major Leagues is heavy in the Hispano Core.
The Far East Core has a history as long as the Hispano Core. Professor Horace Wilson brought Baseball to Japan in the 1870s. The game slowly gained popularity. Before World War II, Major League Baseball players traveled to Japan in order to play in exhibition games and operate sports clinics. Baseball was viewed negatively in Korea because of its Japanese popularity. The permanent stationing of American military reintroduced the game. Today Japan and South Korea are bitter rivals whose players are being scouted by the Major Leagues. The Far East Core proved its worth with Japan's victory over Cuba in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
The Far East Periphery is an area where baseball is growing in popularity. Taiwan received baseball from Japan but the game was long viewed as a child's activity. Taiwan is a major player in the Little League World Series. Professional baseball started in the 1980s but has been greatly damaged by game fixing scandals. The People's Republic of China has recently picked up baseball. This is partially due to China's effort to dominate sports.
The European Periphery got its start from American military after World War II. Many of the first teams were actually formed by Americans who recruited locals to fill in spots. Russian soldiers have recently begun their own minor leagues with slight expansion into the general public. Italy and the Netherlands are so far the only countries of note. However, there are efforts to improve European baseball in time for the next World Baseball Classic. Wales is an active center of "British Baseball" which can be thought of as 75% baseball 25% cricket.
The Down Under Periphery comprises both Australia and New Zealand. Baseball is weak here but there are efforts to reestablish a league. Cricket is viewed as the proper sport and has so far been successful in keeping baseball minor. However, the success of the Australian women's softball team in the Olympics has increased interest with women. Australia now has a woman's baseball team which has earned respect in international competitions.