Soccer, or football as most people call it, is the global game. People of all ages play the beautiful game from the busy streets of New York City to rural villages all over the world, like this one in Rwanda. Soccer, as Americans call it, is globally popular for a variety of reasons, but I believe the two most important are the requirements to play in terms of people and equipment. Only have one friend to play with? Simple! It’s one on one. I hope you can dribble. Live on less than a dollar a day and not positive where your next meal will come from? Here’s some rolled up cloth that will work as a ball. The simplicity of the game opens it up to almost every person on the planet.
Baseball has long sought to expand its global reach, and the advent of the World Baseball Classic was part of that vision. The more countries watching and playing baseball would mean a larger talent pool for professional baseball, but also the more money organizations like Major League Baseball can make. FIFA and leagues like the Premier League are about growing the sport, but ultimately they are businesses interested in making more money. The best way to increase income is to reach into every available market, even creating new markets, to sell your product.
Gift Ngoepe is not only the firt South African to make it to the Majors, he is the first person from the entire African continent. (Ronald C. Modra/ Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
If baseball ever rivals soccer in global appeal it will not happen any time soon. At the most grassroots level baseball requires more than soccer. Finding a stick and a makeshift ball may not sound like much but it can be too much for a game for those living in areas without trees or on the edge of survival. A makeshift baseball has to be harder than a makeshift soccer ball for the ball to travel any distance when struck with the makeshift bat. Baseball can work with just two people. Playing catch or one person hitting and the other pitching means baseball at the most basic level, like soccer can involve a minimum number of people. Baseball is heading in the right direction, but growth will take time and Major League Baseball must remain patient to see the fruits of its labor.
Baseball is the American Pastime All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have sent at least 12 players to the Major Leagues. Alaska ranks last with only 12 Major League players and California is first with 2,191 players. Every state could field a team and have a tournament to determine which state reigns supreme. While this tournament rages on, ignoring time to allow all 16,553 American born players to be eligible for the tournament, the rest of the world could watch and learn. There have been 45 countries other than the United States to have at least one player reach the Major Leagues. The Dominican Republic has the most players with 674 while Afghanistan Belgium, Belize, China, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, and Vietnam have all sent one player to the Majors. In addition to countries, there are seven territories which have sent at least one player to the Majors, with Puerto Rico having sent 258 players and American Samoa and Hong Kong sending one player each. The globalizing of baseball would not be complete without Ed Porray, who was born on a ship sailing the Atlantic Ocean.
The globalizing of baseball was noticeable last week with the Major League debuts of Gift Ngoepe (South Africa) and Dovydas Neverauskas (Lithuania). Both players are the first Major League players from their home countries. Ngoepe is the first African born player to reach the Majors. The African continent is home to over one billion people, the talent pool is there, waiting to be found. The careers of Ngoepe and Neverauskas will hopefully be long, but it is doubtful they will be the best player from their home nation. They are the frontrunners who have shown that it is possible. One player makes it to the Majors, teams and scouts may file it away as a place to remember when they have nowhere else to go scout. Two, three, four players, start rising through the minors, suddenly they will begin paying attention and even investing time and resources to developing the talent. What starts as a drip could potentially turn into a river or it could be an aberration.
Dovydas Neverauskas is the first Lithuanian to make it to the Majors, could he be the beginning of an eastern European baseball pipeline? Only time will tell. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAT Sports)
Only 19 of the 52 countries and territories that have sent a player to the Majors could field a team and join the fictional tournament involving each American state. Another 19 countries and territories have only had one player reach the Major Leagues. There are roughly 233 countries and territories in the world, and only 53 of them have had a player reach the Major Leagues. Major League Baseball is only batting .227. Not every country will become a hotbed for baseball, but expanding the reach of the game is critical for the continued growth and development of the sport. The 2017 World Baseball Classic saw Israel make a surprising run by getting out of pool play. Yes the Israeli team was heavily Jewish-Americans, however the exposure of the team to the Israeli people should help facilitate growth of the game within Israel itself.
Time will tell if the World Baseball Classic is an avenue for growing the game of baseball or if is simply a tournament held every four years. The arrival of Gift Ngoepe and Dovydas Neverauskas in Pittsburgh happen to occur during the same week. Only one person can be the first player from their home country, but the hope is there will be more to follow them to the Majors. Baseball has a long ways to go before it can become a truly global sport like soccer, but Major League Baseball and other professional leagues are on the right track with the World Baseball Classic. Players from the far corners of the globe will not arrive overnight, but the hope is in the coming years the game will have a more global flare. The more people involved in baseball around the world, the better.
I was sitting in front of the television scrolling through Twitter while watching the beginning of Game 5 of the World Series. I see a tweet in Spanish; sorry I cannot remember who posted it. I speak zero Spanish, but my eye caught the names of Brian Mejia and Oscar Taveras. Something did not seem right about it so I copied it and dropped it into a translator to get an idea of what it was saying. Not recognizing Brian Mejia’s name, I thought for a moment the tweet was referencing Taveras so people would have a connection to him. As soon as I hit enter and the translation came up, I was stunned. My mind just went blank for a moment as I tried to process that Oscar Taveras was dead. Oscar Taveras, a young man who I had seen play just recently hitting a pivotal home run for the Cardinals as they fought the Giants in the NLCS. I hoped it was a mistake and the media was reporting just a rumor, which would later prove false. As time passed and the reports came flying in, the horrible truth set in. Never mind his abilities on a baseball field, Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 22 and 18 respectively, were gone far, far too soon.
I watched Game 5. Madison Bumgarner was brilliant, throwing a complete game shutout. However, I had lost much of my interest in the game. Various media outlets were reporting Taveras’ death, before Fox finally reported it during the game. Some people felt Fox should have been quicker to inform the public of his death, but I appreciated their restraint to be sure the information was correct before their reporting. Listening to Ken Rosenthal report on Taveras left me feeling empty.
I watched the game. Even though I have no connection to Taveras besides watching him play, I was felt the sadness of his death deep. A member of the baseball family was suddenly gone. The Juan Perez double in the 8th inning, which scored Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, made me smile a little. Perez and Taveras were friends; they had played Winter Ball together in the Dominican Republic. I am not sure I could have continued playing had I just learned a good friend of mine had died. I was happy for Perez, if only the double was able to give him a few moments of reprieve from the sadness and pain he was going through.
The reaction all around baseball to the news of Taveras’ death was shock. One by one teams released statements expressing their sadness for the families and friends of both Taveras and Arvelo. Competition no longer mattered; rather the humanity is what mattered. Two mothers and two fathers lost their children. Siblings lost their best friends. People lost close friends. Two young people with many more years of life ahead were gone.
Everyone around baseball knew the death of Taveras and Arvelo were bigger than the game. The baseball family extends from Oscar’s teammates and opponents to the people who work in and around baseball to the fans. They all came together to collectively mourn and remember these two people. The idea of a baseball family is real. While Cardinals and Cubs players and fans may not like one another on game day, there is always a sense of respect for the other team. Baseball brings people together through their love of the game. While the baseball world is preparing to crown this years’ champion, it understands life is far more important than a game. Humanity will always trump competition. Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo have left us far too soon. May they both rest in peace.
Latin America, especially the Dominican Republic, has produced many of the elite players in Major League Baseball today. While the Dominican Republic is a small country on Hispaniola, it has produced the second most Major League players behind only the United States.
Ballplayer: Pelotero takes a look at the signing of baseball players in the Dominican Republic, and how the scouts scrutinize everything about the players who are only 16 years old. July 2nd is signing day for every player who has turned 16 in the last calendar year. It is the day in which dreams can be made or broken based upon a phone call from a Major League team and their interest in the player.
If you want to watch the film without any spoilers skip the next paragraph.
Ballplayer: Pelotero follows highly touted prospects Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista as signing day approaches. Both should command high signing bonuses, however the investigation into the age of Sanó ultimately costs him much of what he had hoped for. Sanó is found to be 16 years old after much hassle and investigation and does not sign with the Minnesota Twins until well after July 2nd. Batista appears to be the sort of clean player that Major League teams want, but towards the end of the film and after an investigation he is found to be older than 16, thus his value is not as high and he will sign with a team for much less than a 16 year old would. In addition to losing the signing bonus he had hoped for, Batista is suspended for a year and unable to sign with any team while suspended.
Ultimately the film delves into the some times not so pretty world that is scouting and signing of young men to play professional baseball. While it does not appear in the film that anything illegal occurs, the actions taken by scouts, handlers, and agents concerning the players do and should raise some eye brows.
Baseball is a way out of the poverty they live in for many of the young men in the Dominican Republic, however the film does not focus on those who tried and failed. There is no safety net like a high school or college education for these players to fall back on if say they blow out their knee, elbow, should, what have you. The risks are real, and yet so are the pay offs.
I would recommend any serious baseball fan to watch Ballplayer: Pelotero and to gain a better understanding of how the great Latin players we see in the minors and majors reach those heights. Ballplayer: Pelotero is available through Netflix, which is where I came across this film.