Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The International Side of Baseball

Ever since I began following the game in the early 1950s, it has gradually morphed into a wonderful international pastime. This does not mean that I fully endorse the “World Baseball Classic”, nor the inclusion of baseball at the Olympics.

I attended a few of the World Classic games, and they offered about as much excitement as poker on television. Why is it still on several sports channels?

Whenever a young Canadian star breaks into the big leagues, or another Canuck plays so well that he gains all star recognition, we can take a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Not a lot, mind you, because, as a nation, we do not have the climate to turn out superb baseball players, nor the mentality to wave the flag too high, or too often.

But we have had our share of great baseball players who were born in Canada, and excel at the game today. Joey Votto of the Cincinatti Reds, Ryan Dempster with the Cubs, Jason Bay, now with the Mets, Russell Martin of the Yankees, Rich Harden with Oakland, Justin Morneau from the Twins, and Jeff Francis from Kansas City: a good way to start the conversation. One of the newest Blue Jays, Brett Lawrie, hails from the British Columbia. He has captured the hearts of Blue Jay fans, and rightly so.

I do not normally endorse a rookie until he has had a chance to prove himself. Lawrie has done so many things well since being called up to the Big Leagues. He is fun to watch, and brings great enthusiasm to the game. At this point in the season, as the Jays stumble into September, fans need a little something to keep their attention. Lawrie has supplied that in spades. He hits with power, he excels in the field, he stretches doubles into triples whenever the occasion arises.

There are several other nations waving flags in support of their players. In a recent article in USA Today, Paul White listed the countries with the smallest representations in the major leagues.

At this time, there is only one South Korean currently on a big league roster: Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians. Understandably, he is a hero in his native land. The only other South Korean to gain similar status is Chan Ho Park, now playing in Japan after 17 seasons in the majors.

There are two players from Nicaragua: Wilton Lopez, who is with the Astros, and Vicente Padilla with the Dodgers. Taiwan is represented by Hong-Chih Kuo, a Dodger, and Chien-Ming Wang, with the Washington Nationals.

Greg Halman, who plays with the Seattle Mariners, is the only big league player who was born, raised, and trained in the Netherlands. Bert Blyleven, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, was born in the Netherlands, but grew up in California.

Columbia and Curacao boast three players each toiling at the highest level of baseball. There are six Panamanians in the game, led by the incomparable Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, now in the twilight of his career, but headed directly to the Hall of Fame. “Baseball’s not as popular as it was before,” Rivera commented in the article. Apparently, soccer has gained a foothold in Central and South America.

Curiously, there are six major leaguers from the “Land Down Under” on current rosters. There is a wonderful training facility in Melbourne, and the climate is conducive to the game. I’m sure it is a bit unnerving for a catcher from Kentucky, settling in behind the plate, to have a batter lean back and say, “G’day, Mate!”

Japan, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic lead the list of other nations supplying talent to the Big Leagues. An interesting flair to the great game. No matter where you are from, I am certain, “Y’er out!” means that you should head back to the dugout.

James Hurst
August 30, 2011

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