It’s as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. That was how car manufacturer Chevrolet described their brand in a 1970s advertisement. There must have been something to it, because even though most people don’t know the origins of the saying, they still use it.
Baseball has always been seen as a distinctly American sport. It is coupled with a certain nostalgia for small-town living and simpler times. The 1993 family film The Sandlot did a wonderful job of capturing that 1960s dream that baseball still evokes for so many people – even those too young to have been there.
Nowadays, however, baseball has developed a global fan base that is steadily growing. It has also grown in popularity as a betting sport, particularly in the United States.
According to bookmakers.com, interest in betting on baseball has been growing as legal sports betting has spread across the country. They also note, however, that betting on baseball requires a little more specialized knowledge than betting on the other major sports leagues.
This article is going to look at three parts of the world where baseball’s history is very different. These are North and Central America, Japan and the British Commonwealth. It will look at how the fan base in each of these regions has grown over the years into what it is today.
If there is anywhere else in the world that can claim to love baseball as much as America does, it is the countries of Central America. Baseball has had a fan base throughout Central America almost as long as the sport has existed.
Baseball was first introduced to Cuba by students returning home from university in the United States, but reached wider audiences when American sailors played the game while on shore during the Ten Years’ War and the Spanish American War in the 1860s-90s. The rest, as they say, is history.
Central America, notably the Dominican Republic and Cuba, doesn’t just produce baseball fans, it also produces players. Roughly 30% of MLB players come from Central America. With so many homegrown players, it’s no surprise that the fan base continues to grow.
The reason for this huge number of talented players is that children are often encouraged to play baseball from a relatively young age.
Since baseball doesn’t require a lot of equipment, it is a perfect activity for children and young adults from disadvantaged areas. They are able to play with their friends and neighbors without making a huge investment, and it helps to keep them fit and healthy.
Baseball is also a great way to keep young people busy during the school-free summer months. In countries where there is a lot of gang activity, including Mexico, baseball is popular with parents and community leaders because it keeps kids out of trouble.
The fan base for baseball in the countries of Central America probably can’t get too much bigger – it’s already the most or at least second-most popular sport in the region. The success of baseball here shows that it can and does appeal to audiences outside of the US.
Baseball has been big in Japan for decades. The sport hasn’t reached quite the same level of popularity that it has in Central America but Japan can show us a great example of a country where there is a healthy fan base with potential to grow.
Most people would probably be surprised to know that Japan has had a professional baseball league since the 1920s and that it is the country’s favorite spectator sport. It was in the 1950s that the sport really took off.
The major change in the fan base in recent years was that Japanese fans of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) became fans of MLB as Japanese players began to make the move to the American league – this transition began in the 1990s and has continued until today.
Anyone who was a baseball fan in the early 2000s remembers the excitement surrounding Seattle Mariners’ player Ichiro Suzuki. Suzuki wasn’t the first Japanese player in the MLB but he was one of the most successful.
From the beginning, Suzuki’s awe-inspiring talent and down-to-earth personality endeared him to Mariners’ fans and to the city. Suzuki’s success helped to pave the way for other Japanese players and increased public interest in Japan in the MLB.
Baseball’s fan base continues to grow in Japan. The huge support for the NPB has now been extended to the MLB – we should see more crossover between the leagues in future years as players move between the two countries.
It shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that baseball has struggled to get a foothold in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan. But, you may ask, these are all countries that adore sports, why wouldn’t they like baseball?
The answer is cricket. These countries already have an insanely popular but slow-paced team sport played with a bat and ball on a grass field. The popularity of cricket just doesn’t leave much room for baseball in the hearts of the British and their Commonwealth peers.
For Americans, cricket is a very confusing sport. There are two batters, games can last for days, the pitchers are called bowlers, and there are no bases. It’s a game that feels like there should be something familiar about it, but besides a guy wearing a facemask crouched behind the batter, there just isn’t.
In the last few years, something has changed in the cricket world that could provide an opening for baseball. The most popular form of cricket has shifted from Test matches, which last for days and require players to conserve their energy, to T20, which is a shorter form of the game that rewards powerful batting.
T20 cricket has more in common with baseball than other forms of the sport. Hopefully, fans of T20 will be able to recognize that the batting and fielding skills that they admire so much are also seen on the baseball diamond.
If that’s the case, it’s likely that baseball will see an explosion in popularity across these countries within the next decade. Or who knows, maybe a cricket-baseball hybrid will develop and no one will understand the rules!
Baseball has been a popular sport to watch and to play since the mid-19th century – that sort of staying power is evidence that there is something special about the sport. Baseball’s growing global fan base also tells us that whatever it is that draws Americans to the game, is something everyone can feel.