Tokyo | It would have made a better first-round game in soccer’s World Cup. But in baseball, Japan versus China—a pairing that today helped launch the first World Baseball Classic—resulted in an 18–2 thrashing administered by the home side.
Soccer, and the world-embracing success of the quadrennial World Cup finals, has motivated Major League Baseball’s attempt to “internationalize the sport,” according to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney. Entrants such as the Dominican Republic, Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba (see 17 Dec 2005), Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are naturals, but professional baseball has needed to innovate to field sides for the Netherlands and Italy.
Much as weaker national teams in football become creative at finding players with ancestral ties that might fulfill citizenship requirements—witness Chris Birchall‘s involvement as the first white player for Trinidad and Tobago in 60 years (see 15 Nov 2005)—Holland and the Italians had to scramble among the surfeit of American players for Dutch-sounding names or those ending “in a telltale vowel.” Sam Walker in today’s Wall Street Journal (not available online) details the process: a member of Italy’s baseball federation perusing census records and town registers, Dutch lawyers eventually informing the Holland manager that potential citizens were required to complete a written civics test—in Dutch.
Some players were forced to rummage through old boxes of family records and photos to document the exact birthplace of a grandfather. The Italian baseball federation alone spent five weeks and more than $20,000 researching the background of American players like Lenny DiNardo and Frank Catalanotto. “It was quite a workload,” says the federation’s Ricardo Schiroli.
DiNardo, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and Catalanotto, an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, both qualified for Italy after sorting through various snags.
Despite these machinations, trends toward globalization of baseball—as well as that of the other North American stalwart sports, basketball, ice hockey and gridiron football—do exist. Major League Baseball includes players from 30 countries; the National Basketball Association, 36 countries; the National Hockey League, 24 countries as of July 2005. Figures were not available for the National Football League, which has organized NFL Europe and played exhibitions worldwide. But at an NFL Europe international camp in Tampa last month, players represented Germany, Mexico, Japan, Sweden, England, the Netherlands, France, Finland and Russia.