They call baseball America’s pastime, but a growing number of players from other countries are starting to make their mark in the U.S., including Major League Baseball and Little League.
America’s passion for baseball started with Abner Doubleday, who is known as the father of baseball, despite some conflicting accounts that have disproven that status. Still, the story goes that Doubleday invented the sport – including coining the term “baseball,” designing the diamond, and developing many of the rules – during his time in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. In 1945, Jackie Robinson debuted as the first Black major league baseball player.
Baseball is an American tradition – from the cornfields of Iowa in “Field of Dreams” to nightly ball games in communities across small-town America, baseball belongs as much to rural America, as it does to big arenas in major cities.
Now, however, rural may also include the countryside of international locations.
On opening day in 2022, 275 players in MLB were born outside the 50 U.S. states, according to MLB.com. The Dominican Republic led the countries and territories with nearly 100 players. It was followed by Venezuela with 67 players, while Cuba placed third with 23 players (tied with 2016 and 2017 for its most ever).
Recently, the worldwide talent of baseball was on full display during the Little League World Series, a baseball competition for young players from around ages 10 to 12 years old.
There have been 28 different countries sending local Little Leagues programs to compete in the Little League Baseball World Series, as well as teams from 42 states. Countries that have won the Little League Baseball World Series in the past include Curaçao, South Korea, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, Chinese Taipei, and the United States, according to LittleLeague.org.
This year, Hawaii beat Curacao 13-3.
Following the loss, the head of Curacao’s Baseball Federation spoke with the Daily Yonder.
Jedrek Magdalena said although the team lost, making it to the finals was confirmation that they were on the right path.
“Just to give you a glimpse into the past…we have made some great strides,” he told the Daily Yonder in an interview at a field in Willemstad, Curacao. “We’ve been in the finals a couple of times, but for the past three years, with me being at the helm, …we rearranged some things with regards to how we prepare our kids, the guidance we give them. It was a reassuring process to see that everything that we want to implement and are implementing is the right way.”
He said he is happy with the result but it also motivates him to make improvements to the program.
One statistic that shows Curacao’s domination is that it has the highest number of MLB players per capita of any country
Magdalena said he believes there’s a reason that players from Curacao make it far in the game.
“I think it’s just a combination of everything because we don’t only exceed at baseball, we exceed at all sports that we do.” he said. “And just I think the weather, the body type of the people that we have here – we have the combination of being Caribbean, African and European.”
Magdalena said it’s amazing how much the programs are achieving without the same financial support seen in other countries and territories.
“Take myself for example, I got a track and field scholarship,” he said. “When I was younger, I went to the States and all the facilities I had at my school were just remarkable. And then if we can have maybe 50% of what top facilities or top countries have…I think nobody can beat us.”
For Hawaii, the domination was evident at the Little League World Series. This was their fourth win in 17 years for the state. Former President Barack Obama congratulated the team on Twitter.
A parade occurred for the Hawaii team on September 8 to celebrate the win.
“It’s just amazing what they accomplished. They sacrificed a lot. They worked very hard this summer. Just couldn’t be happier and prouder of them,” Coach Gerald Oda said, as quoted by HawaiiNewsNow.
“Regardless of the scores, every game was very difficult, I mean it was tough, but I’m just proud how these kids handle themselves.”