Editor’s Note: Philip Joens is a business journalism major at the University of Missouri. In his free time he collects baseballs and writes his blog “Adventures of a Future Sportswriter”. Today he tells us about the popularity of American sports Football and Baseball in Europe.
In 2005 baseball was voted out of the Olympic Games by the mostly European International Olympic Committee. This was an unforgivable crime to baseball fanatics like myself. Despite the exclusion of baseball from the Olympics; baseball’s popularity around Europe is growing.
For decades, baseball was a neglected sport in Europe. The American game, derived from the English game rounders , struggled to find its own identity. in Europe. So, European club teams played, or well tried to play, on old soccer fields; despite the dimension problems. Amateur players worked painstakingly to convert these fields by hand and were lucky if they had necessities like regulation mounds, back stops and dugouts.
A seed was planted in Europe when American GI’s played pick up games during World War II.
The European Baseball Championships are a biennial tournament that started in 1954 to determine Europe’s top baseball team.
Historically the Neatherlands and Italy have the richest baseball histories of European countries. Hoofdklasse, which is dutch for “Major League Baseball”, dates back to 1922 and is the top pro league in the Neatherlands. Hoofdklasse plays an eight team, 42 game schedule from April to September. Neatherlands even scored a surprise fourth place finish at the 2013 World Baseball Classic; beating out baseball rich countries like the U.S., Venezuela and Mexico.
Seven Dutch players have played in MLB since 1979. Arizona Diamondbacks star shortstop Didi Gregorious and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Rick VanderHurk are active now. Harlem, the Neatherlands native Greg Halman was a breakout star for the Seattle Mariners from 2007 to 2011 before he was killed in 2011.
Alex Liddi is the player born and raised in Italy to play in the majors. Liddi, a first baseman/ third baseman, played 61 games for Seattle from 2011 to 2013.
Baseball is also gaining real traction in Germany. The World Baseball Classic was created in 2006 and helped grow the game all over Europe. In 2012 European qualifiers for the 2013 tournament were played at Regensburg, Germany’s Armin-Wolff-Arena. Built in 1996, the stadium seats 10,000 people and boasts facilities that will make most U.S. minor league teams jealous.
Cinicinati’s Donald Lutz is just 25 years old and broke into the majors in 2013. Lutz’s first exposure to baseball came when he saw a pro team play in Friedberg as a 14 year old. Lutz played in 34 games for the Reds in 2013 and had just 59 plate appearances.
Berlin native Max Kepler also hopes to one day make an impact for the Minnesota Twins.
“Baseball’s popularity is growing in Germany — it’s growing fast,” said Kepler told espn.com in 2012. “As you can see here, we have a great field and there’s going to be a lot more in the next years. Baseball is not as big as in the U.S., of course, but it’s getting there. We’re getting a lot of promotion for baseball and younger kids are starting to play it.”
The MLB European Academy, started in 2005 has helped grow the game. Liddi was a product of the academy. Since 2005 63 of 77 players signed by MLB organizations have been from Germany and the Netherlands. The game did suffer a setback when the mostly European International Olympic Committee took baseball out of the Olympics in 2012; though the IOC has hinted that it will reinstate baseball if MLB players can be used for the tournament.