Global Baseball

One man\’s year-long journey through the world of baseball

Aussie Breaks New Ground

Seattle Mariners’ Reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, who hails from Sydney, Australia, became the only player with a hyphenated last name to ever appear on a major league 25-man roster when he was called up from Triple-A a week and a half ago. Rowland-Smith spent 4 days with the major league club before being sent back down, and did not appear in a game.

Rowland-Smith is currently 2-3 with a 5.16 ERA and a 25/16 K/BB in 22.2 IP for Triple-A Tacoma. His name will show up in baseball almanacs listing full rosters, but the Australian lefty will probably have to wait a little longer (and pitch a little better in Triple-A) to get his name up at Baseball-Reference.com.

Hat tip to Elizabeth Cage of MLB’s The Pitch and Aussie & Oceania List for the info.

May 23, 2007 Posted by | Australian Baseball | Leave a comment

Chavez Consolidating Power

While not specifically baseball-related, MLB has to be watching political developments in Venezuela incredibly closely these days. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remains incredibly powerful due to widespread support among his country’s poorer citizens.  This is thanks in large part to his emphasis on improving by leaps and bounds his country’s social services since his election in 1998. As a pair of headlines this week show, Chavez has been incredibly aggressive with that power recently.

Today’s BBC reports on a political demonstration in Caracas protesting the closure of one of the country’s TV stations. Chavez claims the station supported the failed coup that temporarily ousted him and suspended the country’s legislature in 2002. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story on Chavez’s program of land seizure and redistribution, a program lauded by poor Venezuelans using the newly-seized farmland for subsistence farming, but criticized by land-owners and economists.

When I interviewed Peter Bjarkman back in March, he briefly mentioned the possibility of the Venezuelan Government, as part of its march towards socialism, taking control of the contracts signed by the country’s amateur baseball players, and negotiating on those players’ behalves. While any vestiges of a state economy are troubling, government control of baseball contracts could actually potentially benefit amateur baseball players. Attempts by Latin American governments to set limits on the percentage of signing bonuses trainers are allowed to take have been met with indifference. Of course, relying on a government moving towards socialism to treat these kids fairly has its own set of problems.

It is doubtful that Venezuela will ever entirely embrace the isolation that Cuba experiences under Fidel Castro. If Chavez were to cut off the pipeline between Venezuela and Major League Baseball, he would have a serious PR problem on his hands, as Venezuelans take an incredible amount of pride in seeing players like Johan Santana succeed in the majors. For the time being, however, Major League Baseball’s second largest source of international talent is getting more volatile by the day. If this continues, baseball will almost certainly feel its effects somewhere down the road.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Venezuela | 3 Comments

PBS To Air IBL Opening Day

Noted purveyor of quality sports journalism PBS will be broadcasting the Israeli Professional Baseball League’s opening game on July 1, according to an official IBL press release. While the IBL’s level of play does not figure to be that strong, particularly in the league’s inaugural season, it appears the broadcast will be much more generally themed than a simple sports broadcast. In the IBL’s own words, PBS is airing the game “in recognition of the fact that the game transcends more than just the playing of a baseball game itself.

Anyone want to take a stab at what they mean by that?

Without getting too political here, I’ll say I can only hope the broadcast avoids turning into a 2 and a half hour testimonial to the need for strong bonds between the United States and Israel. Baseball gives us plenty to talk about besides the actual action on the field, and the PBS coverage of the IBL figures to be one of the more interesting sports broadcasts an American baseball fan can hope to see. It would be a shame if the broadcasters turn this opportunity into a platform for spreading zionist propaganda. At this point, though, I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be one of the best pieces of sports journalism we will see in the United States all year.

No word yet on who the commentators will be. Is it too much to hope for Charlie Rose?

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Israeli Baseball | 3 Comments

Field Research

Most of the work in my fellowship involves finding leading figures in the development of baseball in the countries I visit and conducting lengthy interviews. With all of the talking about baseball I engage in on a regular basis, it’s nice to take some time out and just enjoy a game with friends every once in awhile.

Little known fact: Nicaragua runs a semipro league at the same time as the major league baseball season. Most of the players never signed with major league teams, since scouts have only re-entered Nicaragua in force in the past 5-10 years, but the quality of play is surprisingly high.

I’m currently in Granada, a picturesque colonial town on the north bank of Lake Nicaragua. A couple of days ago, I organized a trip with several people staying at my hostel to a Nicaraguan League game between the Tiburones de Granada and the Leones de Leon. We were an eclectic group: 3 Aussies, 1 German, 1 Dutch guy, 3 Canadians, a Californian, and three Pacific Northwesterners.

As we prepared to go to the game, I mentioned as a brief aside to my friend Josh, “how crazy would it be if we could get a bunch of gringps to spell out “Granada” and pump the Nica crowd up? ” Intending the remark facetiously, I failed to take into account the nature of the people I was traveling with. As a general rule, suggest anything to backpackers, and they’ll probably do it.

The result:

:

I’m the guy on the end with the noisemaker. We were low on ink, so it’s tough to make out the G and the R, but we got our point across. The Nicaraguan fans loved us.

The kids at the ballpark in Nicaragua walk around with big burlap bags collecting empty beer cans for recycling money. A group of 5 or 6 of them spotted easy money in a group of gringos at the game to drink and have fun. After we milked the bodypainting fiasco for all the fun we could, I started teaching the kids “American” handshakes.

I asked this kid if he played baseball, and whether he’d want to sign with a major league team. His response: “No. I want to play for Granada.”

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Ballpark Antics | Leave a comment

Seattle Times on Alex Liddi

Courtesy of J. from Mariner Minors, the Seattle Times as an interesting piece up on Italian 3B Alex Liddi´s journey through the minor leagues. I´ve had one occasion to see Liddi play in person, at the Mariners’ minor league camp last year. He´s a very exciting talent with tons of raw power and a problem making contact, which is to be expected for an 18-year-old in the Midwest League. Liddi´s currently hitting .229/.333/.414 for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

The success of players like Liddi, fellow Mariner farmhand Greg Halman, and Cubs pitcher Alessandro Maestri could open a floodgate of European scouting, as the game is growing pretty quickly in several different European nations. Outside of Ichiro, baseball hasn´t really had a Dirk Nowitzky moment in awhile. Venezuela became a more consistent talent pipeline in the mid-80s, and there was a rush on Australian prospects when Chris Snelling, Justin Huber, and Travis Blackley were starting to knock on the door to the majors, but that has cooled off a bit.

The Times article includes this quote, which shows that Liddi is conscious of his role as the only Italian position player in the minor leagues:

Liddi is confident he will adjust and said his goal is to make it to the major leagues in three years. “If that happens, I think baseball would get more popular in Italy and it might make it easier for other players from Italy to get signed,” he said.

As part of his efforts to spread the game in his home country, Liddi used to regularly update his blog, which charted his day-to-day progress, but it’s been silent for nearly a year (we here at Global Baseball wouldn’t know anything about that…). However, his countryman Maestri still seems to be checking in every once in awhile at his blog. It’s in Italian, so um…good luck.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | European Baseball | Leave a comment

Bjarkman Blogging

GlobalBaseball friend, interviewee, and drinking buddy Peter Bjarkman has finally broken down and set up his own blog about Latino baseball in general and Cuban baseball specifically.  I take partial credit as one of two people showing him the glamorous blogging lifestyle down at the Caribbean Series in January.

Check his stuff out over at http://bjarkmanlatinobaseball.mlblogs.com.  Peter´s a really smart man with a knowledge base that is almost impossible for an American baseball fan to come by, and a set of contacts to match.  He´s also a great storyteller with great stories to tell.

May 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mets Reach Out to Ghana

This is pretty cool. The New York Mets paid for six Ghanaians to travel to the United States and attend Spring Training with the club this year. This is the first I have heard about baseball in Ghana, which did not have any representatives at least year’s MLB European Baseball Academy. Three of the Ghanaians who traveled to the U.S. were players, and three were coaches, who attended seminars on modern coaching and training techniques.

Baseball in Africa is a pretty cool development, and both individual teams and MLB are investing millions trying to bring the game to Africa’s poor communities, in hope of creating a new prospect pipeline. Right now African baseball is divided into South Africa, the continent’s lone representative at the World Baseball Classic, and everywhere else. South Africa, where baseball is growing exponentially, has more baseball programs than the rest of Africa combined, so there is quite a long way to go.

A representative of MLB who I spoke to in Africa a couple of months ago told me about a Nigerian outfielder he had occasion to scout who was talented enough to earn a college scholarship with the right training. Three years later, the same MLB official saw the same player in the same tournament, and the kid had played a total of three baseball games in the intervening years, due to lack of opportunity.

It’s a start, but there is a long way to go.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | African Baseball | 5 Comments

Batista Blog

I don’t know how I missed this for so long, but Seattle Mariners’ pitcher Miguel Batista, a native of the Dominican Republic, has a blog up at ESPNDeportes.  The most recent article is a fun report on teammate Ichiro’s clubhouse demeanor called “the Samurai Hitter.”

A rough translation of the first two paragraphs :

There are a lot of things you normally see in a major league clubhouse, like listening to rap or heavy metal, players saying the most horrible things to each other, seeing a group of players dancing, bobbing their heads up and down to the rhythm, or making rookies dress up like women.

But of one thing I am positive.  You don’t often see a Japanese player pass by you in stride and say to you in perfect Spanish, “Dimelo Caballete!”

Batista may not be a star, but he seems like a funny guy.  I’ll be reading this semi-regularly for sure.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Batista Blog, Ichiro | 5 Comments

Changes Afoot in the VSL

The Venezuelan Summer League looks like it will receive somewhat of an overhaul this season, as new teams look to establish a stronger foothold in South America’s largest baseball hotbed.   Reports are conflicting on what this year’s VSL, set to begin in 10 days’ time, will look like.  Last year, the VSL was a 10-team league, with seven teams owning and operating their own squad attached to their team’s academies, and six other major league franchises splitting their players between three teams.

Last year’s split squads, the Orioles/White Sox, Tigers/Marlins, and Twins/Blue Jays, are being switched around.  In for sure are two newcomers to the VSL, the Cubs and Devil Rays.  Chicago’s  north-siders will split their VSL squad with the Twins this year, while the Devil Rays will run a split VSL team with the Reds.

As for the Orioles, White Sox, Marlins, and Blue Jays, it’s unclear at this point whether they will be getting out of Dodge altogether, or forming a second division in the VSL with full squads.   If the latter is the case, the two divisions will not play against each other as schedules for the existing division have already been set.

New developments in the Venezuelan academies are interesting to keep an eye on as the country’s political and economic links to the United States become more tenuous.  Venezuela is already considered one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere for foreigners to visit, and from my brief time there, I can say that the reputation is well earned.  Venezuela does not yet appear on the US Government’s travel warning list, and its ‘s vast oil reserves make an embargo of the emerging socialist nation unlikely.

For now, it is interesting that certain clubs are ratcheting up their involvement in Venezuelan scouting, even if others are backing off.  If Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez makes good on hints that he will begin instituting a system where the government negotiates players’ contracts with MLB clubs (a major long shot), all hell will break loose.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Venezuela, VSL | 1 Comment