|Mariners vs. Cubs, Safeco, 2013|
One of the joys of spending summers in Seattle is the opportunity to go to Safeco field to see the Mariners play against a Major league baseball team. Having recently attended a couple of games at Safeco I am drawn to the topic of what I term "American Baseball Imperialism".
Just as the sports of Rugby and Cricket trailed in the wake of the British Empire across about one quarter of the globe, Americans have transplanted their national pastime through the deployment of American military power through much of the world.
In the final moments of Spielberg's miniseries Band of Brothers the warriors of Easy company relax by playing a game of baseball in Zell am See, Austria (see video below). Major Dick Winters, of the 101st Airborne, ordered the construction of a baseball diamond in this alpine paradise (Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Stephen Ambrose, 1992 www.amzn.com/074322454X).
Abner Doubleday may not have actually invented the game of baseball, but he did do a great deal to promote the early game. He also served in the First Regiment of Artillery in the U.S. Army in the invasion of Mexico during the Mexican-American war. Could he have introduced Mexicans to the sport as well?
American soldiers took baseball with them on campaign. In the spring of 1919 the Polar Bear brigade was deployed in Archangel attempting to support the white Russians. Godfrey Anderson was a member of the Polar Bears' medical corps who wrote, "We had got some baseball equipment, however, and did a little practicing in the evenings. A game was arranged with the engineers across the river at Beresnik and we crossed over to where they had set up a diamond and played the game, but came out somewhat the worse for our efforts." (Source: A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks, Godfrey Anderson, 2010, www.amzn.com/0802865208). One can only imagine how puzzled any Russian spectators might have been!
In the 1942 invasion of North Africa the "American challenge and countersign carried up the hill in stage whispers: 'Brooklyn?'. 'Dodgers.' 'Brooklyn?' 'Dodgers.'" Later sentries would bark the password challenge "Three?" and would be answered with the countersign: "Strikes!" (An Army at Dawn: the War in North Africa, Rick Atkinson www.amzn.com/0805087249). Who can forget Steve McQueen throwing his baseball against the wall while in the "cooler" in The Great Escape?
|USS Texas, Houston|
During World War II Americans were reluctant to give up baseball merely because the nation was at war. FDR said, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going." Many famous players such as Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg served their country off the field (http://www.baseballinwartime.com/baseball_in_wwii/baseball_in_wwii.htm). Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter" trained pilots as a Marine aviator in World War II.
The quality of major league play deteriorated rapidly during the war years due to player enlistments. Frank Graham described baseball between 1943-45 as "the tall men against the fat men at the company picnic." Source: The Victory Season, Robert Weintraub, 2013 www.amzn.com/0316205915).
Americans even used baseball to exorcise the demons of Nazism in the very belly of the beast -- building a baseball stadium in the Hitler Youth Stadium in Nuremberg. It was renamed "Soldier's Field" and the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) World Series was held there in September 1945. Source: The Victory Season, Robert Weintraub, 2013 www.amzn.com/0316205915).
Over and over again, countries that have been occupied by American forces have turned into baseball playing countries. The Philippines was occupied in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American war and Filipinos now have a league of their own featuring teams such as the Manila Sharks http://www.baseballphilippines.com.
Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an American educator in Tokyo. The American occupation of Japan which followed World War II helped to vastly spread the popularity of the game.
It was actually Japanese Baseball Imperialism that first brought baseball to Taiwan in the nineteenth century. Taiwan was a Japanese colony and major naval base. After the Japanese surrender in 1945 a major American military presence came to the island. The USAF maintained a major airbase at Ching Chuan Kang during the Cold War from 1953 to 1973. It was in those years that Taiwanese boys began their long domination of little league baseball.
Baseball first came to Cuba in the 1860s with the arrival of American sailors making port calls and Cuban college students returning from studies in America. In 1898 Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders brought their passion for baseball to Cuba where it flourished. In 1899, the All Cubans, consisting of Cuban League professional players, became the first Latin American baseball team to tour the United States.
Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in baseball. This year Donald Lutz, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, will break another barrier, becoming the first German-developed player to play in the major leagues http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/donald-lutz-first-german-developed-player-in-major-leagues-cincinnati-reds-reserve-outfielder-050513. His father was an American GI and his mother is German. Thus the diamond that Dick Winters' built in Austria in 1945 is paying off baseball dividends in the 21st century.
How many years will we need to wait before we see an Iraqi outfielder or an Afghan pitcher in the show? Allah knows that the Mariners could use some help!
Commander Kelly says, "No matter where you are or who you root for, enjoy today's All Star game and Play Ball!"