For North Americans, a whole raft of memories can be evoked by the crack of a bat hitting a baseball. Dewy spring mornings, dust rising heavy off a field, grass stains, the sting of a hardball slamming into a gloved and opened hand. And, above all, the sight of a thousand faces upturned towards the sky, all eyes shielded from the sun, all ears waiting for the announcer’s call: “Going… going… gone!”
Feel nothing? It’s hardly surprising. Baseball has been prominent in American culture and consciousness for the last hundred years—forever finding its way into literature, advertisements, amusing sexual metaphors and nostalgia-laden home videos. However, it has never had the same impact on this side of the Atlantic. Football? Yes. Basketball? Well, sure. But baseball? Forget it.
Although the popularity of America’s favourite game on this continent is dwarfed by football, (the king of Euro-sport), and locally by any team with Barça in its name, baseball is nonetheless a healthy institution, with a dedicated and ever-growing following, and a thriving competitive circuit of its own. And, the most illustrious competition of each season is set to be played in Barcelona this month, from September 7th to 16th .
It is Eurobaseball, the annual battle for European baseball supremacy that sees 12 countries, among them Sweden, Holland, Croatia, the UK and the Ukraine, participating in a 10-day tournament: a fight to the finish that attracts thousands of fans and the continent’s greatest ball-and-bat talents. This championship is actually far more international than that which ends the season of the North American professional league every fall. That competition involves only American and Canadian teams; the name World Series therefore emerges as a misnomer on a par with the title of the Miss Universe pageant.
This year’s competition promises to be particularly intense, because the winner of the series garners not only the pride of their countrymen and recognition on an international scale, but also automatic entry into the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. And for the first time, the competition has been designated a Green Event, which means that efforts will be made to minimise the environmental impact of the championship according to United Nations and Olympic critera.
This is not the first time that the Olympics have been important to fans of baseball in Spain. “Baseball’s been played in Catalunya since the beginning of the 20th century,” said Julio Pernas, president of the 75-year old, 1,500-member Spanish Baseball and Softball Federation. “But it’s only since the 1992 Olympics that we’ve seen a huge spike in its popularity.”
Pernas noted that where national competition is concerned, Catalunya occupies a privileged position on the national baseball and softball scene. A third of Spain’s 12 professional teams (those that play in the Division de honor de beisbol) call Catalunya home. However, despite this dominance, it was the very un-Catalan Tenerife that won last year’s domestic competition.
Since the inception of the European Baseball Championship in 1954, the Spanish national team has won 13 medals, placing them a solid third behind the Netherlands and Italy—2005’s gold- and silver-medal winners, and the two teams with the apparent stranglehold on Euro-baseball domination. Spain came third last time around, but with the Olympics looming, fans are hoping that the added pressure, and the advantage of playing to a home crowd, will help Spain take down the Dutch.
All the action happens at the Carlos Perez de Rozas field in Barcelona and the municipal fields of Viladecans and Sant Boi de Llobregat. Initial rounds cost €5 per ticket, while a seat at the finals costs just €10. Can you afford not to?
www.eurobaseball2007.comSpanish Baseball & Softball Federation
Catalan Federation of Baseball & Softball