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Baseball Becomes a Real 'World' Series

New America Media, News Feature, Elizabeth M. Botello Posted: Apr 09, 2009

Editor's Note: The quintessential American sport of baseball has risen to international fame, with fans coming of different races coming out in large numbers to cheer their homeland countries in games played on American soil, writes NAM contributor and baseball fan Elizabeth M. Botello.

LOS ANGELES -- Up on a Los Angeles hilltop, a lively party of mostly Korean and Japanese fans celebrated Americas great pastime baseball. But this was no ordinary game. It was the 2009 World Baseball Classic, a tri-annual event first held in 2006.

Japan and Korea were competing in the title game at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In a field of 16 international teams, it was the two countries from across the Pacific Ocean that showcased their talented and mostly unknown athletes on U.S. soil. It is no wonder this championship game was held in Los Angeles, home to a vast number of immigrants.

This is a sport I didnt think we could strive in, and there was not so much popularity, spectator Rani Kim of Irvine, Calif., said. Im surprised.

Baseball, the quintessential American sport, has risen to international fame. Current foreign-born stars, such as Japans Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka, or the Dominican Republics David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, are elite hitters and pitchers in Major League baseball.

The sport has a rich history in far off nations in Asia, including China, Japan and Korea, has flourished in Latin America nations, such as Mexico and Venezuela, and in the Caribbean, it is wildly popular in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Japanese have been playing baseball for over a century. Missionaries and American professors introduced the sport in Asia in the late 1800s. For Korea, it was Philip L. Gillett who as a missionary introduced the sport in 1905, according to Joseph A. Reaves book, Taking In A Game: A History of Baseball in Asia.

For the next century, Asian nations would build their own leagues and soon, such American legends as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth would tour with All-Star teams in Asia.

Reaves book also highlights the first Asian players to make Major League rosters. In 1964, the San Francisco Giants were the first big league club to include a Japanese-born player Masanori Murakami. But it wasnt until 1994 that the first Korean-born player Chan Ho Park (formally known as Park Chan Ho) debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As a Korean-American I need to support my team, said Jacob Cho. Ive been living in L.A. for 20 years; its a great opportunity to cheer for Korea.

Cho, who came to the United States when he was eight years old, wore a cardboard cutout of the Korean flag around his face, which he painted red and blue.

Stephanie Yoon of Los Angeles wore a fuzzy blue halo on top of her head. Yoon and her friends were listening to hip-hop music in the back of their car in the parking lot before the game even started, getting ready with their homemade signs and festive attire dedicated to Korea.

Since Korea and Japan are foreign countries, its more important to support them and participate, Yoon said.

The game felt more like a continual celebration among 54,846 fans. Even though attention should have been down on the baseball field, it was actually up in the grandstands. Fans, wearing painted red hearts on the apples of their cheeks politely beat drums or argued about seats in Korean. Others waved Japanese flag.

Haruka Uda, a 19-year-old student from Japan, was dressed as Pikachu from the popular anime cartoon, Pokemon, which originated in Japan.

(Baseball is) one of the most famous sports in Japan, Udas friend Noel Nobuo Sugaya said. We are very lucky to come here just by accident. We were able to get the tickets. A special day so we came.

At this second World Baseball Classic, it was hard not to recognize the strength of foreign teams and the players that have progressed from them. The evidence was there at the 2008 Summer Olympics, when South Korea took home the gold, Cuba the silver and the United States the bronze medal.

The world is watching as more and more foreign-born players are making names for themselves on Major League Baseballs 30 teams. And, coincidentally, U.S.-born players are now playing overseas in order to keep their dream jobs alive. Terrmel Sledge, who played in the Majors from 2004 to 2007, was able to sign a two-year deal with the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan after the San Diego Padres released him.

Japan won the inaugural Classic in 2006 and did it once more, beating Korea 5-3 in a thrilling 10-inning game. The win gave Japan back-to-back Classic crowns and a reputation as the best international team in baseball. And exactly two weeks later, on April 6, another Japanese player will carve out his own history Hiroki Kuroda.

Kuroda will be the opening day starting pitcher for the Dodgers. Kuroda is entering only his second season in the Majors after a successful career as a professional pitcher in Japan. To be chosen to pitch the first game of the season is a huge honor, and only 30 pitchers get picked for it every year.

The Classic, like Kuroda, is etching its place in the history of this great pastime sport. In baseball, the ultimate stage is making it onto a Major League roster. Kuroda has already done this and more people are sure to follow him.

Legions of fans, from across the globe are watching the evolution of baseball continue in different cultures, cities and people. Finally, were all here.

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