Tom and I had the opportunity to go to a baseball tournament last weekend about an hour and a half out of Sao Paulo in the town of Ibiuna. Tom had met three baseball scouts at a Consulate event and they had invited us to go. It’s been too long since we’ve watched a game live, so we jumped at the chance.
As I sat on the bleachers that afternoon, I was assailed by memories of watching Aubrey play softball (2 years) and Scott play baseball (14 years). It was delightful! I’ve played the game since I was 3, so it’s definitely in my blood (when you grow up with four brothers, you learn to play their games). My brothers taught me to play, and my mother coached my first softball team. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it: watching and playing.
Baseball is not well known in Brazil. Few Brazilians have ever had the opportunity to play, except in the interior, where the game was imported via Japanese farmers after World War II. The game thrives in the Japanese community, and is now making some headway with Brazilians in the interior.
As we watched the Ibiuna Blue Jays play, we were reminded that this is a Brazilian take on the American game we are used to, at least in the stands, where the fans chanted throughout the game, and banged on a drum relentlessly. There were no concession stands, however, which is also a huge cultural difference.
We spoke with Pedro (scout for the Boston Red Sox) and Adriano and Orlando (scouts for the Tampa Bay Rays) about their plans to build at Little League culture in Brazil. That’s a tall order in a nation where everyone plays soccer.
Adriano says that building a Little League culture is vital if the game is ever to become popular here. But it won’t be easy. As I told him, Little League depends on parent volunteers, and volunteerism simply isn’t part of the Brazilian culture at this time.
The Yakult baseball complex is enormous, like something you’d find in the US, but is rarely used. It was built by the Yakult baseball foundation in the hopes of fueling an interest in the sport, but it’s been slow to grow. A few tournaments are held there each year, but otherwise it sits vacant. Such a waste!
According to the scouts, it will take years to build up a culture of baseball in Brazil. They are starting to teach the sport in the schools, but I suspect it will take a couple of generations before the concept of baseball gains much foothold. It requires parents who know the sport who are then willing to teach the sport to their kids. That doesn’t happen over night.
Meanwhile, the scouts attend the tournaments, trying to spot raw talent in the young players, some of whom (like each of the scouts) might be offered a spot at a training camp in Venezuela (Tampa Bay Rays) or the Dominican Republic (Boston Red Sox).
I asked the scouts how many players in a camp of 100 potentials would likely make it to “the Show” and play as professionals. They said out of two camps of 100, perhaps 1 would make it. But, many go to the camps for the opportunity to play ball and to finish their educations, and then spend a few years as “filler” on teams, either on farm teams or professional teams, never really making it to the Show. Still, there is always the chance.
As a huge fan of baseball, I am happy to see the effort underway to build up a baseball culture. I wish them well in their endeavors.