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Baseball is known as “America’s Pastime,” but the United States isn’t the only country where baseball is a popular sport. Latin American and Asian countries also have professional leagues with passionate fan bases, but so do many other places around the world.
We know baseball is a popular sport, but just how popular is it? 133 countries around the world represent the baseball side of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). Some of these countries have their own professional leagues, while others have organized teams that take part in worldwide tournaments.
Just like in the United States, baseball is engrained in other cultures around the world. Because Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States is one of the biggest leagues in the world, players from around the globe aspire to play in MLB. However, some American players seek to play on professional teams around the world too.
Baseball on Each Continent
Baseball is played on all six of the continents inhabited by humans. The WBSC is made up of 133 worldwide countries, with 20 in Africa, 31 in the Americas, 26 in Asia, 41 in Europe, and 15 in Oceania.
Some of these countries have professional baseball leagues, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Australia and many Latin American countries also host leagues where players from MLB play during the offseason.
In addition to these leagues, countries come together for worldwide tournaments featuring youth and adult teams. The Baseball World Cup, World Baseball Classic, Olympic Games, and Little League World Series are just a few of these tournaments.
Baseball in Africa
There is not an extensive history of baseball in Africa, but the sport has become popular in the southern part of the continent over the last few decades. The first African nation to participate in a worldwide tournament was South Africa in the 1974 Amateur World Series. Since then, South Africa has sent its national team to the Olympic Games and the World Baseball Classic.
Within the continent, African founded the African Baseball and Softball Association in 1990. By the 1990s, adult teams across the continent competed against each other in the African Baseball Cup and the All-Africa Games. Additionally, youth baseball teams from South Africa and Uganda battled for a spot in the Little League World Series (LLWS). In 2012, Uganda became the first African team in the LLWS.
Baseball in the Americas
Baseball, played in the United States since the 19th century, is ingrained in the history and culture of the country. North America is home to the largest and most well-known professional league, Major League Baseball. Although 29 of the 30 teams in MLB are from the United States, baseball is a very popular sport all over the American region.
Canada has been home to two teams in Major League Baseball, but the Toronto Blue Jays are the only current Canadian team. The country also hosts Minor League Baseball teams, professional and semi-professional teams from independent leagues, collegiate leagues, and youth leagues.
Mexico also has a rich baseball history. The country formed the Mexican League nearly one hundred years ago. The professional league soon became a place where players from many Latin American countries would play, as well as welcoming Black ballplayers when the United States did not. At times, Mexico also hosted Minor League Baseball teams and sent winning teams to the LLWS.
Baseball is widely popular in Latin America, with many players becoming stars in MLB and using the sport to provide better opportunities for their families. Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic host their own professional leagues. These countries compete in the Caribbean Series and World Baseball Classic and have also sent countless teams to the Little League World Series.
Baseball in Asia
Baseball is extremely popular in Asia, with 26 countries representing the continent in the WBSC. Not only are there popular professional leagues in Asia, but the continent is also home to many successful youth teams. Taiwan has won 17 LLWS Championships, the most from any international team. Japan’s 11 LLWS Championships make them the second-best international team in the tournament’s history.
Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league is considered one of the best and most competitive baseball leagues in the world. The NPB was founded in 1950, with many of baseball’s best players starting their careers in Japan. Along with popular players like Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani going to the United States to play MLB, many MLB players travel to Japan to play in the NPB league.
South Korea’s professional league, the Korea Baseball Organization, is another well-known professional league. Korea is also home to the Big 5 high school baseball tournaments where youth players practice year-round.
Baseball does not have the extensive baseball history that other Asian countries do, but the country formed a professional league, the China Baseball League, in 2002. The sport has grown in popularity in recent years, with China competing in the Asian Baseball Championship, World Baseball Classic, and the 2008 Olympic Games.
Taiwan is another country that is serious about baseball, with the sport being played on the island for more than one hundred years. Taiwan’s youth teams have been incredibly successful, winning 17 LLWS Championships with a record of 61 wins to 6 losses in the tournament. The country has also hosted a professional league and has a successful national team that has taken part in the Olympic Games.
Baseball in Europe
Baseball’s popularity in Europe has varied across the continent, with 41 countries representing Europe in the WBSC. Italy and the Netherlands have dominated baseball competitions in Europe.
Professional baseball in these countries is played in the Italian Baseball League and the Netherlands’ Hoofdklasse Honkbal league. All but two of the championship victories from the European Baseball Championships have come from these two countries, with 24 gold medals going to the Netherlands and 10 going to Italy.
Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Great Britain, and Sweden also take part in the sport of baseball, with a few European teams participating in the Olympic Games and the World Baseball Classic. There is also a summer league, the Collegiate Baseball League Europe, which was founded in 2012.
Baseball in Oceania
Baseball in Oceania is mainly played by two countries, Australia and New Zealand, but there are 15 total countries that represent Oceania in the WBSC.
The Australian Baseball League is a professional league in Australia that often hosts players from Major League Baseball during their offseason. Their national team was the runner-up in the 2004 Olympic Games and has played in the World Baseball Classic. A variety of baseball leagues have also formed in New Zealand, but the sports of rugby and cricket are more popular in the country.
How many international players have participated in Major League Baseball?
57 countries have been represented by players in Major League Baseball history. After the United States, the Dominican Republic has produced the most with 831 MLB players.
Who was the first foreign-born player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
Roberto Clemente, born in Puerto Rico, was the first player born outside of the United States to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. However, Harry Wright was a baseball pioneer and manager who was born in England. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953.