Friday, July 13, 2007

Brazil and Baseball in the Pan-American Games

Today, the Pan-American games kick off in Rio, and among the many sports involved in competition here, there is, of course, baseball. Regular participants like the U.S., Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic will all be present. However, Brazil will also be fielding a team this year, complete with some professional Brazilian players who play in Japan and even the U.S., and this is nothing but good news.

While I knew that Brazilians were playing professional baseball in Japan at all levels, I did not realize that the Phillies and Blue Jays have Brazilian prospects in their farm systems. I cannot stress strongly enough how great this is. If baseball wants to keep growing (and it should), it should move not just to create interest in China and Europe, but in the southern part of Latin America, as well. As I commented earlier, baseball could provide a great outlet for great athletes who do not always make it big in soccer, given the competition in Brazil.

Certainly, Brazil has a rough road ahead in the Pan-American games, being put in the same bracket as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. However, the best thing that could happen to baseball is that Brazil makes it out of the first round (even if that means the U.S. loses - I have no false, or even genuine, nationalism in sporting events) and makes it to the quarterfinals or beyond. Brazilians always follow feverishly and avidly any sports in which their team is doing well (hence the huge popularity of volleyball here, and the growing popularity of basketball and gymnastics), even if they didn't follow the sport or know little about it, and baseball would be no exception. It won't make a bit of difference that 16 of the 20 players are Japanese-Brazilians; Brazilians see players in the Brazilian jersey, and they will root for them, regardless of sport or background.

And anything that can increase baseball's presence in Brazil, that can make kids see it and say, "hey, I want to play that", is a great thing indeed.