By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “America’s pastime” is being played in Brazil, although often muffled by the football (soccer) enthusiasts’ shouts of Gooool. It is not as visible as the beaches full of volleyball nets but recently the cracking of bats, swung by both professional and amateur players, is increasing.
Introduced to the country by Japanese immigrants, the game of baseball in Brazil has been
quietly developing an infrastructure for decades. Popularity has gradually increased with the inclusion of a broader swath of Brazilian society.
Young players from all areas of social spectrum have not only opened up access to and understanding of the game, but have also caught the eyes of Major League Baseball (MLB) scouts along the way. In the spring of 2012, the Toronto Blue Jays called up infielder and catcher Yan Gomes.
Although he did attend high-school and college in the states, that promotion made him the first Brazilian-born player in the majors. Andy Loretta of The Brazil Baseball Development Group (BBDG), shared his thought with The Rio Times.
“This milestone, coupled with the fact that Brazilian baseball fans have unprecedented access to MLB games and baseball information thanks to the internet, as well as the ongoing development of youth and amateur leagues in Brazil, has made baseball in Brazil more popular than ever, although it still flies under the Brazilian mainstream radar.”
Loretta works with his three partners in the BBDG to increase access to the aforementioned information, through an internet database. They also hope to strengthen future ties between players and teams.
Earlier this year in São Paulo, the Major League Baseball International (MLBI) in connection with the Brazilian Baseball & Softball (CBBS), held an Elite Camp for 14 to 17 year old players. It was both a showcase for the Brazilian National Team and for the youths.
The national team is competing this fall in the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Tournament for the first time. They and eleven other teams new to the tournament will play for four spots to join the twelve other main qualifying teams. The sixteen teams will then face off during the tournament in the Spring of 2013.
Opportunities in Brazilian baseball, however, are not exclusively for current or future professionals. There are growing leagues for nonprofessional, ex-professional and amateur adults. Expatriates living in Rio and Brazil are also welcome to step up to bat.
“I am currently on a team that anyone can play for. We are always looking for players and it’s called the Rio de Janeiro Latinos. We play in tournaments all over Brazil and like having [expatriates] with baseball experience to play and practice because they are able to share their years of experience and knowledge of the game with players who are eager to learn and improve their game.” Paul B. Mathews former NABA A and AAA player told The Rio Times.
When asked about baseball in the country now, Mathews added, “I think the current state of the sport in Brazil is in it’s adolescence. The completion of renovation to the field at Lagoa and my work with Uilson Oliveira, the manager of the Latinos, on bringing equipment donated by various non-profit groups in the United States to Brazil has generated excitement for the game.”
“We are currently working on a baseball program that will allow kids to come and play the game of baseball and now that we have the tools and the location we expect the love of the game to grow here in Rio.” Mathews shares.