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Baseball in Paradise

Paseo Stadium, Guam

Paseo Stadium, Guam

Speaking of baseball (see previous post), I almost missed an article by Skip Rozin in the Wall Street Journal two days ago on baseball in Guam. Despite Guam’s long history with the game — the US having taken possession in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and Japan controlling it for a few years during World War II — players just aren’t serious enough about it to make an impact. Here’s an excerpt from the article.

“The great thing about Guam baseball is that it’s fun,” said John Hattig, an acknowledged local star. “When you play in the States, it’s for the love of the game and to get to the next level. When you come back, it’s more to be with your friends.”

Mr. Hattig would know. He’s the only player from Guam to reach the major leagues. Drafted in 1998 by Boston, he spent seven years in the minors before joining the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006. After the 2007 season he was released. He then played a season in the independent Golden Baseball League before returning to Guam this March, in time for the end of the season and the playoffs.

That he stands alone in Guam’s baseball history does not signify an absence of talent; the island’s Little League teams have made it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., five times since 2001, most recently in 2008. It is, rather, an absence of urgency about the game itself.

“The problem we’ve always had is there’s not a lot of commitment to daily playing,” says Ray Brown, baseball development officer for the Pacific region called Oceania, part of the International Baseball Federation, the sport’s governing body. “You could play year ’round, but they don’t.”

High schools on Guam play only 12 regular-season games, compared with a typical school on the mainland that plays between 20 and 35 games. Even the BBL regular season is only 15 games long. (Midlevel minor league seasons in the U.S. are about 140 games; the majors, 162.)

“They don’t seem to understand that to play the game better you’ve got to work every day,” says Mr. Brown. It’s a harsh assessment, but Mr. Hattig agrees.

“I tell the other guys in the BBL that everybody’s got skills, but that isn’t enough — you’ve got to make sacrifices,” he said days before the playoffs began. “It kills us that we don’t play a longer season, and guys don’t want to go away. They go away to play in college but they get homesick and come back. I understand, yeah; this is paradise. But the game suffers.”

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