Pesäpallo: Finnish Baseball

Baseball is not big here in Indonesia. The national sport is badminton. You also see a lot of young guys playing soccer and futsal. As far as American sports, basketball rules the day, especially among teenagers. High schoolers sport Lebron or Kobe jerseys. There is always a basketball game being played at the Menteng Taman courts a few blocks from my home.  On the other hand, baseball is rarely played here. I've heard there is an expat softball league, and the American International schools have baseball teams. But, for the most part, this place is not a baseball town. 

You miss many things when you leave a your home city: family and friends, your favorite restaurants, your routines, the weather. One of the things I've missed the most has been being surrounded by baseball fans. I've yet to meet anyone who cares about baseball. This is probably a good thing for me as it forces me to think about other subjects. Perhaps I'll be a more healthy and emotionally balanced person as a result. But it's still frustrating that nobody I talk to here is capable of appreciating the funny way Alvaro Espinoza wore his hat. It can make one lonely.

The other night, Mandy and I were hanging out with another couple who have quickly become two of our closest friends here. Here's the kicker: They're from Finland. Because I am provincial I don't know much about anything outside of New York City. I especially don't know anything about Finland. For instance, I didn't even know that sauna is the Finnish language's one contribution to all languages. So whenever they talk about their home country, I learn a whole boatload of new and interesting facts. That night I learned by far the most valuable piece of information about Finland: There is a Finnish version of baseball called Pesäpallo. This couple, Paavo and Noora (I think the trick to naming your child a Finnish name is to repeat a vowel in the middle somewhere), weren't enthusiastic Pesäpallo fans, laughing that the game was big among "country bumpkins". But it turns out these cosmopolitan Finns were downplaying the reach of this great sport. That, or they were basically saying Finland is filled with country provincials. It turns out that Pesäpallo is Finland's national sport. I learned this when I arrived home that night and spent a few hours on-line researching this sister sport of baseball.

Pesäpallo is like baseball if baseball were tripping the light fantastic. Or maybe a more apt description is it's like baseball stripped of the pastoral setting and somewhat refined manners. Oh, it's also more brain demanding, according to its boosters. Witness 2008 sports news coverage of a championship game.

The thing that stands out to me is the celebration. The way these things usually work out in baseball is that the winning team finds a place away from its opponent to jump on each other and hug and yada yada. In this case, the winning team runs out onto the field where the opponenents dejectedly stand. What is especially odd for the baseball fan is that the winners carry bats over their heads. It just seems very dangerous. Then the celebrants run by the opponents and actually taunt them, or at least a few do. Now, as the newscast shows there was some kind of altercation earlier in the game so maybe this is an exceptional case. But for now I'll turn the particular into the general. American baseball is more sportsmanlike in its championship celebrations than Pesäpallo.

There is some information about Pesäpallo on wikipedia, this page, and this page. The latter is a very good primer. I liked this part especially:

Pesapallo is a European version of American Baseball. It's more brain demanding, needs more athletic abilities and it's much faster (and more entertaining). Pesapallo in the highest level has said to be the most tactical game in the world with American Football. But unlike Football and Baseball it doesn't require big muscles but _quick legs_, _tactital eye_ and _brains_ to master the game. Anyway the main reason why Pesapallo gives more than other games is that EVERYONE can play it! Women and men, boys and girls, together or apart.

Every great sport has to have at least one genius behind it. Pesapallo has Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala:

As early as 1907, Pihkala had watched baseball games in the United States and sought to incorporate aspects of American baseball into his developing concept of Finnish baseball. Pihkala saw American baseball as a hitting and running game in which the rules produced more frequent exchanges of teams “at bat,” speeding up the game. He viewed the American game as a form of “trench warfare” and proposed developing Finnish baseball into a “mobile war” between bases, in conformity with the basic Finnish military doctrine of forest warfare,which was to “fire and move”(i.e., shooting or throwing a hand grenade, and then plunging ahead).

So another way to conceptualize this:

Baseball is to Trench Warfare as Pesapallo is to Mobile Warfare.

Anyway, if anyone ever finds himself in Finland missing baseball, he can take in a Pesapallo game and squint and see something of the game he loves. 

2 comments… add one

  • I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently, what we American baseball fans would consider a “home run” is just a long foul ball in Pesäpallo.
    That’s one way to solve the steroid situation.

    twitter.com/shankopotamus November 19, 2009, 2:54 pm
  • That’s so fascinating. I watched the clip and was so lost, then read about the rules and went back, and it made a lot more sense. Can’t figure out the inning-game structure though.

    Paul SF November 19, 2009, 3:52 pm

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