Great read, Ben.
I can definitely relate to your story. I'm a Brazilian native who grew up playing soccer and who, like most of the kids in that country, dreamed about becoming a professional soccer player. Although I also played some basketball and was in a swimming pool at least four times a week, baseball was not one of the sports I did. There were no baseball fields where I lived. No one talked about Joe Carter's home run, Field of Dreams
was a silly movie for everyone and I bet those wearing Yankees' cap had never heard of Paul O'Neill or Wade Boggs. My first contact with baseball was by watching the 1997 World Series. I was 15 years old at the time. My family had just got cable tv at home and ESPN was on the package, and for the most part in English. I knew how to count in English up to ten, but that was about it. I cannot say how much I actually learned about baseball by watching that series, but I know it was enough for me to fall in love with the game. I guess I was very lucky to watch an exciting World Series as my first baseball experience.
Like you, Ben, I also taught myself the rules of baseball. Even with all the excitement from the World Series, I had no one to talk to. Baseball in Brazil is crazy talk. There was no internet for me to read about baseball or chat with other baseball fans. The only place in the whole country where you can find people to play baseball in the countryside of Sao Paulo state, where there is a huge Japanese community. They have recently built a beautiful baseball facility in that area with the help of the Yakult Swallows from the Japanese Central League. Even if I wanted to learn how to play, I was still far away from where most Japanese immigrants lived. For years I had to content myself with watching a few games during baseball season and when the broadcasting was not in English, it was done by two Brazilian commentators who all they could talk about was the price of a hot dog at Jacobs Field and that Mike Jackson (Indians closer) was not the brother of La Toya Jackson.
It was not until the internet became cheap enough for a middle-class family to have it at home that I was able to get my baseball fix. Through the internet I was also able to realize that there were many others in the same situation as mine, starving for baseball, but having no one to talk to. Today, even if one can rarely see baseball being played around the country, the baseball presence in Brazil can be seen by the many internet groups and forums dedicated to the sport and how those groups have a decent number of participants who assiduously follow the Major League Baseball and development of the sport in the country.
I am also lucky to have been living in Canada for the past six years and even though baseball's popularity in here cannot be compared to hockey's, I am still in baseball heaven compared to where I used to be. I remember last year when I was in China for a few months and I could only watch a few innings of the Mariners' games in the Japanese channel between the time that I woke up to the time I left the house, I have to say I am lucky to have baseball on tv in Canada pretty much every night during baseball season.