5 countries where baseball continues beyond October
People in these countries can get their baseball fix even after the World Series is over.
As much as the folks in Major League Baseball have tried to keep their season going as long as possible, the World Series rarely ends after Halloween. So, what's a fan of the summer pastime to do once the calendar flips to November?
It may surprise you how many countries still play baseball late into the year, either on a professional or amateur level. It's mostly a matter of climate, of course; either the countries are temperate enough to host baseball year-round or they're in the southern hemisphere, where their spring and summer are during the northern hemisphere's fall and winter.
Either way, here are five places that will satisfy your baseball fix even after the MLB players hang it up for the winter.
Pitcher Bong Jung-Keun of South Korea celebrates victory over Chinese Taipei in the Baseball Final during the 2014 Asian Games at Munhak Stadium on Sept. 28, 2014, in Incheon, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
If you were charged up by this year's exciting Kansas City Royals-San Francisco Giants World Series and want to capture that feeling again, find a sports bar that specializes in Korean baseball. The Korean Baseball Organization's pro league will hold its championship series, the Korea Series, starting Nov. 4 and ending Nov. 12 if it goes the full seven games. This year, the Samsung Lions have the home field advantage over the Nexen Foxes.
Professional baseball has been popular in South Korea since the 1980s, and a number of Koreans have made the major leagues, starting with Chan Ho Park's 1994 debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Among current players, two big names from Korea are Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers and Shin-Soo Choo of the Texas Rangers.
There hasn't been a professional league in Israel since one was formed in 2007, only lasting one season. But baseball is alive and well in youth leagues managed by the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB). The organization's equivalent of Little League is particularly active in the winter months, as kids up to 16 years old play from September through June; their adult Premier League starts in March.
"The pro league gained some attention in Israel ... and gained us a lot of new friends, exposure and financing which we still enjoy today," IAB president Peter Kurz told From The Grapevine.
Israel has sent teams to the World Baseball Classic (WBC), and the IAB thinks that after a couple of professional-level ballparks are built, pro baseball can return to the country. An Israeli has yet to make the major leagues, though, as Kurz notes, "Alon Leichman is currently a pitcher at the University of San Diego as well, and although he is too old for a prospect (25) he still has hopes to play Independent ball."
James Beresford, Chris Oxspring and Tim Kennelly of Australia confer during the World Baseball Classic First Round Group B match against the Netherlands at Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on March 5, 2013, in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Given where it's located, Australia's professional baseball season is just getting started. It's spring Down Under, and the season runs from late October until the Australian Baseball League's championship series ends in early February.
Even though the ABL was founded in 2009, baseball has a long and rich history in Australia, having been played as far back as the late 1800s. The previous professional league, called the National League, ran from the late 1980s until the late 1990s, and there have been 31 Australian players in the majors, with Craig Shipley starting the current era of Aussie major leaguers in 1986.
Youth baseball is huge in Australia; 477 Little League teams have been chartered since the country started participating in 2007, becoming the fourth-largest country in terms of number of participants.
Australia has become important enough in the baseball world that MLB wanted to promote the sport in the country by holding regular season games there for the first time; the 2014 opening series between the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks attracted huge and enthusiastic crowds at the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds this past March.
Mexico and the Caribbean
Players of Mexico's Naranjeros de Hermosillo celebrate after winning the 2014 Caribbean baseball series defeating Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez, on Feb. 8, 2014, in Porlamar city, Margarita Island, Nueva Esparta state, Venezuela. (Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images)
This paragraph could apply to pretty much any country that runs what is known by baseball fans as a "winter ball" league, where players can be sent by MLB teams to sharpen their skills or rehab from an injury. There are MLB-recognized winter leagues in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but winter ball is played all over the equatorial region, especially in Cuba.
Most of these seasons run until late December or early January. However, the big event is the annual Caribbean Series, which will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Feb. 2-8, 2015. All five countries mentioned above will send their league champion to the series – Cuba started participating in 2014 after a 53-year absence – and they will play each other in a round-robin tournament, with the best four teams making the semi-finals.
Thousands of players from these countries have made it to the majors, of course, including Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal. And, led by Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners, the Dominican Republic cruised to victory in the last World Baseball Classic, in 2013.
And where did all of these fantastic players come from? Everywhere, from sandlots where players used cardboard boxes for gloves to organized little leagues all over Latin America. In 1957, a team from Monterrey, Mexico, was the first international team to win a Little League World Series, and the sport has only grown in the region since then.
Chad Hinshaw #12 (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) of the Mesa Solar Sox in the dugout during the Arizona Fall League game against the Surprise Saguaros at Surprise Stadium on October 21, 2014 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo: Christian Peterson/Getty Images)
Surprise! Baseball actually isn't over here at home, at least not for the game's best prospects. It's perfect baseball weather in the desert right now, and the Arizona Fall League is in full swing. The six teams of the league, which MLB started in 1992, consist of the best Double-A and Triple-A prospects; each team sends six prospects to the league to help shape up their skills. The season runs from early October until mid-November; this year's championship game is on Nov. 15. Speaking of Surprise, that town's Saguaros were the 2013 champions.
Players that have come out of the AFL to successful major league careers include Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and David Wright. Oh, and a neophyte baseball player named Michael Jordan also played in the AFL, after retiring from the NBA for the first time.
This season, the AFL will be experimenting with rules to help quicken the pace of the game, including a 20-second pitch clock, a no-pitch intentional walk rule, and a one-foot-in-the-batters-box rule. Quick games involving possible future stars in beautiful weather? When's the next flight out?
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: