Q & A: World Baseball with Bruce Baskin

» 23 July 2009 » In international baseball »

I first learned of Bruce Baskin’s World Baseball Today radio program and website when he left a comment on my post on world baseball from earlier in the year. I checked out the site and was immediately impressed by the breadth of the content. I contacted Bruce with some questions about the state of baseball around the world today, and he was kind enough to share his insight.

NPB Tracker: Can you describe your website, podcast and radio show?

Bruce Baskin: World Baseball Today has primarily been a radio program on Radio Miami International since 2007. WRMI is a 50,000-watt shortwave station that can reach listeners on all continents when weather conditions are right, and they’ve been running WBT Sunday mornings at 10:30 Eastern since Day One. The show is also repeated 2-3 times later in the week, depending on how their schedule goes. WRMI’s owner-GM, Jeff White, is president of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, and he’s been super to work with. It’s been a really nice fit.

The WBT blog and podcasts have both been pretty ancillary, to be honest. Once I’m done producing the radio program and mp3 it to Miami, I’ll post the text on the blogsite and upload the program audio to the podcast site, although I’ve been having “issues” with Podbean, which is the server for the podcasts, and I haven’t been able to make the program available
for online listeners. Really kind of frustrating.

NT: What sources do you use to gather the information for your site? Do you have English-language sources for all these leagues?

BB: Most of my sources have been in English, although I do use Google translations from time to time… sometimes THOSE need translating as well. I go through MLB.com’s story archives for major league news, MILB.com for stories from the Mexican League and, surprisingly, the Caribbean winter leagues… they really cover those well. I’ve found BaseballdeCuba.com to be a good source for the Cuban National Series, although sometimes you have to do a little digging for stuff.

There are a lot of good sources for baseball in Asia: JapaneseBaseball.com, NPBTracker.com and JapanBall.com are all good for stories about the Central and Pacific Leagues, and JapaneseBaseball.com is a good starting point for news from South Korea and Taiwan, too. There are also three good blogs I use. EastWindupChronicle.com is a good one, and there’s also TaiwanBaseball.com and KoreaBaseball.com. I’ve found the Baseball Philippines website to be informative, although it’s a little incomplete and runs behind sometimes.

For European baseball, there’s a very good “one-stop” website called Mister-Baseball.com that I use almost exclusively for stories from the leagues there. It’s an absolute dream for anyone tracking all the national leagues over there.

NT: Where are we seeing baseball growing in popularity?

BB: I’m not sure there’s any one place where the game is really exploding, but it seems to be growing fairly quickly in Southeast Asia. Indonesia and Thailand have decent national teams, and I know there’s a lot of interest in building the game in Vietnam and Cambodia. I have to admit I was surprised at how well Pakistan and Sri Lanka did in the Asia Games earlier this year because cricket is THE big sport in both places. This is one region where baseball could do something in the next few years.

I think there’s a slow but steady growth in Europe, although soccer is by far the biggest sport pretty much everywhere. The two wins over the Dominican Republic by The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic were huge for European baseball, but I’m not sure that’s translated into a growth spurt.

There are some MLB teams opening academies in Brazil, so that might be a place to keep an eye on, too. There are some great athletes down there.

NT: Conversely, the Internet is making information more available than ever before. Are we seeing an increase in interest in international baseball from American fans?

BB: I think there’s been some increase in interest, but Americans are pretty insular when it comes to sports and culture. For instance, sports fans will watch the biggest events, like soccer’s World Cup or Olympics basketball, but that hasn’t translated into those same people following English Premier League soccer or pro basketball in Spain or Italy, for instance. Generally speaking, if the USA isn’t directly involved in something, we don’t tend to pay attention.

The World Baseball Classic is potentially a terrific showcase for international baseball, but you seem to hear almost as much complaining and criticism of the WBC as you do praise among Americans. I’ve felt for a while that if the WBC were whittled down to a one-week midsummer tournament exclusively in American ballparks, interest would grow in it. Right now, it’s a little bit long for American fans, and having it during spring training seems to offend some people, including baseball people. I am no fan of Bud Selig, but I applaud his desire to see the WBC succeed. As a fan of the sport, I love the WBC.

NT: Where is the next source of international talent?

BB: There’s a lot of effort to develop talent in Europe, and I think we’re starting to see MLB teams get more involved with tryout camps and short-term academies over there. I’ve mentioned Southeast Asia as a potential breeding ground, and there’s plenty of room to grow the game in places like South America and the Indian subcontinent. The difficulty baseball faces right now is that in these countries, they’re dealing with raw athletes and not ballplayers because people don’t generally grow up playing baseball.

I’m very interested in seeing how those two young pitchers the Pirates signed out of India do, because that’s a country of over a billion people with a total mania for another bat-and-ball sport, cricket. Baseball and cricket are obviously two different sports, but they share some very basic elements.

I have to admit I’m not very optimistic about mainland China’s chances of becoming a baseball hotbed. There has been a lot of time, effort and money spent trying to develop baseball there, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on. They’re already demolishing the two stadiums used for baseball in the Beijing Olympics, and I don’t foresee the government getting behind the sport…and if the Chinese government ain’t behind something, it ain’t gonna succeed.

NT: What are your favorite leagues to follow as a fan?

BB: You know, I’ve kind of gotten into Baseball Philippines a bit over the past couple of years. The BP website is a little incomplete and inconsistent at times, and it was really hard to track them last fall, but I love the passion Jonas Terrado has in his game accounts. He cares, and it shows. I’ve enjoyed following guys like Vio Roxas, Vladimir Eguia and the Laurel brothers (Jay and Matt). The Philippines has a lot of potential in baseball. It’s a country with over 100 million people and baseball’s a fairly popular sport there. I’ve thought the American military presence there for so many decades should’ve led to baseball’s growth in the same way it’s grown in other countries we’ve occupied in the past, but it just hasn’t worked out.

Another place whose leagues I enjoy following is Mexico. Only place in the world where pro baseball is played year-round, and there’s a great history of the sport there. I spent two years writing about Mexican baseball online with a column called “Viva Beisbol,” and I was really surprised how popular it became. Overwhelmed, actually, because “Viva Beisbol” was just a creative outlet for me on the OurSportsCentral.com website and I had zero expectations in terms of public interest. However, there were about 6-7 other websites that picked it up and carried it, including the Mexican Pacific League’s official website. To this day, that’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever gotten in writing or broadcasting.

NT: What’s next for World Baseball Today?

BB: Ironically, I’m getting back into Mexican baseball in August. I’ve decided to sort of revive “Viva Beisbol” as a radio program called “Baseball Mexico” on WRMI, and it will replace “World Baseball Today” on Sunday mornings.

It was a tough choice to make because I’ve had fun covering all the different leagues that are out there, but I’ve gotten frustrated because the nature of WBT has made it an “inches deep, miles wide” type of program. A lot of what I’ve been doing with WBT has been somewhat redundant because I’m giving out information already available to fans online, and my past experience with “Viva Beisbol” indicates a lot of interest among Americans in Mexican baseball, especially people in border states like Texas, Arizona and California.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop following baseball in other leagues. I want to see who wins the Pacific League pennant in Japan, whether Puerto Cruz runs the table during the playoffs in Spain, and what kind of numbers Roberto Petagine ends up with in Korea.

NT: Thanks Bruce!

1. Can you describe your website, podcast and radio show?

World Baseball Today has primarily been a radio program on Radio Miami International since 2007.  WRMI is a 50,000-watt shortwave station that can reach listeners on all continents when weather conditions are right, and they’ve been running WBT Sunday mornings at 10:30 Eastern since Day One.  The show is also repeated 2-3 times later in the week, depending on how their schedule goes.  WRMI’s owner-GM, Jeff White, is president of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, and he’s been super to work with.  It’s been a really nice fit.

The WBT blog and podcasts have both been pretty ancillary, to be honest.  Once I’m done producing the radio program and mp3 it to Miami, I’ll post the text on the blogsite and upload the program audio to the podcast site, although I’ve been having “issues” with Podbean, which is the server for the podcasts, and I haven’t been able to make the program available
for online listeners.  Really kind of frustrating.

2. What sources do you use to gather the information for your site? Do you have English-language sources for all these leagues?

Most of my sources have been in English, although I do use Google translations from time to time..sometimes THOSE need translating as well.  I go through MLB.com’s story archives for major league news, MILB.com for stories from the Mexican League and, surprisingly, the Caribbean winter leagues…they really cover those well.  I’ve found BaseballdeCuba.com to be a good source for the Cuban National Series, although sometimes you have to do a little digging for stuff.

There are a lot of good sources for baseball in Asia:  JapaneseBaseball.com, NPBTracker.com and JapanBall.com are all good for stories about the Central and Pacific Leagues, and JapaneseBaseball.com is a good starting point for news from South Korea and Taiwan, too.  There are also three good blogs I use.  EastWindupChronicle.com is a good one, and there’s also TaiwanBaseball.com and KoreaBaseball.com.  I’ve found the Baseball Philippines website to be informative, although it’s a little incomplete and runs behind sometimes.

For European baseball, there’s a very good “one-stop” website called Mister-Baseball.com that I use almost exclusively for stories from the leagues there.  It’s an absolute dream for anyone tracking all the national leagues over there.

3. Where are we seeing baseball growing in popularity?

I’m not sure there’s any one place where the game is really exploding, but it seems to be growing fairly quickly in Southeast Asia.  Indonesia and Thailand have decent national teams, and I know there’s a lot of interest in building the game in Vietnam and Cambodia.  I have to admit I was surprised at how well Pakistan and Sri Lanka did in the Asia Games earlier this year because cricket is THE big sport in both places.  This is one region where baseball could do something in the next few years.

I think there’s a slow but steady growth in Europe, although soccer is by far the biggest sport pretty much everywhere.  The two wins over the Dominican Republic by The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic were huge for European baseball, but I’m not sure that’s translated into a growth spurt.

There are some MLB teams opening academies in Brazil, so that might be a place to keep an eye on, too.  There are some great athletes down there.

4. Conversely, the Internet is making information more available than ever before. Are we seeing an increase in interest in international baseball from American fans?

I think there’s been some increase in interest, but Americans are pretty insular when it comes to sports and culture.  For instance, sports fans will watch the biggest events, like soccer’s World Cup or Olympics basketball, but that hasn’t translated into those same people following English Premier League soccer or pro basketball in Spain or Italy, for instance.  Generally speaking, if the USA isn’t directly involved in something, we don’t tend to pay attention.

The World Baseball Classic is potentially a terrific showcase for international baseball, but you seem to hear almost as much complaining and criticism of the WBC as you do praise among Americans.  I’ve felt for a while that if the WBC were whittled down to a one-week midsummer tournament exclusively in American ballparks, interest would grow in it.  Right now, it’s a little bit long for American fans, and having it during spring training seems to offend some people, including baseball people.  I am no fan of Bud Selig, but I applaud his desire to see the WBC succeed.  As a fan of the sport, I love the WBC.

5. Where is the next source of international talent?

There’s a lot of effort to develop talent in Europe, and I think we’re starting to see MLB teams get more involved with tryout camps and short-term academies over there.  I’ve mentioned Southeast Asia as a potential breeding ground, and there’s plenty of room to grow the game in places like South America and the Indian subcontinent.  The difficulty baseball faces right now is that in these countries, they’re dealing with raw athletes and not ballplayers because people don’t generally grow up playing baseball.

I’m very interested in seeing how those two young pitchers the Pirates signed out of India do, because that’s a country of over a billion people with a total mania for another bat-and-ball sport, cricket.  Baseball and cricket are obviously two different sports, but they share some very basic elements.

I have to admit I’m not very optimistic about mainland China’s chances of becoming a baseball hotbed.  There has been a lot of time, effort and money spent trying to develop baseball there, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on.  They’re already demolishing the two stadiums used for baseball in the Beijing Olympics, and I don’t foresee the government getting behind the sport…and if the Chinese government ain’t behind something, it ain’t gonna succeed.

6. What are your favorite leagues to follow as a fan?

You know, I’ve kind of gotten into Baseball Philippines a bit over the past couple of years.  The BP website is a little incomplete and inconsistent at times, and it was really hard to track them last fall, but I love the passion Jonas Terrado has in his game accounts.  He cares, and it shows.  I’ve enjoyed following guys like Vio Roxas, Vladimir Eguia and the Laurel brothers.  The Philippines has a lot of potential in baseball.  It’s a country with over 100 million people and baseball’s a fairly popular sport there.  I’ve thought the American military presence there for so many decades should’ve led to baseball’s growth in the same way it’s grown in other countries we’ve occupied in the past, but it just hasn’t worked out.

Another place whose leagues I enjoy following is Mexico.  Only place in the world where pro baseball is played year-round, and there’s a great history of the sport there.  I spent two years writing about Mexican baseball online with a column called “Viva Beisbol,” and I was really surprised how popular it became.  Overwhelmed, actually, because “Viva Beisbol” was just a creative outlet for me on the OurSportsCentral.com website and I had zero expectations in terms of public interest.  However, there were about 6-7 other websites that picked it up and carried it, including the Mexican Pacific League’s official website.  To this day, that’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever gotten in writing or broadcasting.

7. What are your plans for the future?

Ironically, I’m getting back into Mexican baseball in August.  I’ve decided to sort of revive “Viva Beisbol” as a radio program called “Baseball Mexico” on WRMI, and it will replace “World Baseball Today” on Sunday mornings.

It was a tough choice to make because I’ve had fun covering all the different leagues that are out there, but I’ve gotten frustrated because the nature of WBT has made it an “inches deep, miles wide” type of program. A lot of what I’ve been doing with WBT has been somewhat redundant because I’m giving out information already available to fans online, and my past experience with “Viva Beisbol” indicates a lot of interest among Americans in Mexican baseball, especially people in border states like Texas, Arizona and California.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop following baseball in other leagues.  I want to see who wins the Pacific League pennant in Japan, whether Puerto Cruz runs the table during the playoffs in Spain, and what kind of numbers Roberto Petagine ends up with in Korea.

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