Pesäpallo: Finland's More Active Spin On Baseball!

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Pesäpallo, Finland's version of baseball, is faster and more exciting than the American game (Credit: Santeri Viinamäki /CC BY 3.0 creativecommons.org)

Once considered America's national pastime, baseball is on a decline, especially among young Americans who seem to prefer more active sports such as football and basketball. But in Finland, the game's popularity is at an all-time high, especially in rural areas, where it is a favorite in schools and fans in stadiums often outnumber the local population. The reason? Pesäpallo, the Finnish version of baseball, is a faster-paced game that is exciting enough to keep fans of all ages at the edge of their seats!

Pesäpallo, now deemed Finland's national sport, was invented in the early 1900s by Finnish athlete Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala. The Olympic track and field star came up with the idea, after attending what he thought was a “lackluster” baseball game in America. While both sports involve a ball and a bat, the similarities end there. Unlike the familiar diamond-shaped baseball fields in the US, the Finnish game is played on a long narrow arena. Instead of scoring by running counter-clockwise, the players sprint in a zigzag pattern, resulting in progressively longer distances. They begin by running to the left to get to first base, then zip diagonally across the infield to get to second base on the right, then straight across the field to third base, before finally making the long trek back to home base.

Pesäpallo players run an average of 6.5 miles per game (Credit: By Mysid — Self-made in Inkscape/ public domain,/commons.wikimedia.org

Though batters get three strikes, they don't have to run if they get a hit on the first two. The ball is also much easier to hit, primarily because the pitcher stands just over an arm's length from the batter and throws the ball straight up in the air instead of from a mound. As a result, almost every ball that gets pitched is put into play with very few strikeouts, swings, and misses. A pesäpallo player runs an average of about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers), or about the same as a professional soccer player, during each game. In comparison, most baseball players average 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) per game!

"It's much more active because almost with every pitch you have a strike and the ball is on the move, and the runners are on the move, so there are no empty moments in the game," Jussi Pyysalo, chief executive of Finland's top professional league, Superpesis, told CNN.

A girls pesäpallo league in Siilinjärvi, Finland (Credit: Jannev /CC BY-SA 3.0/ Creative Commons.org)

Since the highest salary averages about $55,000, even the best pesäpallo players have to keep their day jobs. However, they seem to have little desire to trade spots with professional Major League Baseball (MLB) players, who often have multimillion-dollar contracts. "I have followed and do occasionally watch baseball, but since I've gotten so used to the speed and dynamics of pesäpallo, baseball seems more sluggish," says Tuomas Jussila, a two-time league MVP, who helped lead his team to the championships in 2018.

Pyysalo agrees, saying, "In our towns these guys are stars. They are not superstars, no. They don't need to make a lot of money, no. But, still, they are proud of it, and their hometowns are proud of them too."

Perhaps MLB officials can adopt a few ideas from the Finnish and help revive interest in the sport, which has given the world legends such as Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson.

Resources: www.wbur.org,bostonglobe.com,cnn.com.

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165 Comments
  • reekidfox3rd
    it is interesting in lots of ways
    • wertqaz
      wertqaz7 months
      i play baseball and and this is not what i'm used to
      • redwing16
        redwing169 months
        I am a baseball player, and this is very interesting!
        • im_carly_shay
          im_carly_shay10 months
          My brother plays Baseball and i help its so fun!!
          • sgvdg
            sgvdg10 months
            I play baseball and it is funny how you have to run zig zag
            • kurz
              kurz12 months
              I love baseball, so this twist it going to be fun!!!
              • zaks
                zaksabout 1 year
                I love baseball! It's my third favorite sport after basketball and football.
                • imsome1
                  imsome1about 1 year
                  I love baseball too! Only that it is my second favorite
                • isitbythewindo1
                  isitbythewindo1about 1 year
                  Man that would be really fun to play wonder if my gym teacher would let us
                  • lwith56
                    lwith56about 1 year
                    I love base ball
                    • jayplayzrb
                      jayplayzrbabout 1 year
                      Nice article DOGOnews