If there’s one thing that can really unite South Africa as a country, it’s the love of sport. And whilst the nation’s cricket and rugby teams may often grab more global headlines, the emergent South African baseball scene has recently started to gain momentum.
South African emergence
The Rainbow Nation made their first big impression on the international baseball circuit in 2006 where a team of amateur players headed to the prestigious World Baseball Classic championships. Although many were questioning the ability of the team, they quickly defied the doubters by nearly causing a huge upset to the established Canadian baseball team.
This has mirrored the rise of baseball as a rapidly rising sport in South Africa. Facilitated by the likes of the South Africa Baseball Union, the game has managed to bridge the divided country by offering a game that is relatively untouched by the struggles of the past.
And now the sport has reached a pivotal point where it has started entering the national consciousness, with many supporting the national team and enjoying baseball themed games at Springbok Casino that reflect on the emerging popularity of this game.
The route that South African baseball has taken has been somewhat unorthodox, but in a way, it mirrors the nation’s idiosyncratic relationship with the world.
The game was first introduced to South Africa in 1895 when a group of American migrants who arrived on the shores in response to the gold rush that preceded the Boer War settled in the Transvaal province. It was here that they brought baseball equipment, taught the rules of the game, and even set up an official league in 1899.
Interestingly, given the cosmopolitan nature of the Rainbow Nation, there was also a big Japanese influence in the development of the game. This is because in 1934 a group of Japanese sailors had to wait three months for their next ship home, and in the ensuing period they played a game with the American locals at the Westbourne Oval in Port Elizabeth. The resulting success of the match quickly led to the development of the Easter Province Baseball Association.
From here, South African baseball grew at a fairly organic rate despite lack of financial assistance and political infighting.
The 1950s are often considered a golden era for South African baseball as it was during this time that audience numbers started swelling, and matches were held at many prestigious sporting arenas, often attracting the support of many American owned companies.
However, with international pressure on the Apartheid system restricting foreign interest, the game began to suffer as the century progressed. But with the recent political advances, baseball appears to be enjoying a long sought after resurgence this this sports-mad nation.