Baseball isn’t No. 1 in Spain
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
BARCELONA – Baseball is not a big past-time over here as I found out earlier this month. Of course, we knew that before we arrived here.
Beisbol is virtually played on weekends in this picturesque, touristy city nestled on the Mediterranean Sea. As my wife and I travelled around the city recently, we never saw anyone playing baseball. Tour guide Hector Martinez shook his head when we mentioned the almost complete absence of baseball in the city.
If it’s not the beer leagues, it’s the Sangria leagues or the wine leagues because those products are staples of this country.
Soccer is king in Barcelona, Madrid and everywhere else in Spain. The Barcelona Football Club has the city awash in Qatar Airways uniform tops, especially those of the star Messi.
Tourism is big here, with the Barcelona City Tour double-decker buses brimming with foreigners almost every day of the year. Explorer Christopher Columbus’ origins are in Spain and a 917-foot tall monument in his honour stills stands in a city square, a colossal structure that we saw was built in 1888 by Spain’s monarch of the day.
Architecture, statues and sculptures in this city are beyond amazing. People come here from all around Europe and other parts of the world. People in Europe have an easy commute when it comes to visiting nearby countries. They hop on a train or bus and within a few hours, they are in another country close by. Like the woman from Norway we met: she took a train ride of less than three hours and she was in Barcelona.
Us folks in Canada and the U.S. take a long plane ride to get to Europe. In the case of Barcelona for us, it was 7 1/2 hours going over on Air Canada Rouge, 8 1/2 hours returning. It was all worth it. Spain is an eye-opener. Food and drink are reasonably priced, even if you factor in the exchange rate. Museums and vineyards are too numerous to mention.
Nearby Montserrat where we visited is built high in the mountains and is home to a Benedictine monastery that had its origins in 1025, yes, 1025.
But getting back to baseball. Spain qualified for the World Baseball Classic in 2013 but lost all three games: against Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. According to research I did, the first baseball game in Barcelona was played back in 1901 and two years later, in Madrid.
Agustin Peris de Vargas is believed to be the man, who introduced Spain to baseball. He was a member of the Spanish army in Cuba and when he returned to Spain, he decided to get baseball up and running.
As the folks at Baseball Canada know, the Spanish federation played host to the Intercontinental Cup several times. Of course, Spain was the host team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when baseball became an official medal sport for the first time. Back in 1929, baseball was also part of the Barcelona International Exposition.
At the ’92 Olympics, Spain lost its first game by a close 4-1 count to the U.S. but then lost very handily in the next four games: 11-2 to the Dominican Republic, 20-0 to Chinese Taipei, 18-0 to Cuba and 14-4 to Italy. Spain finally won its last game of the round-robin by beating Puerto Rico 7-6.
For you trivia buffs, from what I can find out, four natives of Spain played in the majors, all for cups of tea as it turns out, some of whom didn’t stay in Spain long after their birth there. They were mostly token Spaniards.
Shortstop Al (El Pajaro) Cabrera was born in Spain’s Canary Islands and played one game May 16, 1913 for the Cardinals.
Lefty pitcher Bryan Oelkers was born in Zaragoza and was drafted by the Twins, one pick ahead of this guy by the name of Dwight Gooden. Oelkers grew up in Missouri and attended Wichita State in Kansas. He played briefly for the Twins and Royals.
Then there was catcher Al Pardo of Oviedo, who spent some time with the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies.
Rounding out the cast of Spaniards in the big leagues is Danny Rios of Madrid, who moved to the U.S. with his folks when he was two and threw for the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals.