By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Although baseball itself is often referred to as the American Pastime, the game's global appeal is rarely contested.
With roots that extend from the grassy knolls of Great Britain to the dusty pastures of Beachville, Ont. and then on through to the banks of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York, the Grand Old Game is a historically well-travelled practice.
A true example of this trend can be found on the sun-soaked diamonds of Greenwood Park in Toronto. There, members of an extensive 11-team men’s baseball league meet weekly throughout the summer in order to continue a long-standing tradition focused on both athletic and community engagement.
Formed in 1967, the Japanese Canadian Baseball League serves as one of the longest continually operating amateur circuits in Southwestern Ontario. Drawing players from neighboring communities such as Scarborough, Etobicoke and Mississauga, the JCBL is more than just a recreational league for those involved.
“What makes it special is the fact that there is this cultural binding element, “ explained Jesse Cranin, a second-year player and current infielder with the Beansprouts. “It brings together a bunch of guys with a lot of cultural undertones in terms of Japanese culture, language and tradition. It’s really a community of its own."
Like most weekend circuits across the country, the JCBL features a variety of experienced ball players and skill sets, but don’t let the weekend warrior element fool you, these guys know how to play.
“(The players) are good. We have a number of guys who have played in the Koshien either once or several times throughout their careers, “ explained Cranin. “It’s an extremely competitive calibre of play."
For those unfamiliar with the aforementioned showcase, the Koshien is a high school tournament held twice yearly in Nishinomiya, Japan. Its games are played in an 80,000-seat stadium, televised nationwide and the players featured are said to achieve a sort of celebrity status both during and after the tournament.
Drawing comparisons to the College World Series, Koshien alumni include some of Japan's most impressive exports such as Masahiro Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish to name only a few.
“What’s cool is that we all have exposure to playing with these guys that were on track to become professionals,” said Cranin. “Koshien is the talk of the baseball world in Japan, so I’d say that’s special."
2017 marks the JCBL’s 50th season. To celebrate the occasion, members from the league have planned a number of events throughout the course of the summer.
Those events include various pre-game ceremonies, an all-star team pilgrimage back to Japan and an end of season banquet with speeches from former professional ball players and some of the league's 4,000 alumni.
So the next time you find yourself just north of Leslieville on a Sunday afternoon, stop by Greenwood Park and watch as a community of Japanese athletes play the “American Pastime” in the heart of a Canadian city.
- Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)