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Old game for the Old Continent09/03/2008 2:16 PM ET
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Josh Chetwynd is happy to report that not only do people in England like Major League Baseball, but he's paid to tell them all about it on television.
Chetwynd, an American born in London who returned to the land of his birth to play for the Great Britain national baseball team, is an analyst for Five, a U.K. station that broadcasts MLB games.
He's also an author, and his new book, "Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History" (McFarland, 334 pages) is a comprehensive, handy reference guide to everything you need to know about America's Pastime in the Old Continent, which, believe it or not, is played at improving levels in the 40 countries mentioned in the book.
"The number of baseball players here is miniscule compared to in the States, but the enthusiasm from the people who do play here is very high, and they want to expand the sport here," Chetwynd says.
"They want to bring more attention to it and realize people love it here. You really want to see them all succeed."
The book should help in that regard. In addition to detailing the surprising history of baseball in 40 European countries, Chetwynd also included appendices that include everything from a list of Major Leaguers who have played in European domestic leagues to a glossary of baseball terms in seven European languages.
Chetwynd's own European baseball story makes him the perfect source of all this information.
He played on the Northwestern University team and was a teammate of current big-leaguer Mark Loretta. After college, he tried independent Minor League ball for a season and then embarked on a journalism career that took him to U.S. News and World Report at the age of 24. But while surfing the Internet, he found out about the British Baseball Federation.
"I was completely blown away," he says. "I emailed them and found out they had a national team. I went out there, joined the team, we won the B pool to get to the top level of baseball in Europe, and I was hooked after that."
The British team, with Chetwynd behind the plate, played in the European Championships in 1999 and 2001, and Chetwynd moved to England permanently in November of 2001, working in MLB's London office on game development, licensing for merchandising and television licensing.
He moved to Sweden to play professionally in 2003, and he considers it one of the best times of his life.
"This was my second chance to get paid to play, and although the standard of play was significantly lower than in the States, it was still probably the level of decent junior college baseball. The best players were quite good, there were a couple of Americans with indie ball or some pro experience, and we were in Oskarshamn, this small town in southeast Sweden.
"I got a great cottage right on the Baltic Sea, and we ended up doing really well. It was the best season the team ever had."
Chetwynd played all over Europe and did countless hours of research for the book. Throughout its pages, the reader will note the many differences between the countries and how they play and view the game.
As Chetwynd explains and writes, Italy and the Netherlands are the best teams in Europe and the most developed as far as quality of facilities. He describes a "second tier" as including the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and Sweden.
"The book is meant to explain the history of sport in Europe and to give you some sense of the culture," Chetwynd says. "Unique baseball cultures have come about in some of these countries, such as Italy and Croatia. Increasingly, there's a mixture of whatever the prevalent culture is mixed with the American flair and taste for baseball."
Chetwynd explains that Russian baseball, for example, is influenced by the game in Japan and Cuba. And in Spain, the game is played with a direct influence from the very advanced baseball played in Venezuela.
But Chetwynd also unearthed stories that American baseball fans will be amazed to read.
"I'll bet that a lot of Americans don't know that Russia, before the revolution, was the primary exporter of horsehide for Major League baseballs," Chetwynd says. "There was fear that if trade wasn't normalized, there wouldn't be this great tartan horsehide for baseballs.
"And there are a lot of great Italian stories. In the late 19th century, a guy happened across a game of baseball played by monks decked out in full monk regalia."
Chetwynd also mentioned a tale from Croatia where soldiers at the Serbian border would play baseball at night with tanks rolling in the background, the beautiful baseball parks among the Tuscan hills in Italy, and the day the great Hall of Famer Stan Musial visited a Little League game in Poland to honor his own ancestry.
"I hope there's a little bit of everything in the book and that people learn how passionate Europeans are about baseball," Chetwynd says.
"The sport isn't as good as it is in America, and it's got a long way to go to get there, but they're trying, and it's exciting to see and be a part of."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.