Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finnish baseball

Pesäpallo, Finnish baseball, is probably the finest sports practiced in Finland. It reminds the American baseball, but there are differences too. I don't know the rules of American baseball well enough to make comparison, but here's what I remember about the rules of the Finnish baseball (and you can check the rest from this nice website that was last updated in 1993 - check out the ASCII illustrations too).

There are two teams playing against each other. 9 actual players per team. One of the teams is hitting and the other team is on the field. The team on the hitting turn tries to hit the ball and progress on the field from base to base, eventually back to the home base - and by running home to achieve as many points as possible. There are three hitting attempts for each player. There can be only one runner on each base at the same time.

The number of the player refers to the hitting order - and you can tell something about the personal strengths and weaknesses too:
  • #1 The first hitter doesn't need to be very good in actually hitting the ball, he just needs to make his way to the first base and run fast. 
  • #2 The second hitter needs to be a bit better in hitting than the first one, he needs to be able to hit cleverly enough to ensure the first guy's way from first base to the second one - and to make his own way to the first base. 
  • #3 Semi-strong player without any special talent. 
  • #4 and #5 The best hitters of the team. They need to be able to hit the ball for sure, since theoretically there is ajolähtö, a runner on each base at this point of the game.
  • #6 to #9 The players who don't matter that much.
  • #10, #11 and #12 are called jokers, the wild cards. They don't have position on the field, so they don't need to know how to catch, or pitch, or throw the ball. They need to be good either in running or in hitting (either one will do). You can tell the strength of the joker on the first glance: the fat ones are hitters, the thin ones are runners. 
The team on the field tries to catch the ball and to burn, polttaa, the hitters/runners out: if the ball reaches the base before the runner, then the runner burns and he must return to home base. If the hitting/running team burns three times, the turns are shifted from field to hitting and vice versa.

There are some additional rules too:
  • Hutunkeitto, the cooking of a Hutu (or the cooking of porridge). This is how it's decided which team hits first and which of the teams is on the field.
  • Haavoittua, to get wounded. If the field player catches the ball directly from the hit (i.e. the ball doesn't touch the ground before the catch), all the players who were running must return to home base. They get "wounded" but not burnt.
  • Vapaataival, free way, walking. The pitch must stay within the "pitching plate". If the pitch is out of the range of the plate, the hitter can skip the pitch. Two outbound pitches, and the hitting team member gets a free way to the next base. Note that the pitcher is located at the home base, and he pitches the ball directly upwards, not by throwing towards the hitter as in the American version.
  • Laiton, illegal hit, foul. Right after the hit, if the ball touches the ground outside the borders of the field, the hitting attempt is considered illegal. The hitting team is not allowed to run on illegal hit. If the last of the three hitting attempts gets illegal, then the hitter gets burnt. I've understood that in the American baseball you are allowed to hit the ball as far as you possibly can, even all the way to the audience - and you're rewarded by a home run. But that's not allowed in the Finnish baseball, you need to hold back and stay within the borders of the field. Maybe that crystallizes also the differences of the two societies.
  • Lautaskammo, platephobia. Psychological diagnosis for pitcher who suddenly looses his pitching touch. It's very difficult to recover from this disease. I'd like to see a scientific research about platephobia.
These tips will help you to follow the game. However, you must travel to the provinces to see good pesäpallo, either to Pohjanmaa or Eastern Finland. The pesäpallo of Helsinki just sucks. Hjallis Harkimo tried to build up a team in Helsinki with big money, but he failed miserably. You can put together an ice hockey team if you have too much money - but money can't buy you the pesäpallo spirit of a small town.

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