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American Baseball Season Begins

The American major league baseball season kicked off recently, a sign spring has arrived in North America. But the game some call America's pastime is also growing in popularity around the world. VOA's Ernest Leong was on hand earlier this month for baseball's opening day in Washington, DC.

Thousands of fans flocked to RFK Stadium for Opening Day for the Washington Nationals baseball team for the first game of the 2007 big-league baseball season.

One father and son came early to the park, to more fully experience their first Opening Day game. "Exciting. I took a day off from work, and here we are," the father says.

The pre-game ceremonies are a colorful spectacle, with marching bands, fireworks – and of course, the American National Anthem.

While many see baseball as a uniquely American sport, baseball has its roots in the English game cricket, which also involves a pitcher, batter and running bases to score. To some, baseball can be a slow-paced game. Between pitches, fielders stand around [and] catchers hold conferences with the pitcher on the mound. Exciting plays are few and infrequent.

Yet baseball remains a popular sport. The game's fans say its seemingly slow pace is part of its charm, allowing spectators to relax and enjoy the day. Mike Allen is head coach of a high school baseball team in Virginia, the Yorktown Patriots. Allen says baseball will always appeal to some sports fans.

"It's not just a physical game. It takes the mental and physical. Anybody likes that, this is the game for them," he says.

The Patriots also recently played their opening day game. Not as many fans or as much fanfare as in the big leagues, but enthusiasm for the game is there.

At all levels of baseball, ethnic diversity has become commonplace. Since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 to become the first black player in the U.S. major leagues, black and Hispanic players have become an integral part of the game. In recent years, more Asians are playing in the majors too, further increasing the game's popularity in that part of the world.

Washington Nationals' starting pitcher Shawn Hill has played baseball in the U.S. and abroad. He says the sport can flourish wherever the climate will permit.

"You could go anywhere in the world that's got some warm weather, a nice climate,” Hill says. “You can start building, you know, from the ground up, start going with the young kids. It will take years, obviously, but the Middle East, anywhere in Africa."

And baseball is even making inroads in Iran. Mehrdad Hajian, head coach of Iran's national baseball team, says despite limited resources and equipment, provincial Iranian teams play summer and winter tournaments, often on converted cricket or soccer fields.

Florida Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez says major league baseball is trying to become a truly global sport. "I think the world's open. I think major league baseball is trying to do that, captivate all the talent, all around the world," he says.

And that's good news for baseball fans everywhere.