What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Finland has its own, faster-paced version of baseball, called pesäpallo:

Tired of pitchers ambling around the mound? In Finland, there is no mound. Pitchers stand beside the hitter and toss the ball vertically over the plate.

Falling asleep waiting for the next batted ball? In Finland, hitters put nearly every pitch in play, sending fielders scampering in every direction. Players aren’t allowed to call for time between plays or pitches.


A few years ago, one player wore a pedometer during a game and was found to have run 10.5 kilometers from start to finish. By comparison, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo averaged 9.6 kilometers covered during Champions League matches this year.

Finnish Baseball Fielder

Finnish baseball is the brainchild of a former Olympic track and field star named Lauri Pihkala. According to historians, Pihkala was studying in the U.S. in 1907 when he attended an American baseball game in Boston and made an observation that was ahead of its time: Fascinating game. A bit slow, though.

He went on to develop the Finnish version in the 1920s, billing it as a military training exercise, but its popularity long outlasted wartime in Europe. It was a demonstration sport in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Finnish Baseball

Instead of grass, fields are made of short-cropped artificial turf covered with a thin layer of sand. Instead of sitting in dugouts, players line the circle surrounding the home-plate area and heckle the opposing pitcher. Instead of trying to overpower hitters, pitchers must mix heights and locations to keep them off balance, with the only requirement being that they throw the ball at least one meter above their head. The manager gives signs to the hitter and base runners with a multicolored fan.

The ball has to land in fair territory to count for a hit, meaning the only home runs are of the inside-the-park variety. A triple counts as a home run. Teams use different strategies for where and how hard to hit the ball, depending on the situation, while fielders deploy a range of formations, depending on a hitter’s tendencies. The degree of movement from play to play evokes NFL defensive schemes more than Major League Baseball defensive shifts.

The game is also shorter. Last season, the average Superpesis game took 2 hours 18 minutes, 40 minutes shorter than the MLB average this season.

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