Friday, August 14, 2015

Pesäpallo — Finland’s 2nd favorite pastime

Sauna is, of course, the top Finnish way to relax.

But I just learned about pesäpallo, a wildly popular major sport played in Finland. Some years ago I visited a Finnish festival in Embarrass, Minnesota. During the afternoon they played pesäpallo, but I never took the time to watch. Now — I wish I had.

The name pesäpallo makes it seem like baseball, but it’s entirely different — with a fast pace, a zigzag pattern for base running in a vast pentagon-shaped field. It’s clearly not baseball as we know it. In fact, Finns apparently define our baseball as “the lukewarm version of pesäpallo!”

To start with, the pitcher stands next to the batter and the catcher is midway to second base, which is sorta where a major league baseball’s first baseman might play. Second base is out in a MLB right field. First base is about where third base would be. Third base is where left field is.

The outfield in pesäpallo more than doubles the size of a MLB outfield — an entire MLB field fits into a pesäpallo infield! According to a Wall Street Journal story, one player racked up 10.5 kilometers during a game.

To play, the pitcher tosses the ball up, at least one meter above the batter’s head, psyching him with an assortment of heights and locations.

The hitter’s team stands behind the home plate area— to better heckle the opposing pitcher. Batters hit nearly every pitch, so the four fielders are running all the time.
Four, yes, the left — and right — shortstops, along with the left and right fielders. There aren’t relief pitchers, but designated hitters are called “jokers” (like a “wild card”). The game is played with two periods of four innings each.

Pesäpallo is the second most popular sport for boys, trailing only ice hockey. It’s the most popular sport for girls and it’s cheaper to boot.

And it sounds like fun! Especially if you can have a sauna afterwards.