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Baseball hits home run in Europe, Latin America.

"Take me out to the ball game" is an American phrase that's catching on overseas. Frank Heffron, president and CEO of Major League Baseball International Partners, said that the 1992 Summer Olympics is a major reason.

"For the first time in the history of the Olympic games, the games in Barcelona will have a baseball tournament, with the winner receiving an Olympic gold medal. It's been an exhibition sport in Los Angeles and in Seoul. Now, it's accepted as one of the official family of sports in the Olympic games."

He added, "It's always been a popular sport in Italy and in Holland. There's an increased interest in the U.K., Germany and France. Part of it is because there's an increased interest in American sports in general.

Heffron said that the popularity of such historical names adds to it - Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and of the current crop of players, Jose Canseco. "There's also the Nike connection - Bo Jackson's name is often mentioned."

Baseball's popularity in Japan is extensive; it's more popular pro rata than in the U.S. "The Japanese will argue that Sumo wrestling is the national sport. Traditionally, that may be the case, but when it comes to TV viewing, press reporting, fan attendance and participation, baseball is clearly the most popular sport," Heffron reported. "The most prestigious events of Japanese sports are pre-season and late season national high school championships. They broadcast day and night on Japanese television."

Heffron expressed that the sport is going "gangbusters" in Central and South America. "Look at how many Hispanic names you have on teams. They're either Dominicans, Mexicans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans or Venezuelans. They come from very good baseball programs in their country. As a result, major league baseball is very popular."

Russia and Australia are big baseball fans. Russia started 10 years ago, partly because of the Olympic movement. Australia has its own version of the World Series. "In fact, they do play-by-play on the public address system," said Heffron.

"Baseball can be played by a broad range of people. You have small and large people playing on the same team. It has a kind of tempo, lure and beauty to it that I think you'll find in most established sports. Like cricket or soccer, it has a certain amount of action or inaction, which enables each nation to add its own flavor."
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Title Annotation:Company Profile; Major League Baseball International Partners
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:395
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