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Baseball gains popularity in Europe

Baseball gains popularity in Europe

Spurred by anticipation of this September's Baseball World Cup, interest and involvement in the sport is growing at an unprecedented rate in Europe, according to surveys by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF).

IBAF president Dr. Harvey Schiller said the climate makes this "a very exciting time to be involved with the sport."

"The efforts that our federations are making to grow the sport at the grassroots level, as well as all the time our partners are putting in to help us tell our story, are being positively reflected in our growth globally," Schiller said. "We are especially pleased with the growth that we are seeing in Europe leading up to this September's World Cup."

IBAF's partners in the initiative include Major League Baseball, which has placed an increased emphasis on growing the sport globally.

The conclusion that European interest in baseball is mushrooming is drawn from several factors, among them:

• Enrollment in Little League baseball is up 10 percent across the continent.

• "Pitch in for Baseball," a non-profit group, recently completed its first equipment giveaway and clinic in Iraq and plans further extensive equipment programs throughout Europe.

• The participation in Major and Minor League baseball of a record number of 40-plus natives of nine European countries -- England, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and France.

• The enthusiastic reactions to MLB-sponsored European Academy tryouts in six countries. MLB, in concert with IBAF and the European Baseball Confederation (CEB), will also conduct coaching and player clinics in 10 countries (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) through early 2010.

• Reflective of the demand for baseball information, IBAF recently debuted two country-specific Web sites (www.baseballgermany.com and www.baseball-france.com), with more planned for the near future.

A total of 22 countries are expected to compete in the Baseball World Cup, which will begin on Sept. 9 with first-round play at several European locations. The finals are scheduled for Sept. 27, in Italy.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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