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16 May, 2009 07:57

Baseball slowly gaining popularity in Russia

The sport of baseball has struggled to gain a foothold in a country where football and ice hockey rule the roost. However, America’s national game is slowly starting to make an impact in Russia.

Baseball has only been played in Russia since 1986, when the Soviet government introduced the sport due to it being played at the Olympics.

However, baseball has struggled to gain popularity, with less than 200 people playing the game at senior level.

Maksim Monakhov, who plays for his university side, was told about the sport by a friend and now he's trying to get more people involved.

“Everyone in Russia has heard of baseball – they know what a baseball bat and ball are, but that's where the interest stops. They don't understand the rules. I'm constantly telling people to come along and have a look at how we play – as the only way to start to understand baseball is to come to the stadium and watch. After two or three matches, you can already start to get the basics,” Maksim Monakhov, center field, said.

Russian baseball perhaps reached its peak a few years ago, after Russia finished second in the European Championships. The team isn't as strong now, but that could start to change, especially with more emphasis being put on youth development.

“We have a lot of training camps – we went to Cuba where we were able to learn a lot of new techniques to improve our game. We also travel to the US, and this provides us with invaluable experience to help us progress,” said Nikolay Chermashentsev, the team’s pitcher.

The exclusion of baseball from the London Olympics in 2012 is another blow to the sports development as the team would have received invaluable financing from Russia's Olympic Committee.

“I think it's a big step that the World Championship's will be held in Moscow in the autumn, and the Federation has done well to bring this event to Russia, and hopefully it will attract spectators,” Aleksandr Volkov, Russia’s baseball coach, said.

In order for baseball to really develop, there have to be improvements in the sports infrastructure. This will only happen if the Federation is given money to make these changes. Without it, there's no way baseball can develop.

As of yet there is only one baseball field in Moscow and often players have to train in gyms because of the lack of decent facilities. However, there is hope on the horizon.

Vyacheslav Vasilyev, a 24-year-old pitcher who used to play on the capital’s only field, recently signed a pro contract with the Rockford Riverhawks of Illinois, and this is bound to give hope to youngsters around Russia who are taking up the game.