Bat and Ball and Played All Over

The world is your diamond. Getty Images

Everyone knows that baseball is huge in places like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Japan. But there are other countries (non-WBC countries) where baseball, or baseball-like games, are played with immense enthusiasm. In the historical scheme of things, some of these games have origins older than baseball or even cricket! Read on to discover the joys of the horse-hair-filled sphere.

Russia isn't exactly known for its skills on the diamond. Its baseball team failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and now there are worries that the sport may die out. (It's a shame, really; Russian baseball has inspired such film classics as Comrades of Summer. ) But while baseball may be retreating in the land of Andrei Kirilenko, Russians have been playing lapta since at least the 14th century. Played with broom-handle-like laptas and tennis balls, the object of the game is to hit the ball as far as possible so that runners can run back and forth across a pitch without getting hit by the ball. That's right, the opposing team's objective is to pelt runners with a tennis ball. And apparently, Leon Trotsky was a big lapta fan. Das whass up.

Romania's been playing ball since the 14th century too. Oina originated as a game played by shepherds around 1364 in regions later inhabited by Dracula. It features a ball similar to a baseball (but filled with horse hair) and a long, narrow bat. There are nine bases and 11 guys on the field, and teams can score while not at bat. Apparently " The Worm" is an important strategic move in the game.

Brännboll , the national sport of Sweden, is a recess staple for Scandinavian kids. There's no pitcher, so batters flip a tennis ball to themselves and try to hit it. There are no field constraints and rules vary depending on who's playing, so games pretty much end up as free-for-alls. There's a pretty complex points system and positions on the field are somewhat arbitrary, but brännboll literally translates to "burning ball." That's pretty sweet.

The national sport of Finland is pesäpallo. It was created by Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala and based on baseball. Players use a fiberglass bat to hit a ball of varying sizes, depending on whether it is a men's game, women's game or juniors' game. Like baseball, there are nine guys in the field for the pitching team and each batting lineup features nine batters. But a batting team also has a batting joker, a switching joker and a running joker, whose jobs are to basically cause massive chaos on the field. Sadly, there's no Heath Ledger Joker.