Federation Focus: Success of the top leagues aims at boosting baseball and softball development in Spain

Federation Focus: Success of the top leagues aims at boosting baseball and softball development in Spain
The June edition of WBSC Federation Focus takes us to Spain. Federation president and former Olympic catcher Jesus Lisarri guided us through his programme.

The WBSC Federation Focus takes us back to Europe for the June edition. Our Focus is on Spain, one of the four countries, together with the hosts Belgium, Italy and West Germany, which participated in the first baseball European Championship in 1954 in Antwerp.

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Jesus Lisarri, born in 1967 in Navarra, was elected president of the Royal Spanish Baseball and Softball Federation (RFEBS, Real Federación Española de Béisbol y Sófbol) in December 2020.

A former catcher who represented Spain in the 1992 Olympics, Lisarri succeeded Julio Pernas, who had a 20-year tenure in office. He believes Spanish baseball and softball need to enter the digital era.

"We want to make our top baseball and softball leagues more visible. So we are coordinating a project by the clubs to stream the games."

Hector Prat, the director of communications at RFEBS, confirmed that the games are streamed mostly via YouTube. Some of the clubs also use their Facebook profiles.

"It may not have been perfect," commented Lisarri, "but it was a start. We will improve in 2022."

The recently rebranded Spanish Baseball and Softball Leagues are at the moment Lisarri's priority. "Resources come from the elite activity, and we need resources to invest in promotion," he said. "We have a lot of interest in the latest developments of the WBSC activity. We intend to focus on Baseball5, e-Baseball and Baseball for the Blind in 2022."

Lisarri is aware of the need to find different ways for baseball and softball to appeal to the youth of today, especially considering the different entertainment opportunities away from the sports field. A key part of that is to improve grass root activities.

"Europeans normally are fond of aerobic sports. Baseball and softball are more based on coordination and mental strength. We need to become an alternative for those youth who have these skills. Also, in Spain, kids come to baseball relatively late. We want to start recruiting at younger ages, attracting five and six-year-old kids.

"We need to coordinate the activity of the Regional Federations. Since 10 years, they are responsible for the grassroots activity. There are 11 Regional Federations and three delegates. They all have their programmes. We plan on creating a coordination commission in September. The goal is sharing a common view."

With European baseball and softball back to action in 2021 following the Covid-19 pandemic, Lisarri is looking further afield - a dream to make Spain the next European country to host Major League Baseball (MLB) games.

"We saw the London Series happen in 2019. Madrid will be the 2022 World Capital of Sport, so it may well have the ambition to host the Madrid Series 2022. Barcelona has an Olympic Stadium that could also host such an event. For now, MLB games in Spain are a dream. Hopefully, they will become a reality."

In addition, he's also looking to potentially turn baseball and softball, which are typically summer sports in Europe, to autumn and winter options in the future. "The Canary Islands, Andalusia and Levante can host baseball and softball 365 days a year," Lisarri said. "We already have the Tenerife Baseball Week, but we have projects to develop more activity in those regions."

RFEBS was founded in 1944, and the first official baseball championship was played the same year. By then, Spain had known baseball for a long time. The Spanish Empire even prohibited the game in Cuba during the War of Independence (1895-1898).

People born in the colonies imported baseball to mainland Spain in the early years of the XX century. The first-ever game was played in 1901 in a field beside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona by teams named El Antiguo and El Moderno. Agustín Pérez de Vargas, the pioneer of baseball in Spain, played that game for El Moderno. He founded the Catalan Federation in 1929 and served as a board member, a coach and an umpire. He died in 1948.

The first legal baseball association was founded in 1922 and named the Spanish American Baseball Association (Sociedad Hispano Americana de Baseball). The first women's softball championship was played in 1975.