Baseball is often referred to as “America’s pastime” because of its popularity and deeply rooted history in the United States, but it has become a game that is internationally played. Evidence of that is seen all over the place in Major League Baseball with players coming to play from different parts of the world, and it’s even seen in events like the Little League World Series with teams traveling to the United States from all across the globe.
The worldwide popularity of baseball is also displayed inside the locker room of the Nashville Predators. Even though the majority of the Predators roster is not originally from the United States, baseball has still been a part of some of their lives, including captain Shea Weber.
Weber grew up in Sicamous, British Columbia, and followed baseball from an early age. Baseball is relatively popular in Canada due in large part to the footprint that Major League Baseball has left.
“We watched the [Toronto] Blue Jays growing up and a little bit of the [Montreal] Expos, but once the Expos were gone it was definitely just the Blue Jays after that,” Weber said.
Weber also played baseball in his youth in addition to playing hockey. His days of playing baseball lasted until right before his hockey career began to take off en route to the two-time Norris Trophy nominee he is today. Weber played a multitude of positions in baseball before deciding to strictly focus on his hockey career.
“I pitched pretty much the whole time. Shortstop. Catcher. I mean our teams were pretty small so it was kind of whichever position we needed to fill at the time,” Weber said. “My last year I played was when I was 16. I played that summer and then decided to shift all my focus to hockey and trained more specifically for that.”
Baseball has even had an impact on European players, like Filip Forsberg, who lived in a place where baseball isn’t very high on the list of popular sports.
“My hometown Leksand got one of the few teams in Sweden, so I played for a little bit,” Forsberg said. “I had a couple of friends who were playing and my friend’s dad was the coach, and he told me to come and watch them play. I thought it was pretty cool and tried it. We were alternating positions. I was pretty small, so we hadn’t got into the big field. It was just the small field.”
It was really by luck of the draw that Forsberg played baseball at all. Baseball doesn’t have the same sort of popularity in Sweden as it does in the United States or in other parts of the world. Leksand happened to have a team, and Forsberg was able to play.
“It’s not popular at all. There’s like only 10 teams in the top league or something. Lucky for me, Leksand got one of the best teams. But it’s not a big sport at all, especially not as big as here,” said Forsberg, who last summer took some cuts during batting practice at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
Lots of NHL players have played baseball at some point in their lives while growing up. Hockey and baseball are pretty similar as far as the hand-eye coordination aspect is concerned. A lot of plays are made, or not made, based on reaction time.
Fantasy baseball is also popular among NHL players along with the actual game itself. Weber can often be seen sporting a Blue Jays hat after a practice or a morning skate. Unfortunately for him and Toronto fans, things haven’t gone well for the Blue Jays so far in the 2013 season. They’ve been riddled with injuries to key players after putting together an impressive roster on paper.
“It’s a long season,” Weber said when asked in mid-April. “Obviously, they’ve got a very good team. They’ve been unfortunate with a couple injuries to [Jose] Reyes and [Jose] Bautista, but like I said, it’s a long year. Everything seems to work itself out in baseball, and the teams that stick with it are usually successful.”