Baseball is the most North American, and North Pacific, sport. It’s little played in Europe, mainland Asia, or south of the equator, but is loved by Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Central Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, and Canadians alike.
Well, not quite alike. Just as Canada has fiddled around with American football – dropping a down here, adding a rouge there, widening the field – so too baseball is played a little bit differently on the Canadian side of the border.
The Blue Jays notwithstanding (and the Expos, sadly, no longer standing), Canadian baseball is played in almost exactly the same way as Yankee baseball. It has only a few tweaks that better suit it to the colder Canadian climate. As it happens, one of those tweaks also makes the game much more interesting, by significantly increasing the number of highlight-reel plays that occur each game.
So, it’s long past time that we introduced to the world these little-known rules of Canadian baseball, our glorious ice-free pastime:
- The outfield walls are further back than in the MLB, but instead of having Designated Hitters there is a fourth outfielder, so the overall fielder-to-field space ratio is about the same
Outfields were originally expanded in order to give spectators and players less shade and more sunlight, but it was quickly realized that, with a larger field and an extra fielder (unofficially called a Mountie), there are more diving catches, throw outs, doubles, triples, and even inside-the-park-home-runs. There are also, of course, fewer home runs in general, but the ones that do get hit are deeper and more exciting.
- Spring and Fall Lunch Games
In the summertime, Canadian baseball games are played MLB-style; that is, on weekday evenings or during the daytime on weekends. In spring and fall, however, games are instead split into 3 periods of 3 innings each and played across 3 days during lunchtime, in order to avoid colder, darker evenings. Each 3-inning lunch period usually takes about an hour or so to play. If it is raining at lunch time, the period is instead played that evening or, if the evening weather is too cold, 6 innings are played the following day (and so on.. ) This includes the later rounds of the playoffs, which are played in the fall, but not the earlier rounds, as the playoffs begin in late summer. ..Canadian ballparks also tend to have sections of stationary workout bikes and ellipticals in the spring and fall, for fans to stay warm and get a midday workout in. Winter Training is played in Cuba.
- The Mercy Rule
If the weather drops below zero degrees Celsius before the start of the game – this usually happens a handful of times a year (more, in some cities) – outfielders will be forced to stand in the same spot at the beginning of every play during that day, and these fixed spots are kept heated from below.
That’s about it. Eight teams make the playoffs every year and vie to win the Roy Halladay Cup, with the finals traditionally being played over several days around Yom Kippur. For now, Canadian baseball only has a National League. One wonders, though, if it will ever be joined by an American League (or even, one day, a Russian League). States like Minnesota, after all, can be really, really cold too. And let’s face it, without Canadian baseball rules, MLB regular seasons can feel as long as a northern winter.