The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) is earning a high five for their latest innovation as the Baseball5 World Cup continues in Mexico City.
The inaugural Baseball5 World Cup began November 7 and continues to November 13. Twelve countries are competing, including three from Africa, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The reception has exceeded our expectations,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari in an exclusive interview with Around the Rings.
“We are in the heart of Mexico City at an iconic place, Zocalo, and the people have really come out to support us. There are three fields for competition and another three for fans to play. It’s over our expectations.”
What is the Baseball5 World Cup you say? Call it baseball with a modern, fast-paced twist.
The game features two teams like baseball or softball, but with only five players aside. The offense hits a small rubber ball with their bare hands to the field and then run around four bases attempting to score a run. A player is out if the ball is caught before it hits the ground or if the ball is thrown to the base before the runner gets there.
Teams can be mixed-gender and games last just five innings instead of nine. There is no pitcher and catcher, no bats or gloves, and a game could be over in 15 or 20 minutes. A far cry from the four-hour games fans endured during the just completed World Series.
Fraccari said the WBSC first proposed the idea of Baseball5 in 2018, with a focus on a fast-pace, small field approach making the game more accessible and appealing to a younger audience.
“I asked myself why is football so popular? It’s a great sport, of course, but it’s simple. You grab a ball and you go play.”
“Now how do we apply that to baseball to make it more accessible? We needed to modernize our discipline and engage as many youth as possible and to simplify our sport,” Fraccari told Around the Rings.
The Baseball5 World Cup has been an immediate hit with another World Cup scheduled for 2024. The sport will also be played in a mixed-gender format at the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar, Senegal. It will be the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) event in Africa and the first to be held in a primarily Muslim country.
The current Baseball5 World Cup features three teams from Africa. Kenya, Tunisia and South Africa all qualified for Mexico City, and the continent should be quite proud of their accomplishments. Kenya and South Africa both won their opening two matches in the tournament.
Fraccari is thrilled with the African representation, and said it proves any country can quickly learn Baseball5, even those without a traditional baseball pedigree.
“You just need athletes. Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia all have tremendous athletes who have really engaged with Baseball5. It’s fun, easy to learn and play and you don’t need to have ever played baseball before,” Fraccari said.
“Maybe one of them can finish on the podium with a traditional baseball country like Japan, Korea or Venezuela. They can be the future of the sport.”
A future that might include Olympic medals? Anticipation is high for the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics, and naturally the WBSC has their sights on an Olympic future for not just Baseball5 but traditional baseball and softball as well. Olympic baseball made its debut way back in St. Louis 1904 and became an official Olympic sport, along with softball, in Barcelona 1992. Japan took the gold medal in front of the home fans in Tokyo 2020, but neither baseball nor softball is included in the Paris 2024 Olympic Program.
“I’d like to have both traditional baseball/softball and Baseball5 in the Olympics. Like basketball with 3x3, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There is room for both,” Fraccari said.
“Discussions are ongoing with the IOC and we remain positive. Baseball5 is going to drive baseball and softball into the future.”