A combination of baseball and traditional ball-batting games, Pesäpallo is a national pastime of Finland. Players require batting skills, technical acumen, athleticism and teamwork to succeed and these intricacies help the game to be a beloved spectator sport.
Pesäpallo, hailing from Finland, was conceived from the urge to carve a distinct national identity post-independence. Favoured by both women and men and containing distinct differences from American baseball - pesäpallo is a sport for the whole Finnish nation.
Aim of pesäpallo
The objective of pesäpallo is for one side to score more runs than the opposition. The concept is similar to that of baseball: the offence attempts to score by hitting the ball with a bat successfully and running through the bases, whilst the defence is trying to put them and subsequent runners out.
Unlike baseball, where the ball is pitched towards the batter in pesäpallo the ball is thrown vertically! Thus, hitting the ball and controlling the direction of the hit is much easier and makes for more interesting offensive play. Defensively, teams have to be even smarter to counter the batter's choice of shots. Pesäpallo then is like cricket in that the sport requires a degree of mental toughness to succeed.
A brief history of pesäpallo
Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala is the man recognised with creating pesäpallo around 1922.
Noting the fragility of Finland’s newfound statehood, Tahko recognised that sport could be a tool used for national unity, securing independence, improving the nation’s physical health plus building the character of the nation’s youth.
Observing how sport can teach cooperation, unity and responsibility, Tahko conceived a game with bats and balls involving two teams - one with fielders and the other, batters. The game lengths created were two periods of four innings each, during which both sides bat and field eight times.
Pesäpallo was born.
As mentioned above pesäpallo is played in two periods, with a period won by a side that scores more runs in their offensive half-innings. Should a team win one period, the game is then decided by an extra period containing only one inning.
During an inning, both teams will have an opportunity to play defence (fielding and pitching) and offence (batting).
The side playing defence first has nine players on the field. The offence team has three designated hitters (known as jokers) joining the nine players in the batting line-up, thus making the total amount of batters to twelve. The attacking team continues batting until either the batting order has been completed or three players have been put out.
Pitching and batting in pesäpallo
The pitch is thrown directly upwards above the batter’s plate, to at least one metre above the pitcher's head. In response, the batter has three opportunities to strike the ball.
Should the batter strike the ball, they are not required to begin running and advance around the bases. Hitters can use all three strikes (pitches of the ball) before they decide to proceed and run.
Should the pitcher deliver a poor ball, and there are no fielders on the base, the then batter is permitted to walk to the first base. When there are runners on the field, the point runner is granted to walk to the next base should the pitcher throws a second bad pitch and so on until all three strikes have been used.
The umpire will call a bad pitch if the pitcher commits a violation or the ball does not fall on the batter's plate.
Batters and runners are not permitted to advance around the bases if the striking hit is called a foul hit. An example of a foul hit could be when the ball first touches the field outside of the boundaries.
Batters are also given out should their third strike is a foul hit.
Batters are also given out when fielders catch the ball after being struck, control the ball before it touches the field, or catch runners who are striving to advance. The defensive team aims to get these batters and runners out.
Running in pesäpallo
Once batters have struck the ball and decide to advance around the bases, they must do so safely to avoid being given out. To do so the batter (now called a runner) must touch the base area before a fielder does.
Runners are run out if the ball gets to the base first and caught by a fielder. If this happens, the runner is given out and removed from the field. Runners on bases must advance to the next base if another runner runs towards theirs; otherwise they will be given out.
Runs are scored when the batting team returns their runners to home base after navigating safely through the three other field bases. Home runs, much like baseball are when a batter advances around three of the bases in one legitimate hit. Should the hitter (runner at this stage) remains on third base, they can score an extra point by returning home as a regular runner when the new incoming batter next strikes the ball.
With this geek’s guide to pesäpallo, you should have enough to get started watching and betting on your first pesäpallo match. There is more to pesäpallo than in this article, but if you master these basics, you’ll be able to follow this complex game with its growing popularity amongst spectators.
Words: David Bailey-Lauring