The Italian Peninsula is full of baseball, the national past time of the United States of America (USA).
The Italian National Team is consistently one of the best national baseball teams, not just in Europe, but in the world! The Italians have won 10 European Championships, second to the Netherlands’ 24 European Championships. The Italian National Team currently ranks 17th in the World, and has competed in every World Baseball Classic (WBC) so far, winning at least one game every WBC, and finishing 7th and 12th once, and 10th twice.
And it is not just at the national team level that Italy dominates, but so too at the club level. Italian teams have won 34 of the 55 European Cups (Club Championship), including the last 2 times. Their baseball club, Parma Baseball Club, has the most European Cups at 24, and has won the most recent cup. Furthermore, the Italian Baseball League has won 27 European Cups in total, as there have been 3 European Cups won by San Marino’s club, San Marino Baseball Club, which plays in the Italian Baseball League.
San Marino Baseball Club has won 4 Italian Baseball League titles (including the most recent one), and has won 3 European Cups as mentioned before. They have been a mainstay at the top level in Italy since 1985. The club was founded by Sammarinese boys who had just come back from the USA in 1970. Thus, San Marino Baseball Club’s quick rise to the top of the best league in Europe was impressive to say the least.
Yet, with these accomplishments, somehow, San Marino has never been able to find a way to convert their club eliteness into national team eliteness on the European Continent, let alone on the World Stage, at least not since 1985.
The San Marino National Team got 5th at the 1971 European Championship, and 6th at the 1985 European Championship, but outside of this, they have never entered any other European Championship, nor have they attempted to qualify for the World Baseball Classic.
San Marino does not even feature in the WBSC World Baseball Rankings, as they do not play in any games, or very many if any anymore.
But, why would this country so connected to republican virtue and thus Italian and American culture not seek to compete in a sport not only embraced by both of their compatriots, but one they take pride in already in their own culture, and are already good at?
When we look at small countries and success, it is usually finding niche sports or focusing on certain sports. For example, the Solomon Islands are great at beach soccer, while Lichtenstein, traditionally, has produced top skiers. Monaco, meanwhile, has produced top race car drivers, primarily in the Formula 1 circuit.
Baseball could be that sport at the national team level for San Marino. Their men’s soccer team is ranked 210th, the worst in FIFA, and their mens basketball team is ranked 127th out of 213 nations. And San Marino has put so much emphasis into these two sports at the national team level, whereas in baseball, if they just got the talent they could, they would probably be top 30. They would be pushing for WBC qualification. And, if they qualified, they would be among the best 20 nations in baseball. You would be able to see San Marino play in places like Tokyo, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Guadalajara, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Seoul, Taichung, Phoenix, and other major cities that have hosted the WBC. In these locations, you could see San Marino play at stadiums that seat more than their own country like Dodger Stadium and the Tokyo Dome! When it comes to the Americas and East Asia, this is the sport that will connect you across cultures and put your nation on the map and into billions of people’s households. And, if Sammarinese baseballers impress, the MLB, and other leagues like the Nippon League, will pay huge dollars to get their best baseball players as they do for the rest of the world. For a country that has relied on diplomacy for survival, playing a sport that major Pacific and Latin American powers pride themselves in would be instrumental in developing relations with these nations who are often outside their usual inner circle.
While San Marino really does not need national team success to boost national morale and pride, given its illustrious history as the world’s oldest sovereign state, and the world’s first republic still in existence, founded by a Catholic Saint, with USA President Abraham Lincoln as an honorary citizen, with not to mention a unique rotational head of state that has meant that San Marino has had the most women heads of state, it would be nice to see San Marino get to play an elite sport against the world’s best as a national team. Could you imagine seeing San Marino verse the USA, San Marino verse Japan, or simply San Marino verse Italy in a WBC game? For any country, seeking even greater potentials is something that is always wanted, and in San Marino, excelling in a World Championship may only be a pitch or a swing away, if they could just refocus their sports program to one they already have elite talent in.
And this is where the Italian National Team, San Marino, and the Vatican City State all come together in an Italian Peninsula Baseball trilogy.
If you look at the Italian National Team in the World Baseball Classic, something will strike you immediately, and that is that a lot of the team are American-born baseballers of Italian descent. This is because the WBC has very lax nationality rules for playing for national teams. Basically, as long as you can qualify for the national team, you can play for that nation. Even if you are only a permanent resident, you can play for that nation.
Here is a list: A player is eligible if: (1) a citizen of the nation or has a passport for that nation, (2) a player is eligible to to receive citizenship or to hold a passport in the nation in question, but has not received either yet, and the player or team successfully petitions the WBC, (3) the player is a permanent legal resident of the nation, (4) the player was born in the nation, (5) the player has one parent who is or was a citizen of the nation, and (5) the player has one parent who was born in the nation.
Thus, as seen by the WBC rules, the rules of jus sanguinis (citizenship by being born by a person or persons of that nationality) and jus soli (citizenship by being born in the country) are equally valid for the WBC, even if in their respective nations it is not. This has meant that Italy in 2017, used 23 non-Italian born players, while Israel used even more as all their players were American-born, except one who was born in Israel.
While the WBSC rules are more strict on national team eligibility for the initial qualifiers to the WBC, they really are only more strict in that they seek for national team players to be citizens, and for competitions like the Olympics, players must be citizens for one year before the qualifiers start. Even with this extra restriction, the rules are very lenient and this should not affect San Marino very much, as all it means is they would have to be more diligent leading up to the qualifiers. And, the qualifiers are easier than the WBC and Olympics itself, and the players San Marino are most likely to draw from that would not already be citizens would be player playing close by that should be eligible some way.
For San Marino, this means that in addition to Sammarinese citizens, as well as permanent residents in San Marino, such as those they probably have on their club team, they could find more talent in places like nearby Rimini who also field a very good professional baseball team and probably have some players with a connection or who could have a connection to San Marino.
Likewise, when looking at major sports, baseball seems the sport most conducive to allowing jus oficii citizenship, or in other words, citizenship by work or occupation. This is the citizenship by which the Vatican City State uses (along with the Holy See and Sovereign Knights of Malta). Currently, the Vatican City State is looking into having an Athletics (Track and Field) National Team at the Olympics. Vatican City already has numerous of national teams from soccer to basketball to cricket even. None are members yet of the main federations for these sports such as FIFA, FIBA, or the ICC respectively. This is often due to numerous reasons such as the can of worms that would be opened if these sporting federations allowed one nation to use jus oficii as a way to have national team players. It would have to be an exception to the rule, which if abused, or even if not abused but the Vatican City State were very successful, could push other national teams to try and do the same, using this as a loophole to essentially just pay players to be citizens and play for their national team. But, in baseball, this can has already been opened, yielding a lot of veracity to the idea that the Vatican City could support a national baseball team, eligible to play in the WBC and in WBSC competitions.
This even leaves it to chance that the Soveriegn Knights of Malta could join too? But, that is a whole other story. If you do not know who they are, they are sort of like the Holy See in that they are a sovereign entity that some may consider a sovereign state, but they only posses extra-territorial land, with their headquarters, also in Rome.
So, why would the Vatican City want to join the baseballing world? Well one, they are already integral to it. Baseball has been dominated by Catholics like “Babe” Ruth for a long time. New Yorkers of Italian descent popularized baseball to the whole country, and the Americas as a whole is very baseball playing, especially in the areas that are most Catholic like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, and Mexico. And, in East Asia, Catholicism is one of the fastest growing religions, and there is much potential for the Faith, especially given how largely non-religious these societies have become, thus making it easier for converting. When looking at Latin America and the need to keep them Catholic, while also looking at East Asia and the potential for them to be Catholic, having baseball and the Vatican City intertwined would do wonders for a good PR stunt and increase in popularity. In fact, the reason Vatican City created their cricket team was to grow the Church in the West Indies, Great Britain, South Asia, and the Arabian Gulf Countries, plus other locations that are big into cricket like Australia and New Zealand, and parts of East and Southern Africa. In fact, St. Peter’s Cricket Club often follows diplomatic missions of the Holy See when it is in cricket loving nations, and they often play matches against local teams. With a Vatican City Baseball Team, one could see the Holy See using their baseball team to promote diplomacy and the Church in many areas such as the Republic of China (Taiwan/Chinese Taipei) which the Holy See recognizes and struggles to find more Catholics in. The Holy See could send the Vatican City National Baseball Team to play a Chinese Professional Baseball Team like the Fubon Guardians and then against Taiwan’s top Catholic university, Fu Jen Catholic University, to grow relations between the China the Holy See recognizes and the Holy See itself, and grow Catholicism in the process.
Who would be on this team? Well, potentially North American scholars/seminarians at the Pontifical North American College on extra-territorial land belonging to the Holy See in Rome. Or perhaps, from the Pontifical Latin American College also in the same setup in Rome on extra-territorial land. Or maybe the Swiss Guards will take an interest in baseball since they have their traditional Swiss game of Hornussen. And, anyone working for the Holy See or Vatican City should be eligible to play, so maybe someone who works at the Vatican Museums is a great pitcher? The point is, there are probably 30 or so interested potential or actual baseball players that could play for the Vatican City, and whether they were good or not, it would go a long way to legitimizing the Vatican City’s role in the sports world. And, if you’re concerned where they would practice or play games, there are teams and baseball fields in Rome, and they do have a baseball field at the Pontifical North American College. So, there are fields around to play on, in addition to stadiums to play in.
As far as potentially being good goes, baseball is a very difficult sport, but luckily, it is not an impossible sport to get good at fast. With the right recruitment and luck, the Vatican City could put together a team that really could compete well in Europe. They probably will not win a lot, at least initially, but with more hard work, who knows, maybe they will become good enough to get to the WBC Qualifiers. As for San Marino, they have the talent to be good now, especially if they can recruit well. San Marino would be likely to feature in the last qualifiers for the WBC, and potentially would qualify for the WBC itself, especially after a few years of running a national baseball team again.
Yet, it is not merely about how good the national team can be for the Vatican City. For San Marino, it is, because this is a sport San Marino has a rich tradition in, a sport which San Marino has come to dominate in at various levels. But, for the Vatican City, becoming a member of the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) and furthermore, attempting to compete at the World Baseball Classic and European Championship, would set a precedent that the Vatican City can play sports in the major federations. Plus, for both nations, the ability to play baseball means the ability to play softball and Baseball5, and this means three new sports and five new senior level teams (for both genders, and Baseball5 has mixed-gender teams). Yes, the Vatican City does have women national teams, such as their new women’s soccer national team. And, one extra bonus for the Vatican City is that the WBSC is recognized and a part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with men’s baseball and women’s softball often featured in the Summer Olympic Games such as at the 2020 Olympic Games and in the future 2028 Olympic Games, plus Baseball5 will feature in the 2026 Summer Youth Olympic Games. After all, the Vatican City seeks to be able to compete in the Olympics, and this is why they have set up their new Vatican Athletics Club as part of the Italian Athletics Federation (Holy See and Italian Olympic Committee agreed to this deal, to start the ball rolling on the Vatican City attaining their own National Olympic Committee). This is the goal of the Vatican Athletics President, Monsignor Melchor Jose Sánchez de Toca y Alameda. While their athletics national team may become the first national team to become part of an international federation, World Athletics, it would be good to try and become a member of the WBSC, especially since this a team sport that is so popular in many parts of the world, and might be able to join. Either way, to compete in the Olympics, they not only have to have a national association in one of these federations, they also have to obtain a National Olympic Committee. And that is why for the Vatican City, starting up a national baseball team and then trying to join the WBSC would be a really good start to this goal, one that surpasses its track and field accomplishment.
The openness of the World Baseball Classic makes baseball a more accessible sport for smaller nations, especially if they have a baseballing population. For San Marino, the potential is to play in the World Baseball Classic. For the Vatican City, it is more about the potential to create the precedent that the Vatican City can play sports in the major competitions, and to grow their Faith. These two nations playing national team baseball would be a good thing for both, as it is a chance for both to display their culture and nation to the world, something both do not get to do very often in sports.