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One fan’s quest to keep baseball alive in Southeast Asia

And to keep the sport’s interest global, accessible to fans around the world.

“Baseball is a universal language. Catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball.” -Pete Rose
Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images

John Ramos cannot watch baseball.

A 27-year-old Yankees fan living in the Phillippines, Ramos hoped to watch spring training games, only to find that Fox Sports Asia was instead covering seemingly every other sport popular in the region.

When Opening Day rolled around and FS Asia still carried no MLB, Ramos took to social media, reaching out on Twitter and Discord to alert fans and media of the absence of baseball coverage.

Through this outreach, he learned that media outlets in Southeast Asia are far more interested in carrying coverage of other sports popular in the region, and are uninterested in broadcasting MLB.

Since then, Ramos has looked to change that.

“As I chat now, I can only receive MLB broadcasts through TuneIn, an online radio service, and only ESPN Radio’s MLB coverage can be heard, but only FOUR out of seven days in a week, and not the full week,” Ramos said on Discord.

Because of the lack of coverage and the poor economic status of many Southeast Asian residents, few have the ability to follow Major League Baseball.

“Southeast Asian fans depend on the legal cable and satellite broadcasts for live content. Most cannot afford to pay for the online MLB.TV subcription cost, and it’s only online radio and the YouTube MLB Game of the week that these fans will be listening and watching due to this situation with Fox Sports Asia right now.” Ramos said.

In the half-week since, Ramos has continued to spread the word about the lack of baseball coverage in Southeast Asia, as he has made it a goal to witness the growth of baseball internationally.

“I’m determined to help grow the sport, and to help it win more and more fans. And I’m prepared to help continue its growth abroad,” he said. “The situation is about to let millions of fans be turned away from the sport we all love and for those active to leave for other sports.”

I spoke with Ramos over Discord, and he provided a well-written discussion of the history of baseball in Southeast Asia and the prevalence of the sport today contrasted with the apparent media apathy. I have reproduced that entire quote below.

This story may bear my byline, but it is Ramos’ to tell.

It has been more than five decades since the Philippines and by extension Southeast Asia had their first ever MLB player, none other than Bobby Balcena of the Cincinnati Reds, and from him began the long journey of Southeast Asian baseball to the progress of today.

It began in the early 1900s when the Philippines, then a colonial possession of the United States, adopted baseball as part of its school sports programs in public and private institutions. From then on, the country has made it a part of their way of life till basketball came along in the 1970s, and with it the sport declined until the 1990s.

Today the sport has had a modest but now rising following among Filipinos, thanks also to baseball-themed anime Major and Ace of Diamonds. Alongside the sports teams of schools and a few universities, there’s also a semi-pro men’s national league and national men’s and women’s teams, in addition to kids and teenage teams who have made their country proud abroad.

Thailand adopted baseball in the 1960s thanks to the presence of US Armed Forces personnel in the country to help in its commitments in Vietnam and today a number of local and regional youth leagues are active in the country. In addition, there are fans and active leagues in Singapore and Indonesia.

In these past days, I’ve also begun to help a Discord channel dedicated to baseball in Malaysia and helping the national association there spread awareness of baseball among the people there. At least, a few fans there lauded me for my efforts to create Malay language baseball content on Wikipedia to help in the spread of the sport in that country.

Regarding the issue of the lack of MLB coverage, this year was supported to be the beginning of the 3rd decade since what is now Fox Sports Asia (then Prime Sports Asia, the regional partner of the US regional channel that was a part of what was then the STAR TV Network) began to air broadcasts on cable and satellite television to millions all over Southeast Asia, Taiwan and East Asia, as well as South Asia and the Middle East, resulting in the active state of affairs of Southeast Asian baseball as we know today: a rising number of fans, growing number of players, new stadium construction in the Phillippines, the beginnings of the sport in Laos, and the formation of a growing number of local and regional youth and school-based baseball leagues and teams across parts of the region where the sport is more active like the Philippines and Thailand.

Fox Sports Asia’s dropping of the MLB commitments following the COVID-shortened MLB season of 2020 is a cause of concern, as it would lead to the decline of the game and millions of potential fans and players turned away for that reason alone, coupled with the limited options left for the fans to avail of live content, that is, ESPN Radio streaming on TuneIn and the occasional YouTube broadcasts in coordination with the MLB, which return for this season; the high costs of MLB.TV online subscription for uninterrupted coverage because of its availability outside the US and Canada; and the lack of an available broadcaster of the MLB Network in this part of the world.

This is an alarm I’ve raised here on [Discord] last week, and I hope that everyone here who’s a baseball fan learns of the plight of the baseball fans in Southeast Asia and hope to give their assistance as possible to help grow the game there in this region so that it can produce players of MLB caliber who will one day represent their countries as players in all the 30 constituent teams of the MLB.

The time has come to help these fans spread the awareness of baseball to millions more fans in this dire time for the sport in this part of the world.

And as an aspiring second baseman, despite my age of 27, having begun training for the sport when I was already 24 years old in 2018, I know it will be my mission to help spread baseball to more fans and help build up its future in Southeast Asia while also marking my part in the sport abroad in the US, with the ultimate goal of making it all the way to the World Series. And what began that journey? Fox’s Pitch, which aired on local television in the Philippines and featured Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

That’s where it all began for me after all the times in my early and late teens watching Yankees baseball on cable, especially during the Derek Jeter era.

I hope thus to do my part in making baseball a part of the sporting life of millions in Southeast Asia.

Baseball is supposed to be a universal game, and Ramos hopes to ensure it stays that way.

The Malaysian baseball Discord server can be found here.