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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A World Series Double Play for Russia Fans

MTRussian youth baseball players taking a break from watching Game 1 of the World Series on Sunday. Russian television is showing baseball's premier event for the first time.
When State Sports Committee head Vyacheslav Fetisov announced last month during President Vladimir Putin's visit to the United States that the World Series would be shown in Russia for the first time ever this year, the U.S. sports media immediately let loose with some potshots.

ESPN columnist Jim Caple wrote a fictitious dialogue between Russian baseball commentators bashing shallow American capitalists and complaining about failed Russian wheat crops. Scott Ostler on wrote that six out of every 10 televisions in Russia will be tuned into the series, meaning a total of six televisions will be tuned in.

But Russian baseball fans, an admittedly small circle, are serious about the Grand Old Game, and about 50 of them turned out at the Boar House on Sunday afternoon to watch the replay of Game 1 of the series, in which the Florida Marlins beat the New York Yankees 3-2.

"Basically everybody knows everybody else," said Yevgeny Kirushin, 40, who was a shortstop for the Soviet Union's first national team in 1986.

The television channel Sport will be showing the World Series games in the early morning hours all this week with afternoon replays the next day. A majority of those on hand Sunday said they would be watching the replays.

"We all have jobs," said Denis Talakin, 33, who started playing baseball 11 years ago and now is an active softball player. "It's hard to stay up that late to watch the games live."

Watching Game 1 along with Kirushin was his teammate from the Soviet national team, Sergei Tumansky, 40, who learned the game together with Kirushin as a teenager while their parents worked abroad in baseball-mad Cuba from 1976 to 1980.

Tumansky said showing Major League games on television can only help the sport's development in Russia, though he noted that the cost of equipment is still a barrier for many boys.

"Real leather baseball gloves and balls themselves are expensive," he said. "They are beyond a lot of families' means."

Nevertheless, Russia's youth teams have experienced considerable success in recent years.

Moscow's Khovrino Little League team has competed in the last two Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Russia's under-12 national team is one of the best in Europe.

A pack of youth baseball players showed up Sunday to watch the game, though several of them drifted over to the pool table by the fourth inning. Many of the players were part of the group that toured the United States during Putin's recent U.S. visit.

During their tour, they took a field trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and played a series of exhibition games against U.S. youth teams.

The boys said one of the highlights of their trip was winning two games against a youth team from Harlem.

"We thought it would be a lot more difficult to beat them," said Pavel Talakin, 11, who pitches and plays first base. "They practice all the time, and we only practice once a week."

Almost all of the boys said they want to grow up to be professional baseball players.

Talakin said he would like to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks, while teammates Dmitry Zhuravlyov, 12, and Anton Chekalin, 11, want to play for the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

How long it will take for baseball to become a popular sport is unclear.

"Give it about 100 years," Tumansky said. "Look how long baseball has been played in America. About 150 years. It's just started in Russia."

But Tumansky did express optimism about the growth of the sport's popularity in Russia in the near future.

"All of these kids watching the game today, in about six or seven years they will be able to go to America and play," he said. "Then people will understand that Russians can play baseball, too. Then others will start to get interested in the game."