Pesäpallo — The Unique Finnish Version of Baseball

June 1, 2023

Baseball is called America’s pastime, but a very different version is played in Finland. It’s called Pesäpallo or “nest ball,” and more popularly known as pesis or Finnish baseball. It is the national sport of Finland, and there are some significant differences in how this game is played in that country compared to the sport it’s similar to in the United States and around the world.

How Pesäpallo is Played

The most central part of American baseball (which we’ll use as a comparison) could be the pitcher and the batter, but in Finnish baseball, this could be one of the most significant differences between the two sports. There is a pitcher and a batter in Pesäpallo, but the pitcher and the batter stand on opposite sides of a circular plate. While the pitcher throws the ball horizontally in American baseball, the pitcher throws the ball vertically in Finnish baseball, just across from the batter. The ball has to be thrown at least a meter above the head of the pitcher over home base for the batter to hit the ball.

The batter has three strikes to hit the ball, but they don’t have to run even if they hit the first two pitches. A pitch is a strike if the batter swings at the ball, and if the pitcher throws a bad pitch (a ball), the runner can advance to first base if the field is empty. If the field isn’t empty, the pitcher can throw two bad pitches, but the lead runner advances a base. A pitch is considered bad if it doesn’t fall on the plate or is not high enough.

Fouls are ruled the same as in American baseball if the ball falls outside the field lines, but if a batter hits a foul on the third strike, they are out. There is another twist to the foul boundaries, however, as there is a back boundary where the batter can’t hit the ball, and this area is also considered a foul.

If a batter makes a hit and runs to first base, they become a runner, but just like in American baseball, if a fielder has the ball at the base, the runner is out. If a fielder catches a ball, and the runners on base try to advance, they must leave the field but are not counted as out. A runner is safe if they reach the base before the ball arrives.

Runners have to advance bases if a runner is coming to their base, just like in American baseball, and a runner scores if they make it all the way back to home base, also like in American baseball. Homeruns, however, are quite different. A runner has to make it to third base on their hit. The runner can score another run on a later hit by making it to home base.

The game is played in two periods of four innings each, and each team bats and fields in each inning. The number of runs in a period determines which team won the period. If each team wins one period, an extra period that consists of one inning is played.

The team batting can use three designated hitters during a half-inning, called jokers, in addition to the nine players in the regular batting order. The offensive team bats until three players have been put out or if one round of the batting order has been completed without the team scoring at least two runs. There are nine players on the field playing defense, just like in American baseball.

Other Differences Between Baseball and Pesäpallo

Another major difference between American Baseball and Pesäpallo is the layout of the field. First base isn’t to the right of the batter as in regular baseball but is to the left close to home base. The runner has to run across the playing field to 2nd base and then across to 3rd base before returning home.

Pesapallo field
The Pesäpallo Field

The coach of the team on offense uses a color-coded fan to signal runners when to move.

The glove worn by players of Pesäpallo more closely resembles a glove used by a hockey goalie, and the ball is caught between the thumb and index finger.

Helmets have to be worn by all players on offense as well as all fielders. Only the pitcher and outfielders aren’t required to wear a helmet.

A runner doesn’t have to touch a base as they are not padded like in American baseball. They simply have to cross the line of the base to be safe at that base. That also goes for crossing to home base, as they only have to make it to the line for that base. Fielders only have to have a foot in the base to make an out.

How Did Pesäpallo Get Started?

The sport came about when Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala visited the United States in 1907 and watched a game of baseball. It’s said that Pihkala couldn’t understand how people could watch a game for hours that he considered boring and slow, but he recognized that a bat and ball game was appealing. He went about developing a game that had uniform rules in order to get his home country active. Ball games were already being played in Finland at the time, but the rules varied from region to region. Pihkala initially called his Finnish baseball game “long ball” or “pitkäpallo.”

It took some time for the game to catch on, and the first match of long ball wasn’t played until 1920. A few years later, the name was changed to pesäpallo. Pihkala spread the game first through the Civil Guard organizations, promoting it as a way to prepare for war. He was also a coach and involved in sports magazines, which increased its popularity. It soon became Finland’s national sport.

Today, the championship of Pesäpallo is the Superpesis, and it is played every year. The game is also played in other countries such as Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, and in Ontario, Canada. Since 1992, the Pesäpallo World Cup has been played every three years.

Sources: 375Humanistia, The Culture Trip, Sportsmatik, Pesis

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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