Now Batting for the Rays, Ronaldinho?

A country of 190 million people and little to no baseball infrastructure

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Apr 20, 2009  |  Updated 10:39 AM EDT
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Now Batting for the Rays, Ronaldinho?

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Ole Ole Ole Ole!

For years, baseball teams have run academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to help develop future big leaguers. In the last couple of years, teams have been dumping money into China in hopes of reaping similar rewards. Now comes Brazil, long a spiritual home to soccer but a place where baseball has made limited inroads.

The Tampa Bay Rays will invest $6.5 million in an academy being built with federal funding that will provide training to 4,000 young players. There are 11 Brazilians already under contract with MLB teams, and that's with the sport holding popularity with the segment of the population with Japanese roots and/or connections to that community.

Judging from Brazil's success in other athletic endeavors, more opportunities will lead to more players making their way toward the Show. What does that mean for baseball? 

It means that Ichiro won't be the only player who feels that a second name is an unnecessary extravagance. It means that there will be a lot of hitters taking dives when balls are thrown in their direction. They'll writhe around on the ground, before jumping to their feet and sprinting around the bases like they weren't even hit by pitches in the first place.

And the stands will be a lot more enjoyable. Have you ever seen a World Cup game played by the Brazilian team? There's a lot of noise being made by a lot of good looking people who don't wear very much clothing. They may find it easy to make a connection with the cowbell-mad fans in Tampa, which could, in turn, make the Rays stadium a very difficult and unique place to play.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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