Baseball isn't big in Sweden. There are people like me who accept this fate, and there are people like Trevor Rooper who head to the arctic and race reindeer in the name of the game.
Rooper rode in the annual reindeer races this week way up north in Jokkmokk. He's an American living in Sweden, and the head coach of the Stockholm Monarchs baseball team. He's now also a personal hero of mine.
"I was selected to participate in the races, and it was like a once in a lifetime thing," Rooper told me. "I thought it would be a good platform to get word out about baseball."
That's valiant. When I think Jokkmokk, maybe the last thing that springs to mind is baseball. But Rooper was on his way to a land of snow, darkness, and hockey, and he was seeing big potential for the game I love.
"Baseball can work in the north. The long summer days and nights coincide with the baseball season, and it's a perfect way for hockey players to stay in shape," he said.
Rooper contacted media outlets about his cause, and started up a Facebook group. He packed a baseball jersey to wear over his parka, and a GoPro camera to video the dash from his head. It could be the first time a sleigh rider has ever filmed that race live. It may also be the longest known recording of a reindeer's rear-end.
Baseball never became that popular in Sweden, and now it's in decline. There was apparently a high point in the 1990s with several thousand players, but nowadays that number is around 1,000.
I'm surprised about that, because the game fits the Swedish psyche. The typical gripe about baseball by Swedes is that it's a long, uneventful game. This gripe comes from a country that: loves to take long, uneventful walks; that takes a month of vacation in summer; that thrives on balanced lifestyles full of free time; and that gets excited during the Winter Olympics about slow, tactic-focused curling. Swedes can find time for all that, but say baseball is too calm.
Still, baseball exists here. There's a league in Sweden, with three Stockholm-based teams. After a successful playing career and after coaching in The Netherlands, Austria and Australia, Rooper will be looking this summer to defend the Monarchs' Swedish league title and continue promoting the game.
"The game of baseball is perfect for Sweden, but the Swedes don't know it," said Rooper.
It was genius to combine the reindeer races with raising awareness for baseball. The move has generated press. It shows what a little ingenuity can do, even for an overlooked summer sport in the middle of winter. It also shows that if this baseball thing doesn't work out, Rooper has promising talent making action movies with reindeer.
Thank you for the photo Åsa Lindfors and the video Andreas Viklund!