Baseball in Norway hits a home run
From burgers to bats, gloves, and balls, baseball in Norway grows
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
If you want to attract people to a group, serve food. The origins of baseball in Norway—or the “saga I like to promote,” says Andrew Johnson, a Minnesota native who lives in Kristiansand with his Norwegian wife and two sons–is that members of the NATO base at Fornebu Airport would organize weekend softball games and serve burgers.
“Kids would visit the softball fields because they had great burgers for a low price,” says Johnson, who moved to Norway in 2003 and started the Kristiansand program with Henrik Hanselmann in 2006. “This generated familiarity and interest.
“A handful of those kids were the first pieces to Bekkestua Baseball Klubb, which merged to become part of ØHIL [Øvrevoll Hosle Idrettslag] in Bærum some years back. Coaches from MLB [Major League Baseball] International, as part of the MLB envoy program, visited here and helped them establish a formal federation (Norwegian Softball and Baseball) in 1991.”
A major turning point came in 1994, when they joined the Norwegian Sports and Olympic Federation.
“This is a national umbrella of all the clubs from the lowest levels of youth sports to all levels of adults, including professional soccer, professional hockey and Olympic athletes,” said Johnson, who played in Sweden, Germany, and Australia and was a European scout for the Minnesota Twins. “Moving into that in ’93 was a really big step in being recognized as a legitimate sport. It enabled us to engage in different funding models and market ourselves in new ways.”
There are 600 people in the country involved with baseball, either as a player or a member. “The mix is very internationally diverse,” said Johnson.
Children start in slåball, which follows the coda of Norwegian sports for children. Participation and fun are paramount. Everyone bats in every inning; children learn to play all positions, fundamentals, and skills. No scorekeeping. With greater participation, social, mental, and physical development are improved. There’s also Little League.
The age groups are Under-13 years old, 13-19, Adult (19+).
There is an Eliteserien league that includes the Oslo Pretenders, an “international based club,” who went undefeated (11-0) in 2021 and won the championship, ØHIL Royals, Trondheim, and newcomer Vålerenga in the East division, and Sola Aviators, Kristiansand Suns, and Bergen Wet Sox in the west. The season started April 30. There are 12-15 players on each team.
Recruiting players is difficult in a country where many sports are ingrained in the culture.
“The Norwegian sports market is a limited pool already,” said Johnson. “They have a lot of success in a few sports and a small population, so almost everyone plays those early on. Soccer, of course, dominates, followed by handball. Everyone skis, but not everyone competes at it. I sell baseball by simply making it as fun as possible; speed things up; play music; incorporate the social aspect; making sure we have a concession stand with burgers and hot dogs, an event the whole family can enjoy.”
Women’s softball is gaining interest. Christy Brownlee in Drammen is organizing a national team. Erin Lundquist was named coach.
Facilities are improving. Johnson built the field in Kristiansand, and the Sola field was also built by hand by an American. “Trondheim has a fully turf field that is gorgeous,” said Johnson. Oslo has the oldest field, Rommen Baseball Park in the north end of the city, and Rud Baseball bane in Bærum. Fields of dreams.
There are baseball academies in Oslo, Stavanger, and Trondheim.
Norwegians playing internationally include Stefan Torgersen, a recent Dartmouth (Hanover, N.H.) graduate; Aidan Brødjsø at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College; Lars Liguori is pitching for Nettuno (Italy) after a few stints in independent league baseball in the United States, and home-grown Mads Eldevik, 16, who is currently playing for and attending the Regensburg Baseball Academy in Germany.
Johnson, who coaches the national team, is looking for partnerships in the United States that would allow them to bring teams over to America.
“Our national team is a part of a wider initiative we call Baseball Norway,” said Johnson. “Anyone can be a part of Baseball Norway, aged 13+.
“We are currently establishing means for raising funds in the United States so we can send groups over for intensive baseball experiences. They see that a high school or junior college experience is attainable, while getting the opportunity to see professional baseball in person. We also hope to generate a connection to our American heritage in hopes of finding passport eligible players. Liguori and Torgersen were both raised in the United States. They make a big difference in the quality of play, which raises the standard for our players in Norway.”
Anyone interested in helping or finding out if they are eligible to play baseball for Norway, can contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.