The World’s Pastime

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The United States is gearing up for the World Series, its biggest baseball event of the year, which starts on Wednesday night at Fenway Park as the Boston Red Sox battle the St. Louis Cardinals. The anticipation has seized Boston, sending hotel rooms soaring to rates upward of $1,000 a night.

In its heyday in the United States, baseball was dubbed the "American pastime," inspiring generations of little leaguers, historic rivalries between major American cities, and no shortage of romantic renderings of the game in books and movies. As the American poet Walt Whitman once said of the sport: "Baseball is our game -- the American game: I connect it with our national character." 

But as baseball has skyrocketed to popularity in other countries, particularly Japan and Latin American nations, the days of the United States claiming it exclusively are long over. The sport's premier international tournament, the World Baseball Classic, featured 12 teams from across the globe this year, with the Dominican Republic coasting undefeated all the way to a championship. The tournament set ratings records in Japan, where it was the most-watched sporting event of the year and even out-performed the 2012 Olympics. In Taiwan, the WBC was the highest-rated cable program in the country's history.

What follows are images from far-flung places, ranging from South Africa to Iraq to China, where a stick and a ball have been enough to recreate the singular thrill of the game "that reminds us of all that once was good" -- baseball.

Above, a young boy during a pickup game in the streets of Havana, Cuba on Sept. 17, 2006.

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Infielder Kazuo Matsui of Japan leaps during the World Baseball Classic First Round Group against China at Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome on March 3 in Fukuoka, Japan.

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Angel Pagan of Team Puerto Rico gives a post-game interview in the dugout following the semi-final game against Team Japan in the championship round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on March 17 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. Puerto Rico defeated Japan 3-1.

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Takuma Gomi of the Tokyo, Japan team celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Tijuana, Mexico team during the third inning of the International Championship game of the Little League World Series on Aug. 24 in Williamsport, Penn. Japan won the game with a final score of 3-2.

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A South Korean fan reacts while watching the World Baseball Classic championship game between Japan and Korea, screened at Chamsil Stadium on March 24, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea.

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A pitcher throws the ball while playing street baseball in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 5. A group of men meets every afternoon in a park in the middle of the busy North Highway in Managua to play bola pasada or "street baseball" and make bets ranging between $8 and $25 per game.

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A player shows three street "baseballs" in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 5. This sport is also known as beisbol de calcetin (baseball sock) because it is played with balls made by hand out of pieces of garment to avoid damaging the windows of cars and houses around the park.

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A man prepares to swing a bat inside a baseball cage in Seoul on July 3.

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A view of the Tokyo Dome during Pool 1, Game 6 between the Netherlands and Japan in the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic on March 12 in Tokyo, Japan.

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Children play baseball at the Olympic Centre in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on March 23. Baseball is wildly popular in the country, which won the third World Baseball Classic in 2013 and which boasts the largest pool of prospects outside the United States for major league organizations.

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Team Israel warms up for a game against South Africa on Sept. 16, 2012 in preparations for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier.

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A man walks in an empty baseball field at Riverdale West Park on May 7, in Toronto, Canada.

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Infielder Andrelton Simmons of the Netherlands throws his signed balls to fans after the World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1 game against Japan at Tokyo Dome on March 12 in Tokyo, Japan.

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Koshien Baseball Stadium captured by a DigitalGlobe Satellite on Aug. 22, approximately one hour before the finals for the High School Baseball Championship.

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A Cuban inmate plays baseball as part of a re-education program at the maximum security Combinado del Este prison, in Havana on April 9.

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Ilham Ahmed bats during Baghdad softball team training on May 10, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Iraqi national baseball and softball federation was established after the fall of Saddam Hussein, who considered baseball a product of U.S. imperialism.

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Cheerleaders cheer on the sidelines of the XXIX Olympiad game between Korea and Canada at Wukeson Baseball Field 2 in Beijing on Aug. 15, 2008.

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Ivorian boys play baseball on June 8, 2010 during training at the National Sports and Youth Institute (INJS) in Abidjan.

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Baseball fans celebrate after their team Industriales defeated La Habana at the Latinomericano stadium in Havana on March 5, 2010 in the 49th National Baseball Series final game.

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A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, throws the ball while playing baseball with comrades at a field in front of empty oil tanks inside their forward operating base at Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad, on May 14, 2008.

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Fans of the United States stand at a concession stand before the semifinal game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic against Japan on March 22, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

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An Afghan policeman stands guard near the scoreboard during an Afghan Little League baseball game between the Eagles and their rivals the Afghan club on Aug. 16, 2002 in the town of Orgun-e in southeastern Afghanistan. U.S. Special Forces soldiers coached the two local teams of Afghan boys ages 10-16 through a ten-game season, using equipment donated by charity groups in the United States.

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