The World Series of Vaccine Passports

written by A. L. Hart Havens on October 1, 2022

Monday, October 10, 2022 marks an overlap of notable holidays, and in light of this Liberated Services wishes our readership a happy Columbus Day — as well as a happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day to any unlikely subscribers out there with woke or socialist inclinations, particularly those based in the United States, Canada, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela — three countries that are highly relevant to the subject matter of this article.

We would also like to wish our Canadian readers a festive Canadian Thanksgiving dinner together with family and friends with the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon CFL showdown featuring the Ottawa Redblacks and the Montreal Alouettes.

With high-level athletic competitions in mind, it should be emphasized that this article is not focused on the CFL or on the nearly exclusively Anglo North American sport of (American) football, but rather on the truly international sport of baseball — one that is often incorrectly believed to constitute a uniquely American pastime.

Despite the overarching theme here, readers who aren’t particularly interested in baseball, spectator sports, or other forms of bread and circuses should note that this article in essence uses the context of baseball to provide topical insight into vaccine passports and into a little-known but important aspect of the cultures, norms, and lifestyles of interesting offshore destinations, particularly in Latin America.

More specifically, the assessment given below explains how the persistence of two particular countries’ outrageous coronavirus restrictions and vaccine requirements have threatened to ruin what is arguably the most exciting month in sports — the October baseball playoffs featuring the aptly named World Series.

Toronto Blue Jays in the Crosshairs of a Covid Vaccine Fiasco

While much of the world has lifted its coronavirus-related entry requirements over the past six months, Canada and the United States stand out as two developed western countries that have retained their onerous restrictions — that is until Canada surprisingly eliminated its mandates with effect from October 1, 2022.

Prior to today, unvaccinated American citizens and residents could enter the United States but not Canada, while unvaccinated Canadian citizens and residents could enter Canada but not the United States. In view of Canada’s unexpected change of course, it remains to be seen whether and when the United States will follow suit.

This brand-new development notwithstanding, the applicable US and Canadian covid vaccine policies over the past two and a half years have severely inhibited US-Canadian border travel and have even created a conspicuous rift between American and Canadian baseball fans. In fact, it has given rise to harsh accusations by the American side, which is home to 29 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, that Canada’s strict covid vaccination rules have lent an unfair advantage to the Toronto Blue Jays, the league’s sole Canadian representative since 2005 (when the Montreal Expos relocated to the US capital to become the Washington Nationals).

Canada’s heavy-handed response to the covid hysteria made itself known throughout the world of baseball in mid-2020 when the Canadian government prohibited its very own Toronto Blue Jays from hosting games at the team’s home stadium, the Rogers Centre, citing the dangerous pathogens involved in frequent cross-border travel.

This forced Toronto to quickly secure available venues in the United States to host all of its 2020 and the majority of its 2021 home games, with the team eventually settling on a tandem of stadiums in Buffalo, New York and Dunedin, Florida. Canadian fans point to this imposition as evidence that the Canadian government’s restrictions have been to the detriment of the Blue Jays rather than to their benefit.

Canada’s covid entry rules once again came into the limelight in mid-July 2022 when the Kansas City Royals, a team that has been heavily chastised by the mainstream media as the league’s most vaccine-hesitant ballclub, was forced to leave 10 players of its 26-man roster at home for a four-games series in Toronto. This ordeal drew widespread attention to the fact that unvaccinated Canadian-noncitizen and Canadian-nonresident players of US-based teams were prohibited from crossing the border to partake in away games held in Canada’s foremost politically correct metropolis.

The Kansas City-Toronto spat quickly gave rise to the impression that an unfair advantage was being granted to Toronto since the visiting teams at Blue Jays’ home games could be forced to compete shorthanded with depleted rosters. It also led to the belief that Canada’s coronavirus entry rules were significantly stricter than those of the United States, when in reality the two countries’ policies until today have exhibited only minor differences. Canadian baseball fans are therefore correct to point out that their US counterparts have simply been unaware of their own country’s policies.

However, the argument that the Blue Jays have indirectly benefited from the border-crossing restrictions is not entirely invalid. That is because half of Toronto’s games are contested in the United States and the team would simply be unable to compete at an even playing field if any players on the team’s roster were restricted from entering the US. By contrast, the 29 American teams on average play fewer than 2% of their 162 regular season games in Canada. And while this is slightly more of an issue for Toronto’s four AL East divisional rivals, which play Toronto more frequently than do other US-based teams, the number of games each of these teams contests in Canada is still very low.

Thus, while American teams with unvaccinated players on their rosters could easily overlook the very small handful of games played in Canada, the Blue Jays were effectively forced from the very outset to ensure that all of their players were either fully vaccinated in accordance with US rules or that they held US citizenship, a green card, or other type of US residency status (an arrangement that would constitute a major drawback from a taxation perspective, as the player would hold tax residency in both Canada and the United States).

Shortly before the start of the 2022 regular season, it was reported that 100% of Toronto’s players were fully vaccinated in accordance with US regulations. The Blue Jays thus had no need to sit out any of their players, a luxury that American teams seemingly hadn’t felt the need to worry about — until recently that is. This is because Toronto, with less than a week remaining in the regular season, is poised to clinch a best-of-three home series in the MLB’s new wild card playoff format.

With every game of that series set to be played in Toronto, this has until today marked a real concern for the Blue Jays’ likely opponents — the Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cleveland Guardians (a team that daftly abandoned its Indians nickname and mascot in the wake of the mostly peaceful protests of 2020). Additionally, the possibility of Toronto advancing deeper into the playoffs with a spot in a series featuring alternating sets of home and away games would (under the Canadian government’s rules in place prior to today) have the potential to seriously disrupt the pitching rotations of this year’s winningest teams.

And since teams aren’t required to report or confirm the vaccination status of their rosters, there remains a degree of uncertainty surrounding the players on each team who may have refrained from taking the injections. However, the specifics of the Canadian government’s new policy strongly suggest that players on US-based teams will no longer be required to present a vaccine passport in order to enter Canada. In fact, it marks an interesting turn of events that any unvaccinated Toronto Blue Jays players who do not hold US citizenship or residency may now be the league’s only players facing any covid-related restrictions with regard to US-Canada border crossings.

With the Blue Jays’ playoff opponent set to be determined by October 5 at the latest, Canadians may have a rare opportunity to catch a Blue Jays playoff game alongside the traditional Canadian Thanksgiving CFL delight a week and a half from now. As an amusing side note concerning the acronym CFL, citizens of Luxembourg in search of their national railway company’s website are consistently reminded to their utmost frustration that CFL’s predominant usage across the world is not to denote Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois but rather Canadian Football League.

In view of the above analysis, it would be fair to say that although Toronto has not directly benefited from discrepancies between US and Canadian laws, the fact that Toronto is the only team in baseball that has effectively been forced to cope with the cross-border restrictions in earnest has ultimately worked to the Blue Jays’ advantage.

The heated debates between American and Canadian baseball fans that have turned increasingly unfriendly in recent months will most certainly rage on in spite of the uplifting of Canada’s covid entry restrictions. This debate also marks an odd but interesting wrinkle to US-Canadian hostilities that, at least in the world of baseball, have become as stormy as the waters that in November 1975 sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, the wreck of which still to this very day straddles the US-Canadian border at the bottom of eastern Lake Superior.

Thus, the onerous travel restrictions imposed by the two governments over the past two and a half years which have seriously affected the game of baseball undoubtedly make the United States and Canada deserving competitors in the symbolic world series of vaccine passports.

In addition to this, the generally alarming behavior demonstrated by the two governments in recent times should serve as ample motivation for the citizens of both countries to promptly begin pursuing offshore opportunities like citizenships, passports, residency permits, and bank accounts in countries located outside of the woke western world.

The International Imprint of Baseball

This section aims to dispel two misconceptions which are commonly held throughout the developed western world — namely that soccer is unequivocally the predominant sport throughout Latin America and that baseball is a distinctly American sport. And while it is indeed America’s national pastime, the game of baseball is also wildly popular in many other regions of the world, particularly Central America, the Caribbean, and East Asia.

In fact, baseball has a longstanding tradition as the most popular team sport in a number of countries, particularly the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. It is also the most popular sport of the unincorporated US territory of Puerto Rico, which is evidenced in part by the Arecibo Baseball Academy, a bilingual private school with a special focus on preparing youngsters for future careers in baseball.

As a quick aside, the town of Arecibo in northwestern Puerto Rico is also home to a world-renowned astronomical observatory that has served as the point of origin of some of mankind’s most serious attempts to contact extraterrestrials — including the 1974 Arecibo message, which broadcast a high-powered radio signal containing information about humanity and the earth into outer space. The observatory’s famous radio telescope unfortunately collapsed in December 2020.

It is quite interesting to note that Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — the US government’s three adversaries in the Western Hemisphere — associate the game of baseball with a sense of national pride and patriotism that has endured and even intensified in the face of persistent political conflict with the United States. In fact, both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez exhibited great enthusiasm for baseball throughout their lives and were also known to have been decent players in their younger days.

And in 2017, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega ceremoniously inaugurated the country’s first state-of-the-art baseball stadium constructed in accordance with MLB standards. The Managua-based venue is named after Nicaraguan-born all-star pitcher Dennis Martínez, who in 1991 as a starting pitcher for the now-defunct Montreal Expos threw an incredibly rare perfect game, conceding no hits or walks over nine full innings.

With regard to US adversaries in Asia, it is notable that baseball is also quite popular in China and North Korea (although less so than basketball in both) and was already a firmly established national pastime in Japan in the early 1940s when the US and Japanese militaries battled each other in World War 2.

The rise of baseball’s popularity in the aforementioned countries over the course of the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s is generally attributed to the influence of visiting and stationed US missionaries, soldiers, and sailors, the presence of American oil companies and other large corporations, and baseball-inspired locals returning home after completing degrees at US universities.

As described in the late-February/early-March 2022 article entitled The Dominican Republic and Haiti, the introduction of baseball to the Dominican Republic in the mid-1910s was the result of an unprovoked American invasion of the country and the establishment of a dictatorship under the direct command of US Marines and the indirect command of the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Today, the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macorís on the country’s southern coast stands out for having produced so many top-tier baseball players that it has earned the nickname the cradle of shortstops.

By contrast, Taiwan’s first major exposure to baseball was not a direct result of American influence but instead came in the wake of its conquest and annexation by the Empire of Japan. The Japanese occupation wasted no time in constructing baseball fields and setting up youth baseball leagues, and it wasn’t long before excitement about baseball spread like wildfire throughout the island.

By the way, Nippon Professional Baseball is Japan’s highest baseball league and is widely considered the second most important in the world. The NPB attracts a large number of American and other foreign players who narrowly missed the cut in the MLB, and from this perspective it is fairly comparable to the NFL-CFL dynamic in the sport of (American) football.

Major League Baseball’s latest available statistics on the number of foreign players, which appear to be based on place of birth rather than citizenship, show that foreigners comprise around 28% of the league’s players, with Americans accounting for 70% and Canadians for 2%. The most heavily represented other nationalities are Dominicans (12%) and Venezuelans (8%), with Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, Colombians, Panamanians, Curaçaoans, Japanese, and South Koreans rounding off the top 10.

It should be noted here that the percentage of Cuban players would be higher if not for the Cuban government’s severe restrictions on citizens leaving the country. In fact, Mexican drug cartels have on occasion been paid to kidnap superstar baseball players from Cuba and bring them to the United States, with the most prominent instance occurring in 2012 involving then soon-to-be Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig.

Although baseball is not the most popular sport of any country in Europe, most European countries have organized leagues and the sport appears to be steadily growing in popularity. However, the European national-team tournaments have proven to be extremely uncompetitive for many years with the Netherlands and Italy absolutely dominating the landscape. And although Spain can be considered Europe’s third best, Spanish baseball is nowhere near the caliber of the sport’s Dutch-Italian top tier.

Interestingly, the Netherlands has been accused of holding an unfair advantage in European baseball competitions, as the natives of the country’s overseas Caribbean territories — predominantly Curaçao and Aruba — are permitted to play on the Dutch national team. And while baseball appears to be more popular in the European Netherlands than it is across Europe on average, the luxury of adding players hailing from the baseball-crazed Dutch Caribbean clearly constitutes a substantial advantage.

The astounding success of Italian baseball at the European level is primarily attributed to the sport’s unbridled popularity in a single seaside town 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Rome. It is in the 50,000-strong city of Nettuno where baseball reigns supreme over all other sports, including Italy’s national pastime of soccer. This circumstance arose from the large number of US military bases established in the Nettuno area from 1944 onward and from the immediate willingness of the US occupation to include the local population in its recreational baseball games.

However, the relative familiarity with baseball throughout Italy on the whole compared to the rest of Europe may also be an effect of the more recent waves of Italian immigration to the United States and Canada. It is likely that Italian immigrants, inspired by legendary Italian-American players like Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, have over the past century exposed their extended families on the old continent to the game of baseball to a greater extent than has been the case with other Europeans.

Despite the sport’s incredible popularity in a number of world regions, baseball has yet to leave an indelible mark on the Eastern Hemisphere’s poorest countries, particularly those in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. This is arguably due to the combination of a lack of direct US cultural influence, insufficient financial resources to purchase the equipment and facilities that baseball requires, and the initial difficulties involved in grasping the game’s design and basic rules relative to other team sports like soccer and basketball.

Soccer thus holds a major advantage in impoverished countries given the extremely low financial investment required to organize pick-up games and makeshift leagues. The monetary hurdles that make baseball inaccessible to these populations can be seen in the largely unsuccessful attempts by US occupation forces over the past 20 years aimed at popularizing the game throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

Furthermore, baseball can be described as a minor albeit growing sport in the major British Commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Pakistan, where the traditional sports of cricket and rugby (as well as soccer) continue to dominate. The obvious exception here is Canada, where the long-established sport of baseball takes a backseat to the Canadian national pastime of ice hockey.

It is worth reiterating in closing that particularly Central America, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, northern South America, and East Asia are incredibly passionate about the sport of baseball. Tourists and expats visiting, relocating to, or pursuing citizenship in these regions should therefore keep in mind that baseball, despite its American origins, is a century-old tradition which is deeply ingrained into the hearts, minds, cultures, and national identities of a significant number of Latin American and Asian societies.