Understanding pesäpallo

For fans with a background in baseball

Imagine a sport that has the tactical skill of American football, the passion of baseball and a pace faster than any bat and ball sport you have ever seen. Fortunately you dont need to imagine such a sport, because one already exists. For almost 100 years, pesäpallo has been played in Finland with the rest of world knowing nothing about it. Information on pesäpallo has been unheard of in English, with very little in depth analysis being available in Finnish too. With the Polttolinja website, that is all about to change as Finlands most undersold masterpiece is becoming Finlands hottest sporting export. Over the last few years, the growth of pesäpallo in Asia has skyrocketed, with the sport now forming part of the syllabus in schools and equipment being manufactured in the Indian subcontinent.

What is pesäpallo

Pesäpallo is a sport that originates in Finland, but has roots and links to old Northern European sports and baseball. Pesäpallo is often referred to as pesis or Finnish baseball; however the rules and style of play are very different to Americas pastime. Pesäpallo is credited as being invented by Lauri TahkoPihkala, where the aim of the game being similar to that of baseball: the offense tries to score by hitting the ball successfully and running through the bases, while the defense tries to prevent the runners from advancing and putting the batter and runners out. Whilst this core is consistent with baseball, there are a number of differences to the two games.

As the sport became established in Finland, a national competition was established, which has gone through a number of formats before its current iteration. At present pesapällo in Finland is played professionally in a tiered league format, with the top division being Superpesis, which is played equally between mens and womens leagues. This change came about in 1989 and the second tier is Ykköspesis. The tiered system allows for a promotion and relegation system, which has its or seen many different formats to determine who will go up and down each year. Superpesis and Ykköspesis both have a regular season and a post-season, which determines who will be promoted and relegated, as well as who will take gold, silver or bronze in Superpesis.

Internationally, pesäpallo has been very much under the radar and still remains a mystery to most outside of Finland. In the 1952 Olympic Games, hosted by Helsinki, pesapällo was a demonstration sport where a game was paid on 31st July between the Finnish Baseball Federation and the Finnish Workers Sports Federation. Lauri Pihkali was honoured by throwing a ceremonial first pitch in front of a massive crowd of 19,309 people. The game was commentated in Finnish, Swedish and English but took a more leisurely pace than that seen in the national competition owing to the nature being an exhibitiongame. The game was reduced to just an hours playing time and ended 8-4 in favour of the Finnish Baseball Federation. Today, Pesäpallo is played around the world in various countries including Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and Canada as well as informally elsewhere. Pesäpallo is a niche sport and very little information is available in English on the internet; however this blog aims to spread the popularity and accessibility of this sport.

Pesäpallo v Baseball

Some of Pesäpallos roots are borrowed from baseball, but there are a number of significant differences that would confuse those familiar with Americas pastime. A list of differences include:



Vertical pitching – the pitcher stands next to the batter and must throw the ball up over 1m above home plate

Horizontal pitching – the pitcher is on a mound 18.39m (606) from home plate and the ball is thrown horizontally to the batter

Batters – the 9 players who have allocated fielding positions will bat at a position in the lineup, but in every inning the team my insert a jokerto bat anywhere in the lineup. There are 3 jokers on the team lineup and a maximum of 3 jokers can be used in an inning

Batters – traditionally the 9 players who have allocated fielding positions are the only players who can bat. The exception is where the designated hitter rule is used, where the pitcher is taken out of the lineup in place of a batter. The designated hitter has a fixed position in the lineup. The only other technical exception is where a pinch hitter takes the place of another player in the lineup (substitution)

Walks – if the bases are empty, 1 bad pitch (that doesnt fall on the home plate) will advance the batter to first. If there is one or more runners on the bases, 2 bad pitches will advance the lead runner to the next base

Walks – if the pitcher throws 4 balls (bad pitches) the batter progresses to first base

Hits – the batter has 3 strikes/attempts to reach first base. The batter may advance on any of them, but will be out if they dont reach first base safely before they run out of strikes

Hits – if the batter hits the ball and it doesnt go behind the foul lines the batter must run

Home runs – if the batter goes beyond the backfield line (or any wall etc) without hitting the ground it is called a strike and the batter or runners cannot advance. A kunniajuoksu (home run) is the same as a triple in baseball, I.e the batter registers a fair hit and reaches third base. In such a circumstance the batter scores a run but remains at third base, therefore there is a chance for the batter to come home and score off another batters hit

Home runs – a batter can score a run if they hit the ball beyond the backfield line (or any wall etc) without hitting the ground. A batter can also score a home run by rounding the bases in order and reaching home off their hit (in-the-park home run)

Uniforms – one thing that will be confusing to the eye, for those familiar with baseball uniforms, is that in Superpesis uniforms are covered with various sponsors. Those familiar with football (soccer) or Rugby (league and union) will be familiar with sponsorship on uniforms

Uniforms – there are no sponsors on uniforms and generally speaking are muted in colour

Outs – being caught is not classed as being out, rather any runners advancing (including the batter) is classed as woundedand is removed from the field of play

If a ball is caught, even if it is outside of the field of play, the batter is put out and runners must return to the base they started at if they were attempting to advance. Once the catch is made however the runner may attempt to advance normally

Following Pes

There has never been a better time to follow pesäpallo internationally and there is now a whole host of information, videos, podcasts and more widely available. Check out some of the links on this website for more information or even download the Superpesis Roundup Podcast: the English language podcast that covers everything pesäpallo.

Iain Alba

I am a massive sports fan from the UK. I grew up following and playing cricket, with interests in other sports and cultures from around the world. In about 2000 I started to watch Major League Baseball when it was on TV in the middle of the night and soon became excited about learning about more sports in America and around the world. In 2006 my career had hit a dead end and my wife and I started to think about emigrating to a different country. We decided to do research on countries we wanted to think about moving to; of course I decided to look into the 2 things that are most important in life... food and sport. When I discovered that Finland had a game similar to baseball, I was instantly intrigued and wanted to find out more. Back in 2006 there was little or no information in English and I didn’t speak Finnish; I was determined to follow the sport and translated the rules. I spent many hours watching live updates on Pesis Live when videos were not available and it quickly became my favourite sport. Unexpectedly, my career took off and plans to relocate faded away. In 2019 I decided that I wanted to focus more of my time on pesis and I decided that I wanted to start writing a blog in English about pesis, because there still wasn’t enough information available in English. Superpesis Roundup focuses on reviews of games, statistical analysis and opinion pieces on the similarities and differences between pesis, baseball and cricket. By March 2020 I had started to record the first English language podcast about Superpesis. The Superpesis Roundup podcast is now well established and gaining audiences from around the world.

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