Batter Up! Is It Baseball, Or Is It Oina? 

Bat? Check. Ball? Check. Teams? Also, check. We just described baseball – or did we? What is Oina, Romania's national sport? And is it the precursor of American baseball?

Romanians are making a strong pitch to win wider appeal for their national sport of Oina, a centuries-old game that is a similar to a faster version of baseball. Photo: Mihai Barbu / Reuters / Forum

What came first, the chicken or the egg? We have all heard this question posed at least once in our lives. But let me ask another similar but arguably more intricate question: what came first – oina or baseball?

Oina: Romanian national sport

Oina is the Romanian national sport, and, despite its lack of popularity nowadays, it used to be the talk of the town back in the day. People of all ages, from youngsters to adults, used to find pleasure and amusement in a casual or competitive game of oina. And if you think you must have been living under a rock for not having heard of the Romanian baseball-like national game, worry not; many co-nationals are unaware of the similarities, too.

But what if I were to tell you Romania’s oina preceded American baseball? And that some of the origins of the internationally-recognized, famous game of baseball come from this age-old children’s game from the county of Moldova in Romania?

romania national sport
A Romanian stamp produced around 1960 featuring the country’s national sport, Oina. Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I can’t really do that, as the link between the two is highly debatable. Plus, no one really knows if it’s Oina – or Stoolball, or Cricket, or Base – or any of the other European games that made their way to the New World that inspired the birth of baseball in the 1800s. But what can be said is that the two are very similar in multiple ways. Many believe that the baseball we know today was inspired by two immigrants from the Romanian city of Alba Iulia who, upon joining the U.S. Army, began teaching their fellow soldiers the game of oina.

Baseball: just sophisticated Oina

The differences between oina and baseball are believed to be the result of adjustments made by one of the American soldiers. Cristian Costescu, President of the Romanian Baseball Federation and former head of the Romanian Oina Federation, stated that “a little inspiration for baseball came from oina.” Calling baseball the “more sophisticated” version, he drew attention to the similarities between the two games as “the structure is the same.”

The ‘Romanian baseball’ game, oina, is believed to have originated from a shepherd’s game in the early 14th century. Inside the country, the game was so popular that, in 1897, Minister of Sport Spiru Haret officially declared it a mandatory P.E activity, calling it “the real Romanian sports game.”

Two years later, the very first national championship of Oina was held in Bucharest. It didn’t take long for the game to become the “legendary game of that time.” The Romanian Oină Federation, which is active to this day, was established in 1932, and this year, there are over 15 championships organized throughout the summer.

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Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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