Sunday, April 22, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Romanians Say Oina Inspired Baseball


BUCHAREST, Romania - Fans across America might be talking about the new oina season if an American here had not changed a few rules and renamed it baseball, according to a Romanian sports official.

Adding his voice to the decades-old debate over the origin of baseball, Cristian Costescu said the American pastime derived from the ancient game of oina, which was introduced to the United States by a pair of Transylvanians.

Costescu, president of the new Romanian Baseball Federation, says the two immigrants from the Romanian village of Alba Iulia joined the U.S. Army and taught the game to their comrades.

Among their comrades was a young officer named Abner Doubleday, who changed a few rules and created baseball in 1839, Cotescu said in an interview.

``We are not saying that Romania invented baseball. We would not like someone else to tell us oina was invented by others,'' said Costescu. ``But we are saying this: some little inspiration for baseball was from oina. Baseball is more sophisticated than oina, but the structure is the same.''

Romanians claim oina was invented by shepherds in the first century and say documents from 1310 describe a variation of the game called hoina being played in southern Romania.

Oina has 11 men per side, with one team batting and the other in the field. Each side is allowed one at-bat, in which all 11 players take the plate.

A pitcher is provided by the team at bat and he serves up a lazy underhand toss. The batter tries to hit the ball as far as possible, then has to run 120 yards through nine bases.

But if the batter is tagged by a fielder or hit by a thrown ball, the fielders can score points - so teams can score even while not at bat.

Oina uses a ball almost the same size as a baseball but filled with horse hair. The bat is similar to a cricket bat and fielders do not wear gloves.

Oina still is a Romanian national sport, with forms of the game being played in various regions of the Balkan country. Though there are 1,675 teams around Romania, as opposed to about 15 baseball teams in the country, its popularity has slumped in recent years.

``Fifty years ago everybody was playing oina, all the high schools and elementary schools,'' Costescu said through a translator. ``But handball, basketball and volleyball appeared and oina started disappearing.''

It has been a quarter century since the heyday of Eugen Cocut, the Babe Ruth of oina whose height and huge hands allowed him to hit powerful shots and fire the ball with terrifying speed.

If Costescu is successful in his post with the new baseball federation, he may assure that the next Cocut plays baseball instead of oina.

Costescu used to head the Romanian Oina Federation, back in the days when baseball was banned as ``a capitalist sport.''

That stigma was removed after the December revolution that overthrew dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and the baseball federation was formed.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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