American armed forces have fought in 85 of the 194 other nations, or 44 percent of the total.
Over the course of this amazing history, filled as it is with heroic liberations and a few tragic blunders, we Americans have had one undeniable achievement — we have exported the game of baseball around much of the world.
And the spread of American Baseball Imperialism got off to a very early start.
Abner Doubleday, the legendary “inventor” of baseball, served in the Army’s 1st Regiment of Artillery during the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. Perhaps he played a pickup game or two while in Mexico?
American soldiers have taken baseball with them on campaigns to some of the remotest corners of Earth. In spring 1919, the Polar Bear Expedition was deployed by President Woodrow Wilson to Archangel in northern Russia, where they also played baseball.
A visitor to the Battleship Texas near Houston will find a poignant reminder of the cost of American Baseball Imperialism.
In a display case are a baseball, an old glove and a photo from a game played April 15, 1936, on a Pacific island between the crew members of the Texas and the ill-fated Arizona, which was sunk by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
By the time World War II broke out, baseball was firmly ingrained in the national consciousness.
Many famous players including Stan Musial and Hank Greenberg volunteered to serve their country in the armed services.
Former Texas Rangers manager Ted Williams, “Teddy Ballgame” in baseball circles, trained fighter pilots as a Marine aviator in World War II.
Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, joined the Army Air Forces in 1943. His Red Sox brother, Dom, served in the Navy.
In Operation Torch, the 1942 invasion of North Africa, American troops used challenge and countersign: “ ‘Brooklyn?’ ‘Dodgers.’ ‘Brooklyn?’ ‘Dodgers.’ ”
Later, sentries would bark the password challenge “Three?” and were answered with the countersign: “Strikes!”
After the victory over Germanywas finally won, Americans celebrated by playing baseball in occupied Europe.
Americans even used baseball to exorcise the demons of Nazism in the very belly of the beast — building a baseball stadium in the Hitler Youth Stadium at Nuremberg.
The site of so many Nazi rallies was transformed into “Soldier’s Field” and the European Theater of Operations World Series, featuring many major-leaguers in uniform, was held there in September 1945.
Over and over again, countries that have been occupied by American forces have turned into baseball-playing countries.
In 1898 soon after Adm. George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay and just weeks after the arrival of U.S. troops, the first baseball was played in the Philippines.
In 1956, Bobby Balcena of the Cincinnati Redlegs became the first Filipino to play in the majors. Today the Filipinos have a league of their own featuring teams such as the Manila Sharks.
Baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872 by American educator Horace Wilson in Tokyo.
Baseball first came to Cuba in the 1860s with the arrival of U.S. sailors making port calls and Cuban college students returning from studies in the U.S.
The young Fidel Castro was a gifted athlete who sought a career in baseball. In 1949 the lanky Cuban was offered a contract by the New York Giants, which he declined.
Just how might Cuban-American relations have differed if Castro had joined the show?
Major League Baseball is expected to start playing spring training in Cuba in the spring.
Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. In 2012 Donald Lutz, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, broke another barrier, becoming the first German-developed player to play in the major leagues.
Lutz has an American GI dad and a German mom.
How many years will we need to wait before we see an Iraqi outfielder or an Afghan pitcher in the majors? It may not be as long as we think.
Baseball has clearly become a global sport thanks to the presence of the U.S. forces around the world.
Christopher Kelly lives in Seattle and London and is a Mariners fan.