Panama is a country located in Central America. As of 2012, it had sent nearly 50 men to the major leagues, starting with Humberto Robinson in 1955. The most prominent Panamanian big-leaguers were Mariano Rivera and Rod Carew. Some of these men were born in the Panama Canal Zone, which was an overseas U.S. territory from 1903 to 1979.
A 1952 feature in The Sporting News by Leo J. Eberenz, the paper's local columnist, provided a neat capsule history. Eberenz noted the following milestones:
- 1905: the country's first league, the Isthmian Canal Commission League, began play after the United States took over work on the Panama Canal.
- Winter of 1917-18: Ray Caldwell (pitching under the name of Collins) became the first big-leaguer to come to Panama.
- 1918: First attempt to conduct baseball in an organized league. The three-team circuit folded after one season.
- 1926: Panama National League founded. One of its clubs was a team of Puerto Rican soldiers stationed in the Canal Zone.
Panama has also been the home of winter-league baseball. During the 1940s, two leagues co-existed: the Canal Zone League and, starting in 1946, the Panama Professional League, which superseded the Panama National League. The pennant-winners of each circuit played each other to crown the Isthmian champion.
When the Caribbean Series began in 1949, Panama was part of the four-nation competition, and remained in the tournament until it went on hiatus after the 1960 edition. It won once -- the second edition, in 1950 -- and hosted three times (1952, 1956 and 1960).
Winter ball continued in Panama through the early 1970s, but toward the end, the schedule became abbreviated. Panama was not part of the Caribbean Series when the tournament resumed in 1970.
In spring training 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates played three exhibition games from March 12 through March 14 in Panama City. The opponent was a team of Panamanian All-Stars. Joe DiMaggio threw out the first ball. Some 38,000 fans turned out for the series. The Pirates' Panamanian catcher, Manny Sanguillen, went 5-for-11 with a homer in front of his hometown fans. Another native, Rennie Stennett -- then a 19-year-old Bucs farmhand -- also played well for the All-Stars.
In the winter of 2001-02, winter baseball came back to Panama after a dormant period of nearly 30 years. The revival lasted just one season, though.
Winter ball was again visible in Panama in 2011. In Mariano Rivera's final season, the New York Yankees came to Panama to play some exhibition games during spring training. Panama stepped in as an emergency host for the 2019 Caribbean Series and its representatives, the Toros de Herrera, who took part by special invitation, won the tournament. Panama then remained a participant in the subsequent editions.
The Panamanian national team won a Silver Medal in the 2003 Baseball World Cup, the 1935 Central American and Caribbean Games, 1938 Central American and Caribbean Games and 2002 Central American and Caribbean Games. It took part in the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic, in 2006 and 2009 but failed to qualify for the next two editions.