Mar 21, 2014, 7:59 AM EDT
Baseball has long dispensed with the Cincinnati Reds getting the first game of the season at home. I’m generally OK with this. People in Cincinnati complain about it all the time because they claim status as the oldest baseball franchise and thus feel entitled to the first game each year, but the fact is (a) the current Braves franchise has way more of a claim to being the oldest franchise, not the Reds; and (b) how does the fact that baseball has been played elsewhere earlier detract from Opening Day festivities if you’re on the ground in Cincinnati enjoying things? You still get your parade and your day baseball and your soupy chili, so don’t worry about it.
But the Opening Day grumpiness has spread beyond Cincinnati as baseball has eschewed an American Opening Day more and more in recent years. In 1999 the Rockies and Padres met in Monterrey, Mexico to kick things off. The season began in Puerto Rico in 2001. It kicked off in Japan in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Now, it begins in Australia, with the Dodgers facing the Diamondbacks at 4AM Eastern time tomorrow morning.
Baseball’s answer is that it wishes to globalize the sport. Here’s Bud Selig in the press release announcing the Australia series last year:
“The globalization of our game continues to be paramount to Major League Baseball, and Australia is an essential part of our long-term efforts to grow the sport.”
Likewise, late MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said that the players “view this series as an important step in furthering their commitment to help increase the global popularity of baseball.”
Popularity and globalization can mean a couple of different, albeit related things. On the one hand there is popularity of the sport within the country. Getting the Australians to like baseball more and play baseball more. To develop little leagues and prep leagues and the like. To boost the importance and quality of Australia’s (already respectable) national team for the WBC and, perhaps one day, the Olympics if baseball is restored as an event. To help support the Australian Baseball League, Australian Baseball Federation and MLB Australian Academy Program. This is the stuff we hear a lot about in connection with this series.
Of course, it’s probably worth noting that the Australians have done quite an excellent job of growing the sport in their country already. Its little league participation is large, trailing only the United States, Canada and Mexico, and recently began competing in the Little League World Series. It has produced multiple major leaguers in recent years, including Grant Balfour, Dave Nilsson, Peter Moylan and Graeme Lloyd. In 2004 Australia won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics.
Given that strong foundation, it’s wrong to think of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks coming to to Australia as some sort of “let’s show Australians what baseball is all about” thing. And it’s certainly wrong to say that Major League Baseball’s trip to Sydney is some silly “The Gods Must Be Crazy” exercise in playing baseball where it isn’t understood, wanted or loved. Australians aren’t baseball fanatics like the Japanese, but there is already considerable knowledge and appreciation for the sport there.
Which leads to the second, less-publicized aspect of Major League Baseball’s visit to Australia: marketing. I don’t think it’s some dirty secret nor do I think anyone associated with Major League Baseball would deny it if asked point blank, but along with growing Australia’s appreciation of baseball, a clear co-motivation for this series is to grow Major League Baseball’s brand in Australia. To give Australian fans a glimpse of baseball played at a significantly higher level than they’re used to seeing and maybe whet their appetites for the MLB product. Maybe it leads to a fledgling broadcasting deal there? Maybe it sells a bunch of Diamondbacks and Dodgers caps? Maybe it sells some MLB.tv subscriptions? Again: nothing wrong with that at all, and not anything I think anyone is hiding or ashamed of. It’s in Major League Baseball’s interests to grow its brand and this presents a good opportunity to do that.
Ultimately, it’s only two games. And ultimately U.S. fans will think of their own team’s Opening Day as the beginning of the baseball season. Even Dodgers and Dbacks fans will likely become more engaged once their teams are back in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The stuff going on tomorrow and Sunday in Sydney will be forgotten here. Which is fine, because it’s not for us. It’s for the Australians and the league.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT
The Reds are expected to be sellers, but GM Walt Jocketty said Thursday that third baseman Todd Frazier isn’t going anywhere.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:23 PM EDT
After pitching into the seventh inning in his major league debut against the Rangers last Saturday, Blue Jays left-hander Matt Boyd failed to record an out in his start tonight against the Red Sox.
Jul 2, 2015, 8:26 PM EDT
Freeman hopes to return right after the All-Star break, but he acknowledges that it’s a “best-case scenario.”
Jul 2, 2015, 7:28 PM EDT
Bradley has been out for a month with right shoulder tendinitis.
Jul 2, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Jay has already had one stint on the disabled list this season due to his nagging wrist injury.
Jul 2, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
No, that’s not how the law works.
Jul 2, 2015, 5:02 PM EDT
Cahill was designated for assignment by the Braves earlier this month after allowing 23 runs in 26 innings.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT
The director, Chris Correa, has admitted to hacking into the Astros system.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT
He still has to serve a 50-game suspension for a “drug of abuse.”
Jul 2, 2015, 3:49 PM EDT
Shawn Tolleson has grabbed hold of ninth-inning duties.
Jul 2, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
He fractured his wrist last night as a result of an Edinson Volquez fastball.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Not a bad return following Tommy John surgery.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Chris Taylor replaces him on the roster.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
The dreaded plantar fasciitis.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:12 PM EDT
It was for sale before he even resigned.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Basically you just need to follow Jesse Sanchez and Ben Badler, so here are the links you need to do that.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
I hear his [pitch] is nasty.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
And place Tim Lincecum on the disabled list.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
How YOU doin’?
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- Bryce Harper is naked in ESPN’s “Body Issue” 54
- Today is the day: Marlins ace Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery 4
- A-Rod, the Yankees and the union in talks to direct his $6 million home run bonus to charity 29
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 51
- Video: Joey Butler breaks up Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning 12
- Bill Stoneman taking over as Angels’ interim GM 17
- Jerry Dipoto loses power struggle with Mike Scioscia, steps down as Angels general manager 39
- With the same-sex marriage decision, the San Francisco Giants get another big win (276)
- Settling the Scores: Sunday’s results (99)
- Report: Jerry Dipoto “definitely out” as Angels GM (77)
- What Yasiel Puig being a pain in the butt means. And what it doesn’t mean. (77)
- There was a super ump show in Chicago yesterday (75)