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.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:35 PM EDT
The Dodgers made a couple of moves to make room for reliever Sergio Santos, called up on Friday.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Hisashi Iwakuma is dealing with a strained right lat muscle.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
The Mets have lost for the first time since April 11.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
Michael Saunders should be activated from the disabled list by the Blue Jays on Saturday.
Apr 24, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
Wandy Rodriguez is starting on Friday night against the Angels.
Apr 24, 2015, 7:27 PM EDT
Hamilton’s return to Texas is the best-case scenario
Apr 24, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Mets reliever Bobby Parnell won’t throw for a week as he experienced forearm tightness during his Tommy John rehab.
Apr 24, 2015, 5:55 PM EDT
The Angels and Josh Hamilton are reportedly parting ways.
Apr 24, 2015, 5:09 PM EDT
Bonus of Tommy John rehab: more time to study for your naturalization test.
Apr 24, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
To be fair, the guy was being a jackwagon.
Rob Manfred was asked again about the leaks in the Josh Hamilton case. His answers weren’t much better.
Apr 24, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Two weeks ago he said there would be no investigation. No he says the league has “tried mightily” to figure out the leaks. Really?
Apr 24, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Yelich, who agreed to a seven-year, $49 million contract this spring, was off to a slow start by hitting .200 with zero homers and a .488 OPS through 11 games.
Apr 24, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
A-Rod’s habit of destroying narratives explains an awful lot about why reporters have developed a habit of destroying A-Rod.
Apr 24, 2015, 2:49 PM EDT
That leaves Everth Cabrera and Jimmy Paredes as the Orioles’ double-play duo.
Apr 24, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
“Too spongy, slow and lots of untrue hops”
Apr 24, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Papelbon’s exclusive interview with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT
But even if it’s successful, it may not do what he wants it to do.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Allen Dykstra, who filled in for Loney at first base, is headed back to Triple-A.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Parker has been aiming at an early June return to the A’s.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
“That guy I despise got the benefit of the legal process! What a bunch of bull!”
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- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 114
- The Royals and White Sox had a benches-clearing fracas, five players ejected 155
- Bartolo Colon picks off a baserunner. By running him down all by himself. 54
- Pete Rose will be allowed to participate in All-Star Game festivities 69
- Career over? Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery 31
- Contact and controversy in the ninth inning of last night’s Dodgers-Giants game 54
- The early leaders in MLB’s “Franchise Four” thing have been announced (166)
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- Jose Bautista and the Orioles exchanged some words last night (117)
- Joe Buck has a truly awful suggestion about how to improve MLB broadcasts (115)