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.
May 23, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Joey Votto made an unorthodox throw to help turn a double play against the Indians on Saturday.
May 23, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT
Brian Matusz is the second lefty reliever to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm.
May 23, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT
The Marlins were considering upgrading their bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon.
May 23, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton will be added to the Rangers’ roster on Monday.
May 23, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Paul Konerko was honored before Saturday’s Twins/White Sox game as his number 14 was retired.
May 23, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Yasmani Grandal was hit by a backswing on Friday and will spend at least a week on the bench to recuperate.
May 23, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
A pair of previously injured and aging first basemen have performed well as baseball’s second month nears its conclusion.
May 23, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
The Nationals are trying to get into the heads of the Phillies by playing soft music during batting practice at Nationals Park.
May 23, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
The Houston Astros used a 5-4-3 triple play to get out of a jam against the Tigers on Saturday.
May 23, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT
Ben Zobrist reqired arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on April 28, but he’s set to rejoin the Athletics sooner than originally anticipated.
May 23, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Here’s something you don’t see very often.
May 23, 2015, 4:13 PM EDT
Justin Verlander is ready to take the next step in his long road back from a right triceps strain.
May 23, 2015, 3:01 PM EDT
Wright has been sidelined since April 14 and he’s not close to rejoining the Mets.
May 23, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
Mesoraco has been dealing with a hip injury all season and surgery could be next.
May 23, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
Tanner Roark posted a 2.85 ERA across 31 starts last season, but the Nationals moved him to the bullpen after signing Max Scherzer to a huge contract over the winter. That depth is coming in handy now that Doug Fister is sidelined.
May 23, 2015, 12:59 PM EDT
Cueto has been bothered by “general stiffness” dating back to his last start on Tuesday.
May 23, 2015, 11:43 AM EDT
Things are really ugly with the Marlins right now, both on and off the field.
May 23, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
The Dodgers knew about Ryu’s labrum tear before signing him to a six-year, $36 million contract in December of 2012.
May 23, 2015, 10:29 AM EDT
Miranda, 25, pitched in Cuba’s Serie Nacional from 2007-2013 and posted a 3.78 ERA over 64 starts and 16 relief appearances
May 23, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
The Marlins have lost eight games in a row and are now 0-5 under new manager Dan Jennings, but at least Dee Gordon is doing some cool things.
- Brian Matusz was ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm 8
- Josh Hamilton will join the Rangers on Monday 4
- UPDATE: David Wright diagnosed with spinal stenosis 14
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 39
- Video: Mike Trout makes a ridiculous slide to beat the tag at third base 14
- Cuba’s best pitching prospect is on his way to America 21
- Will Smith suspended for eight games for the foreign substance on his arm 62
- Will Smith’s ejection once again shows baseball’s silly approach to foreign substance rules 49
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (133)
- Bryce Harper on Marvin Hudson ejection: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump” (131)
- Bryce Harper ejected for second time in a week (122)
- GM Dan Jennings to be named the Marlins new manager. And it’s a terrible idea. (111)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)