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 1, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Johnny Cueto is due to become a free agent five days after the 2015 World Series and he has said that he will not allow in-season extension negotiations. So the countdown clock is on in Cincinnati’s front office, and it sure looks like time is going to run out.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:28 PM EDT
As noted by CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes, White Sox left-hander Chris Sale struck out 13 batters over six-plus innings of one-run ball Wednesday in a game against a group of Reds minor leaguers.
Apr 1, 2015, 8:34 PM EDT
Petit batted .278/.300/.423 with eight doubles and two home runs in 100 plate appearances last season for the Astros. He wasn’t going to make their Opening Day roster this spring, but the versatile 30-year-old infielder could be of immediate use to the Yankees …
Apr 1, 2015, 7:41 PM EDT
As first reported by Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez will undergo Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on Thursday morning.
Apr 1, 2015, 7:07 PM EDT
Martinez wraps up the spring with a 2.86 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 innings. He was officially named the Cardinals’ fifth starter on Monday …
Apr 1, 2015, 6:12 PM EDT
Tigers setup man Bruce Rondon was supposed to make an appearance in Wednesday’s Cactus League game against the Padres, but he woke up with a sore shoulder and couldn’t shake the discomfort during pregame stretching.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Jenna and I continue to preview the divisions. Next up: the NL East.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT
Matuella started six games this season, throwing 25 innings with a 1.08 ERA and 24 strikeouts.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
With a new GM and questions surrounding the futures of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, where are the Rockies headed?
Apr 1, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Allen Craig hit one today. Yawn.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:03 PM EDT
Now you all will know when it is time to “MAKE SOME NOISE!!!!!!”
Apr 1, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Are we there yet?
Apr 1, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Verlander has never been on the disabled list in his 10-year career.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
The Phillies are going to be bad in 2015. But just how bad?
Apr 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Philadelphia’s pitching staff isn’t exactly stacked, but Gonzalez blew his chance to make the team by allowing 12 runs in 14 spring training innings.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Rendon injured the knee on March 9.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
The Mets are locking up one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
If he crushes Triple-A pitching he’ll be back soon enough.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
And it’s as random as it usually is.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Miami gave up left-hander Brian Flynn and minor leaguer Reid Redman to get Crow from Kansas City.
- Christian Vazquez to undergo Tommy John surgery 9
- 2015 Preview: Colorado Rockies 4
- 2015 Preview: Minnesota Twins 18
- 2015 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies 30
- 2015 Preview: Cincinnati Reds 47
- The average Major League Baseball salary this year will be more than $4 million — a record 22
- 2015 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays 21
- The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well 70
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (122)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (118)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (91)
- The MLBPA releases a statement on Kris Bryant, mentions possible litigation (90)
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? (88)