Skip to content

Why is the baseball season starting in Australia?

Mar 21, 2014, 7:59 AM EST

Sydney Cricket Ground Getty Images

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.

Why?

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Indians will consider extending Corey Kluber

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:15 PM EST

    Corey Kluber Corey Kluber

    Corey Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award for his great 2014 season and now the Indians will have to consider whether or not they want to sign him to a contract extension.

  2. Brewers GM Doug Melvin not looking to replace Yovani Gallardo

    Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST

    Jimmy Nelson Jimmy Nelson

    With Yovani Gallardo out of the picture, Brewers GM Doug Melvin said he’s not looking to add a notable starting pitcher.

  3. Alex Meyer willing to pitch out of the bullpen for the Twins

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:30 PM EST

    Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays Getty Images

    Twins prospect Alex Meyer is open to contributing out of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in spring training.

  4. Mariners sign Endy Chavez to a minor league deal

    Jan 25, 2015, 8:20 PM EST

    Endy Chavez Endy Chavez

    The Mariners added some outfield depth, signing Endy Chavez to a minor league deal. They’re reportedly close to signing Franklin Gutierrez as well.

  5. Brewers now interested in bringing back Francisco Rodriguez

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:10 PM EST

    Francisco Rodriguez AP AP

    With Jonathan Papelbon likely staying in Philadelphia, the Brewers are turning their attention back to Francisco Rodriguez.

  6. How Commissioner Rob Manfred Can Make Baseball More Appealing

    Jan 25, 2015, 6:05 PM EST

    Rob Manfred Rob Manfred

    Rob Manfred’s suggestion to ban defensive shifting isn’t the best way to address some of the problems facing Major League Baseball.

  7. Rangers doubtful to consider Josh Hamilton reunion

    Jan 25, 2015, 4:41 PM EST

    josh hamilton getty Getty Images

    MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez wrote earlier this month that it’s unlikely Josh Hamilton will finish out his five-year, $125 million contract as a member of the Angels and that a trade may even be coming this season — in the third year of the five-year deal. But we can probably rule out a reunion with the Rangers.

  8. Mike Napoli calls sleep apnea surgery “one of the worst things I’ve ever (gone through)”

    Jan 25, 2015, 3:17 PM EST

    napoli getty Getty Images

    Sean McAdam of CSNNewEngland.com shares the gory details about the painful facial surgery that Mike Napoli had earlier this offseason to help end his long battle with sleep apnea …

  9. Max Scherzer thanks Tigers fans with full-page goodbye in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:58 PM EST

    1ad

    A nice gesture here from Max Scherzer, who signed a $210 million deal Monday with the Nationals …

  10. Blue Jays cut off talks for Orioles executive Dan Duquette

    Jan 25, 2015, 1:33 PM EST

    showalter duquette getty Getty Images

    Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Blue Jays have ended their pursuit of Orioles executive Dan Duquette because Baltimore asked for 2014 first-round pick Jeff Hoffman and two other prospects in return.

  11. Rob Manfred, new Major League Baseball commissioner, suggests ban on defensive shifts

    Jan 25, 2015, 12:05 PM EST

    manfred getty Getty Images

    Rob Manfred has officially been reigned in as the new commissioner of Major League Baseball and he said something controversial in a sit-down interview this weekend with ESPN’s Karl Ravech …

  12. Yankees reject A-Rod’s apology attempt

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:02 AM EST

    alex rodriguez head Getty Images

    Another New York Daily News source added that A-Rod is looking “noticeably thinner and massless,” so you get the sense these bits of information — however truthful — definitely aren’t coming from his camp.

  13. Video: Ernie Banks remembered

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:39 AM EST

    ernie banks getty Getty Images

    MLB Network looks back on the career of Ernie Banks, who died Friday at the age of 83 …

  14. Tommy Milone had a benign tumor removed from his neck

    Jan 24, 2015, 10:40 PM EST

    Tommy Milone Tommy Milone

    Tommy Milone underwent neck surgery in December to remove a benign tumor, but he was able to resume throwing just over two weeks later.

  15. Twins GM Terry Ryan could see Byron Buxton debuting in 2015

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:35 PM EST

    Byron Buxton Getty Images

    Top prospect Byron Buxton could be wearing a Twins uniform in the major leagues at some point this season according to GM Terry Ryan.

  16. Tigers, Al Alburquerque avoid arbitration with a one-year deal

    Jan 24, 2015, 8:30 PM EST

    Al Alburquerque AP

    The Tigers and reliever Al Alburquerque avoided arbitration with a one-year deal on Saturday.

  17. Proposed Jonathan Papelbon trade to Brewers is “on life support”

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:25 PM EST

    Jonathan Papelbon Jonathan Papelbon

    A Jonathan Papelbon trade to the Brewers may not be happening after all.

  18. Mariners considering bringing back Franklin Gutierrez

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:20 PM EST

    Franklin Gutierrez Getty Images

    Franklin Gutierrez could make a return to the Mariners. The 31-year-old outfielder has had trouble staying healthy over the last few years.

  19. Twins and Brian Duensing agree to one-year deal to avoid arbitration

    Jan 24, 2015, 5:28 PM EST

    Brian Duensing Getty Getty Images

    Duensing he has been useful and durable as a middle reliever over the past two seasons, posting a 3.67 ERA (110 ERA+) in 115 1/3 innings over 135 appearances.

  20. Report: Brandon Beachy has decided on a team

    Jan 24, 2015, 4:53 PM EST

    Brandon Beachy AP

    Beachy is currently making his way back from his second Tommy John surgery.

Featured video

Cubs shore up rotation with Jon Lester
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. R. Vogelsong (6033)
  2. J. Shields (5402)
  3. I. Suzuki (4566)
  4. M. Scherzer (4286)
  5. D. Fowler (4029)
  1. J. Gomes (3699)
  2. J. Papelbon (3577)
  3. Y. Gallardo (3537)
  4. J. Santana (3523)
  5. J. Profar (3437)