Mar 21, 2014, 7:59 AM EST
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.
Feb 28, 2015, 11:05 AM EST
That’s a new one.
Feb 28, 2015, 10:02 AM EST
Hill, who turns 35 next month, bounced around three different organizations last year and mostly pitched in the minors.
Feb 28, 2015, 8:57 AM EST
It will be his first game action since last July 31.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:04 PM EST
The Rangers will shut down Edgar Olmos days after picking him up on a waiver claim from the Mariners.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:55 PM EST
Eury Perez is the early favorite to take over in center field while Melvin Upton recovers from a foot injury.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
New Twins manager Paul Molitor cracked down on electronics usage in his first address to the full squad at spring training.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EST
Ryan Howard had his first full healthy season since 2011 and both GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and guest instructor Dan Plesac thought he looked like he was in very good shape.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:20 PM EST
Two more suitors enter the Dayan Viciedo sweepstakes.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Michael Saunders will return to the Blue Jays a lot sooner than anticipated.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
For the second time this offseason, the Athletics have claimed Alex Hassan off waivers.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:36 PM EST
Chris Davis will get some work in the outfield this spring. He hasn’t played there since 2012.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark will be keeping a close eye on how the Cubs handle the eventual promotion of prospect Kris Bryant.
Feb 27, 2015, 5:10 PM EST
It’s been a long week.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:51 PM EST
Note: they’re not fans of this particular bit of product placement.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:35 PM EST
Lowe pitched for the Red Sox from 1997-2004.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
New name, same luck.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:27 PM EST
Except, of course, when he does.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EST
Pierre was a singles-hitting, base-stealing machine.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:19 AM EST
If he’s called up to the majors Santana will get $2.5 million in guaranteed money.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
When he’s done he’ll have played 18 years in the bigs and will be pushing 400 homers.
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 31
- Francisco Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers 9
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended 286
- Pirates open to massive extension for Andrew McCutchen 18
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” 86
- Yankees don’t plan on having to pay A-Rod’s $30 million in home run milestone bonuses 51
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks 131
- Rob Manfred says a return to a 154-game season could happen one day 67
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (287)
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks (131)
- Report: The Yankees were “fuming” at how A-Rod handled his early arrival to spring training (114)
- Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada reportedly signs with the Red Sox for $31.5 million, plus $31.5 million in penalties (106)
- Brian Sabean says that California taxes are a hindrance to the Giants signing free agents (102)