For the second season in a row, Major League Baseball this year will start its season in a foreign land in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the league. Last year, the A’s and Mariners played a weird opening series in Japan a week before the rest of the league started regular season play, and this year, the season opens March 31 in Texas* with a game between the Astros and the Rangers.
Next year, I believe that MLB should open its season in Australia. This is not an original idea on my part. It’s something that was floating around at the end of last season, and that I haven’t seen brought up since. I don’t think we should let the idea die, because it’s a good one.
The report last year suggested that the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks might play a series at the Sydney Cricket Ground to open the 2014 season. The Dodgers are involved because Magic Johnson’s high-profile ownership group has a stake in promoting the international popularity of the game, and the Diamondbacks are the likely opponent because their mascot is a venomous pit viper and would fit right in in Australia, where everything is venemous, including the schnauzers.
If you are reading this the day it is posted, I am in Arizona attending a Spring Training game between the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners. It just so happens that the A’s have two Australian players on their roster, Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley. Some Major League Baseball teams have been kind enough to grant us one-day media credentials to Spring Training games—the Arizona Diamondbacks last year and the Colorado Rockies just two days ago (our interview with prospect Ben Paulsen is coming soon!). So I thought I’d shoot an email to A’s media person Debbie to tell her that I was working on a piece about MLB in Australia and I was going to be at the game and I’d love to talk to either of her team’s Australian players.
She wrote back, “It is our policy to NOT grant access to bloggers…. If you have any questions, let me know.” Actually, I do have a question: What’s with the “NOT” in all caps? I get the policy (bloggers are scum), but the all-caps seems kind of spiteful. Enjoy your throne, Lord of the Oakland A’s Media Credentials!
So because I did not actually have the opportunity to speak with Balfour or Blackley, I can only surmise how that conversation would have gone:
BTBNL: Why do you think Australia would be a good place for MLB to start the 2014 season?
Balfour: Hooley dooley, that would be the ridgy-didge! Oz is chockers with my baseball cobbers. I dip my lid to to those daggy blokes.
BTBNL: Thanks so much for your time, and please thank your very cordial media person for arranging this meeting.
Balfour: What a pearler! This was the fun of Cork!
(I don’t think Travis Blackley understood anything I was saying.)
Starting the 2014 MLB season in Australia would not only expose baseball at its highest level (or at least as high a level as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks can provide) to an international community with a growing interest in the sport. It would help us answer some questions about baseball science. We all know that when you flush a toilet in Australia, it spirals counter-clockwise because it’s in the southern hemisphere. (Even if that’s not actually true, we all know that it is. Don’t believe the propaganda.) How would that affect the game of baseball? Do runners round the bases in the other direction? Do curve balls spin the opposite direction? When fans don’t feel like watching the game anymore, do they do the wave counter-clockwise? This could be a learning experience for all of us.
As awkward as last year’s opening series in Japan was, I think there’s real value to Major League Baseball in gaining exposure in foreign markets. Australia is filled with enthusiastic sports fans (I wrote about my experience at an Aussie rules footy match here) and baseball already has at least a minimal presence in the country with the Australian Baseball League. And the more of a presence baseball has in Australia, the more Australian players there will be in the majors, and the less I’ll have to rely on jerks like the A’s to let me talk to one of their players.
*I’m assuming that by the time this is posted, Texas’s plans for secession will have progressed.