The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks opened the Major League Baseball season last Saturday and Sunday with two games in Sydney, Australia. The season opener for the two teams was part of an initiative the MLB has been working on over the years in order to spread the popularity of baseball all over the globe and essentially, bring in more talent to professional baseball as well as more money. Other than these openers abroad, which have been around since 1999 when the Rockies played the Padres in Monterrey, Mexico, the MLB has been pushing the World Baseball Classic and negotiating deals with Japan on posting regulations all in the name of global popularity for the MLB.
These efforts have great intentions and I firmly support the idea that a more global game is a better game when it comes to baseball. The MLB touts its championship series as the World Series because back when the World Series originally began, no other countries had the organized leagues or organized talent to compete on that level. By promoting baseball abroad, the MLB is working toward possibly one day actually achieving what would truly be a “World Series,” with the best teams from countries in each corner of the map coming together to play ball. Admittedly, that is still quite a ways away when taking into consideration how rules of play and league regulations would be consolidated into one global game, but it is a constructive goal to work toward.
That being said, despite the fact that a considerably strong push must be implemented in order to really further the games popularity in countries without comparable baseball leagues, Opening Day should remain in the United States. I know that the MLB can bring in loads of revenue by holding an Opening Day abroad, then back in the United States, and then again at the visiting team’s home the next game, but there is something very special in being able to attend the first game of your team’s season. Watching the very first pitch of what could possibly be the year they win it all holds a lot of value for fans. Forcing fans to get up at the crack of dawn to watch their team play on a cricket field on another continent is just a bit too ridiculous.
In arguing about this with some of our other sportswriters, it was brought up that since the baseball regular season is 162 games long, why should it be a big deal if there is just one game held abroad? To that I say, it is no big deal at all, as long as its not the first or last game of the regular season. Excepting the Toronto Blue Jays, these teams are American. Their fan bases are for the most part American. And those fans should be the ones to see their hometown team kick off a fresh season. I don’t really see why, since there are so many games in each season, the MLB can’t send some of our teams over to Australia, Japan, or other foreign locations to help entice new fans to become interested in baseball. The fact that it is the first game of the MLB season definitely does not mean as much to the fans at the abroad location as it does for the fans back home and the MLB needs to value the interests of the hometown fans above any others.
In a regular year, when all teams start their seasons in the United States, only half of them get to make their debut at home. Which prompts the response, why does it matter if they start abroad since it is very possible that they won’t start at home in the United States anyway? Another understandable argument, but again, let’s think about the team’s fans. One set of fans inevitably draws the short stick and has to watch their team play at their oppositions home, which is less than ideal, and the other set gets the lucky draw and can watch the true season opener. Why should the MLB take away that opportunity for both sides? It can continue the exciting and stimulating idea of having American teams play in countries that don’t ever get to see that level of baseball competition by having these games later in the season.
The experience for American fans is important, but the concerns of the players must also be heavily considered in these cases. The MLB has its commercial interests that they cannot deny and must attend to, which forces it to look past the best interest of the players at times, but maybe, just maybe, in this case the MLB could put a little more thought into how the players might feel about these excursions. Taking a 14 hour flight down to Australia and playing a game in front of a bunch of fans who are unfamiliar with the team doesn’t sound like how I would like to start my season. Dodger starting pitcher Zack Greinke summed it up just concisely enough when he said, “I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it. There just isn’t any excitement to it. I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.”
Yes, the idea to have games abroad is appealing and so is the ultimate attempt the MLB is making to internationalize the game is appealing as well, but taking Opening Day away from true fans is not the way to go. The MLB should listen to its core fans, it should listen to its players, and it should nix the season openers abroad. There are a wealth of other times and opportunities to hold games in Japan, Australia, Europe, and wherever else interest for the game exists. Keep with tradition and keep Opening Day the American semi-holiday it has become.
Photo: Adam Sonnett/Flickr