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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Green: Baseball out of place in Australia (March 24)

With March and all its madness and glory right now, it is easy to get caught up in the world of college basketball.

But, for those of you who did not notice, the baseball season officially kicked off Saturday, with a doubleheader between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks, which Los Angeles swept.

Though the games were played over a week before the rest of the league begins its season, the early opening day wasn’t even the strangest part of the whole ordeal.

No, that would be the game’s location — Sydney, Australia.

I understand Major League Baseball is trying to expand the boundaries of its game and bring its product to new locations. It makes sense that, since baseball is firmly settled as a popular sport in the United States, it would want to expose more people to the joys of America’s pastime.

But, of all places, Australia?

I have never traveled down under, so I admit that I do not fully know the extent to which Australians play, watch or even know about baseball. But I can tell you it’s not as great as it is in Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba or Chinese Taipei.

All these teams played in and advanced to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which Australia failed to do. Even the Netherlands — certainly not known as prime breeding grounds for MLB stars — advanced to the semifinals, where it lost to the Dominican Republic.

Granted, the World Baseball Classic is by no means the end-all-be-all of measuring baseball’s popularity in any given country or how good that country’s citizens are in the sport. If it was, surely Mexico and Venezuela would have progressed further than the first round, based on the number and quality of players who have come from those two countries.

But even if you look at both quality and quantity, it is clear that Australia is no hub for baseball.

There are currently seven active Australians in the league, and none of them are exactly superstars. The closest would be Grant Balfour of the Rays, who made an appearance in last year’s All-Star Game, but he is not a household name by any means.

In fact, only 31 Australians have ever competed in the MLB. There are way more than 31 active players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the league now, and the current numbers from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Japan and Canada are just under 31.

So, why choose to hold opening day in Australia?

Obviously, Venezuela and Mexico would not be the safest locations for a trip, the Dominican Republic has nowhere near the GDP and money to offer that Australia does and traveling to Cuba would be a whole other headache to sort out.

But Australia just does not seem to make sense.

Even some players were outspoken about their discontent with the choice of location. Dodgers starter Zack Greinke said his team had “zero excitement” to start its season in Sydney. Greinke and outfielders Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp — three of the Dodgers’ biggest names — did not make the trip because of injury or personal reasons. Or maybe they just found something better to do than sit on a 14-hour plane ride.

This would be a good experience for any person, professional athlete or not to have, traveling to a new country, bringing along members of your family, hanging out with your friends and doing it all for free — being paid to do it, in fact.

But it would still be a good experience in another country that had shown more support for your game and your league in the past.