Baseball is at home in the United States and always has been. Either through playing little league growing up, gathering around a TV to watch World Series, or watching the game live with a hotdog in hand, baseball finds its way into the lives of every American. Loyal fan base, love for the game, and this intricate connection with American culture make it seem impossible for baseball to become as bit of a hit anywhere else in the world. While baseball has become popular all around the world and Major League Baseball (MLB) has signed players from Japan, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and many other countries, baseball has failed to take hold anywhere else as it has in the U.S. But this may just change as the MLB aims its sights beyond the homeland.
The MLB has recruited and signed players from outside of the U.S. starting in the late 19th century and has since only increased this number. The Dominican Republic has been one of the biggest producers of successful players that have gone on to be seen almost as prized possessions by MLB teams. Baseball has in many ways become an integral part of life in the Dominican Republic and young boys fantasize about being signed by big shot MLB teams when they reach the golden age of sixteen. While at first glance it appears that the Dominican Republic may be on the road to taking Baseball as an integral part of their culture as the U.S. has, the reality is very different.
While the baseball is an integral part of Dominican culture, as Alan Klein describes in his book Sugarball, baseball is just the cover of the unhealthy cycle of dependence on the U.S. Boys often drop out of school early to start pursing a career in baseball, but not in their own country. Baseball is seen as a way out of poverty for many Dominicans or at least a more advantageous career path. A recent study done by Dr. Carrie A Meyer, associate professor of economics at George Mason University, found that the combined salary of Dominican baseball players in the MLB (roughly $292 million) was double the size of the countries profits from sugar exports. Baseball in this way has been seen as a dream career path, rather than a commodity to the community. While it seems as though baseball isn’t going to secure the same sort of cultural hold on the Dominican Republic, as is the case in the U.S., we might just have to keep a look out for our neighbors down under.
This weekend the Sydney Cricket Ground, having undergone a $2 million transformation into baseball ground, will house two exhibition games as well as a two-game season opener for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Lost Angeles Dodgers. The MLB has recruited many players from Australia over the years and with this recruitment popularity of baseball in Australia has risen steadily. Australia may just be the first stop for the MLB. Stan Kasten, Dodger’s president, has states that his club is “committed to growing the game of baseball internationally” and is eager to start the season in “one of the greatest cities in the world.” MLB Australian player Ryan Rowland-Smith said, “I’m just really hoping this will be a big thing in Australia and the reviews are good afterwards” in regards to this weekends games. MLB Australian player Ryan Rowland-Smith said, “I’m just really hoping this will be a big thing in Australia and the reviews are good afterwards” in regards to this weekends games.
While there seems to be general excitement in the air over the games in Australia, some feel the opening should be held in the U.S. The biggest criticism is the time difference. Not only does the time difference disrupt players, but it also inhibits fans back home from watching the game at a normal time. Opening games this weekend are set to air at 4:00 am Eastern time. This forces fans to either get up at this odd hour or miss their teams opening game. It will be interesting to see how future international locations of opening games will affect fan base both internationally as well as in the U.S.