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MLB aims to continue dazzling around globe

Updated: 2014-03-25 07:23
By Reuters in Sydney ( China Daily)

There can be little doubt Major League Baseball hit a home run with its first visit to Australia in a century, as nearly 80,000 fans swarmed to the Sydney Cricket Ground over the weekend to get a taste of America's national game.

But as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks started the long journey back to the US, there was little certainty about what had been left behind beyond the thousands of hot dog wrappers and discarded nachos plates.

Memories certainly for those lucky enough to be able to afford tickets - Australia's reputation as a sports mad country is not exaggerated and the chance to see some of the finest athletes in the world up close was never going to be passed up.

How much impact it will have on the popularity of Down Under baseball in the long term, however, remains a moot point.

The previous six overseas opening series were played in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Japan, countries already boasting well-established baseball cultures.

While Australia's connection with the sport goes back to the tour that sporting goods mogul Albert Spalding organized in 1888, the domestic MLB-owned league is very much a minor player in the country's fiercely competitive sports market.

So much so, in fact, that for the week the SCG was magnificently transformed into a ballpark, it was the only baseball stadium in Australia's biggest city.

"I hope that it leaves a legacy and part of that legacy is a growth in participation," said Craig Shipley, an Australian-born former major league player now on the Diamondbacks staff.

"I hope the growth in participation leads to a better playing pool and we have a great need for a baseball-specific facility.

"Not a 50,000-seat stadium, just a boutique stadium where the people of Australia can go to to see how baseball is best viewed.

"If those two things can come out of this, that would be great."

While the series might have provided inspiration for some Australian youngsters to eschew the cricket bat or rugby ball and pick up a baseball glove as Shipley did, a ballpark could be longer in coming.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig responded with few specifics when asked what the league was going to do to leverage the interest stoked by the series.

"We own the league here, we have done a lot of things," he said. "We have got to work hard with the people here ... we really need to continue to work really hard to build baseball.

"We have spent a lot of money, are happy to do that and will continue to do that."

The 79-year-old went on to suggest that while Australia would not have to wait 100 years for another visit, Europe was the most likely destination for the next overseas series.

"I want to play some regular season games in Europe," Selig said.

"But we are going to examine all possibilities. The nice part of all of this is we are now getting overtures, really good ones, from all over the world."

Australia's overtures cost the state of New South Wales a reported A$13 million ($11.82 million) and in return Sydney received a sporting contest of genuine international stature.

(China Daily 03/25/2014 page23)