Major League Baseball opened up regular season play with a two-game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney, Australia this past weekend. The groundbreaking event was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which was outfitted to function as a baseball field. The Dodgers took both games by scores of 3-1 and 7-5.
In years past, the MLB has held opening series in Japan in an attempt to expand the game’s influence abroad. Such series are usually held a few days before the actual season as to not interrupt the flow of spring training. However, this season, the games were scheduled close to a week before opening day in the United States. Essentially, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers had to uproot their preseason program in order to act as ambassadors for the game.
Whether or not this is a good change or not depends on a couple of factors. First and foremost, has baseball made a name for itself in the Australian market by playing these games? Early returns would say yes. Each game drew about 40,000 fans. Even foul balls, which are traditionally a boring part of the game, were applauded by the local fans, as they could be kept as keepsakes.
The players and coaches who made the trip also had a great time.
“Just getting to leave the country and see how other people across the world live is pretty cool, and the fact that we get to sightsee and play baseball at the same time, check out some good restaurants, all in all it makes it a great trip,” Diamondbacks third baseman Eric Chavez told MLB.com.
“It’s been worth it,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told the website. “At the end of the day, it’s something you won’t forget.”
Major League Baseball definitely thinks that this system of global outreach can work. But at what cost? Regardless of the financial merits of the project, the commissioner’s office has to determine the effects of such a schedule on the players. Now that both teams are returning to the United States in advance of opening day, officials have to monitor how both of these teams perform throughout the season.
The point of spring training is to put players in shape so they can avoid injury and perform at a high level from day one. If either of these teams experiences a rash of injuries, look for the lack of preparation to get a lion-share of the blame. The chance of this was definitely part of the concern for Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke when talking to ESPN Los Angeles in February.
“I would say that there is absolutely zero excitement for it,” he said, referring to the trip. “I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.”
While Greinke may have been a bit hyperbolic, his point still stands. He’s worried about the big picture, as are many players and coaches.
Although the games in Australia are good for the expansion of the game on a global scale, the safety of the players has to be taken into consideration. After all, this is their livelihood. One misstep and it could all be taken away.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 24 print edition. Chris Marcotrigiano is deputy sports editor. Email him at email@example.com.