Baseball officials consider Europe for in-season games
Sunday, March 16
MEXICO CITY -- Baseball goes with apple pie -- and next year, maybe with pasta or brie.
The commissioner's office has started discussing a plan to move regular-season games to Europe in July 2004.
Italy, France, the Netherlands and England are among the candidates, according to Paul Archey, a senior vice president of Major League Baseball International.
"That's the next big frontier: Europe,'' Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green said Sunday. "It's really an untapped resource.''
Baseball has been aggressively expanding its presence outside the United States and Canada, playing season openers in Monterrey, Mexico (1999), Tokyo (2000 and this year) and San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001). The Montreal Expos will play 22 "home'' games this season in San Juan.
Looking ahead, baseball already is considering having the New York Yankees and Hideki Matsui play their 2004 opener in Japan, with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore among the possibilities for the opponent.
Planning for Europe is in the early stages. Commissioner Bud Selig has not yet given the go-ahead, although he's excited about the possibilities of taking the game all over the world.
"We need to do more of it and we need to do more of it on a regular basis,'' Selig said in Phoenix. "We're going to step up the internationalization of the game and go a lot of places. We have a lot of clubs anxious to go wherever we're going.''
Archey said a date just before the All-Star break would work best, with just after the break a possibility. Moving games to Europe at the start of the season would be difficult because of concerns about cold weather and rain.
"Italy is probably the front-runner because they have one of the strongest fan bases and they have facilities,'' Archey said.
Ballparks are available in Florence and Palermo, and a soccer stadium in Rome could be converted to baseball, according to Archey. In France, he said a new ballpark is under construction outside Paris, but it might not be ready in time.
A cricket or soccer ground could be converted in England, but the possibility of rainouts is a negative factor. The Netherlands hosts a big baseball tournament each summer in Haarlem.
"I could make the case that we need to play regular-season games in Europe, and there are markets that are sophisticated enough to distinguish between regular-season and spring-training games,'' said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president in the commissioner's office.
Most players seem to like the idea of expanding baseball internationally. Several Mets and Dodgers at this weekend's two-game exhibition series in Mexico said that while the extra travel was a hassle, it was worth the effort just because of the excitement they saw among Mexican fans.
And Italy and France are always popular tourist destinations.
"I'd definitely be in favor of it,'' Yankees slugger Jason Giambi said. "I've never been over to Italy, but my family is from there. I'd like to see it. I'm not sure they're as fanatic about baseball in Europe as they are in Japan and other places, so maybe this would be a way to expand it.''
"This could jump-start it, I guess,'' teammate Derek Jeter said. "It'd be like a West Coast trip for us. It'd be all right.''
Others would view the trip as an unnecessary interruption to a season already filled with many long flights.
"You shouldn't make it mandatory, not in the middle of the season,'' Houston Astros All-Star Lance Berkman said. "It's a long way to go, and it would disrupt the rhythm of the players who did it.
"Look at NFL Europe -- they don't exactly embrace football over there. The fans there have soccer, tennis, other sports, and that's great. I'm not sure that what baseball would get out of it from a public-relations standpoint is worth the harm you'd do to the players who had to make the trip.''
That, however, appears to be a minority view.
"Baseball is becoming an international sport. Anything they do to help the game grow is good,'' Arizona's Steve Finley said. "Part of major league baseball's job is to grow the game, to get baseball more popular around the world. Look at the Japan (All-Star) tour and what that's done for the relationship between the two leagues. Players are crossing over leagues now.''