Rumors around Major League Baseball note that MLB is eyeing either a New York Mets/Washington Nationals or St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs series to be played in London in 2020. The 2019 series this year features the historic rivalry of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for two games in June. These are coming at the cost of two home games at Fenway Park. Now, with the idea of another series in 2020 being possible, the question is, why stop at London?
Major League Baseball has done a wonderful job expanding their outreach into foreign countries. There have been baseball series played in Australia, Japan, Cuba and Mexico, among others. The Athletics and the Mariners are flying to Tokyo to play in 2 games in Japan at the Tokyo Dome. The 2004 Montreal Expos played a ton of games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Those games in San Juan performed well. However, wash/rinse/repeat gets rather boring, rather quickly.
MLB needs to start looking at other countries to invest the expansion of baseball. While this is not as easy as it sounds due to visas, passports and other bureaucratic restrictions that foreign countries place, the United States has enough partners to be of help. One big country that should be considered immediately is South Africa. Enough people from the United States have ancestors or descendants from South Africa that it just might take off. With some changes, Cape Town’s Cape Town Stadium would be a similar derivative to London Stadium. Gift Ngoepe would be a headliner for fans to see this cross-ocean special.
Olympiastadion Berlin hosted baseball during the 1936 Summer Olympics. That game had over 100,000 in attendance, one of the largest for a baseball game ever in the world. The current field size is smaller than London Stadium at Olympiastadion, but that can be fixed with some changes. Olympiastadion also is historic, being home to Jesse Owens’ famous triumph. What better way to mix American history and patriotism than baseball and Jesse Owens? The city of Berlin already has, since Jesse Owens Alley exists in his honor.
Most importantly, baseball needs to look at third world countries where the sport of baseball would get more people interested. The number one choice for a series would be Haiti. However, MLB might have problems sending their players to a country where their safety might be in jeopardy. Now, this writer thinks that should not be an issue in the name of fundraising and expanding the idea of baseball in the country. The neighboring Dominican Republic has many baseball stars. Haiti is near zero, and there is a wonderful piece by Bruce Schoenfeld at ESPN on why. Isabelle Paillion wrote an article in July 2018 in the Haiti Liberte about why baseball should come to Haiti.
The poorest country by gross national income is the small island nation of Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor). However, even FC Zebra, does not play in adequate facilities, thus a baseball game would not work. Baucau Municipal Stadium only has capacity for 4,000 people. While it would be a great place for a good offseason mission trip, there is no way this would work for a full game series.
Another interesting option that should be considered is Montevideo, Uruguay. Montevideo has two huge soccer stadiums that could both serve baseball facilities. The first is Gran Parque Central, which has been home to the Uruguay football team since 1900. The stadium seats 32,000 downtown and is a thriving community around it. The other is Centennial Stadium, which has 60,000 in seating, but the same field size. However, the latter is a demolition threat for redevelopment for the 2030 World Cup, meaning you would have to use Gran Parque Central.
Regardless of where it is held, baseball needs to not play in London in 2020. They need to expand their reach even further. There are children who would love to see baseball being played around the world. Reaching the same old countries is a tired act.
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