Australia, while not on the level of Japan, does love it some baseball. The history of the sport there dates back to the 1850s, and the domestic Australian Baseball League is profitable for the first time ever—thanks in part to funding from MLB. The ABL is increasingly becoming a legitimate winter league for American minor leaguers, and there are currently nine Australian players in MLB, an all-time high.
So it's only logical that MLB, seeking another international foothold in its global marketing scheme, would look Down Under. In 1999, the Rockies and Padres opened the season in Monterrey, Mexico. Starting in 2000, and happening semi-regularly since, a pair of teams have started the year in Japan. And, if talks between MLB and Australian officials prove fruitful, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks could kick off the 2014 season with three games at the historic Sidney Cricket Ground.
Talks have apparently been in the works for years. But the turning point may have been the team's sale this spring. While the Dodgers may not have a global superstar on the roster, they do have one in the owners' box. Magic Johnson, the public face of the ownership group, is an absolute legend in basketball-crazed Australia, and he might be the biggest selling point. Sydney Blue Sox chairman Bob Turner, who spilled the news of negotiations, was sure to emphasize Johnson's involvement to government officials.
''If we can get Major League Baseball's season opener, which we're working on, in a couple of years' time at the SCG, it will really put the game on the map,'' Turner said. ''Especially if we can get the LA Dodgers to come, where Magic Johnson is the spokesman-owner. That would be great for the game to give us a profile no other sport can really match.''
There are a ton of logistics to work out, but the timing and time zones proved no obstacle to the various Japan series. You'd expect this one to be much the same, with the series being played about a week before the rest of MLB opens up, so there's time to fly back and shake the jet lag. And the time difference is even more favorable in Sydney, which is two hours ahead of Tokyo. The plan is for Saturday and Sunday games to begin at 2 p.m. local time, which would be 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles—prime time, none of this waking up at 4 a.m. for action from the Tokyo Dome.
The Diamondbacks as an opponent isn't set in stone, but as the Los Angeles Times points out, if anyone's up for it, it's them.
The Diamondbacks have been making an active push to enhance their global brand. The team's top executive visited Japan in July and Mexico last week.
"If the possibility existed for the D-Backs to play overseas, we would most certainly be interested, but I would leave an official comment to MLB International," Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said in a statement released by the team.
MLB denies that any deal with Australia is near, and indeed, even that they've reached the stage where specific teams are being discussed. But it makes too much sense for baseball, and for the Dodgers, to turn down the chance to open up an enormous new market. The only question is whether Dave Nilsson or Graeme Lloyd will throw out the first pitch.
Magic's Dodgers set to step up to plate for SCG spectacular [Sydney Morning Herald]