MLB could be heading to Europe in 2014

MlbHlSqSome Major League Baseball games could be played on European soil in the near future.

Dutch baseball journalist Pim van Nes has written a very interesting news story on Mister-Baseball.com about a press conference held in the Netherlands on Monday.  A new ballpark is being built for the Vaessen Pioniers in Hoofddorp and the plan is for its capacity to be increased temporarily to 30,000 for the staging of three MLB games in 2014.

The Netherlands are one of three European countries putting together proposals to bring MLB to Europe.  Italy and Germany are proposing to use ballparks in Rome and Regensburg respectively.  The Netherlands’ bid will be officially presented to MLB at this year’s All-Star Game in Arizona.

MLB has already shown itself to be keen to expand further into new territories, not least in playing two regular season games in Japan in 2008. 

In recent years, the UK has hosted games from the other big three North American Sports – NFL, NBA and NHL – and MLB has been conspicuous by its absence. The other sports all have the advantage that they can be comfortably accommodated in existing leading venues in London.  Baseball can be staged in a large football/rugby stadium or a cricket ground, as has happened plenty of times in Britain in the past albeit not for official MLB games.  However, this is always a compromise, both in terms of the playing dimensions and the fan experience.  That’s not a great starting point from which to host a big event aimed at creating publicity in a largely sceptical market.

Many of our European neighbours are well ahead of us in terms of existing baseball facilities, meaning that while the UK market will naturally appeal to MLB, we’re going to be down the pecking order when it comes to hosting any games.  However, bringing MLB to any European country would be a great boost for the sport in this continent.  And I’m sure some of us British baseball fans would see a short trip to a nearby country as no great hardship.

The comments from Clive Russell, MLB’s director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, (“Your country [Netherlands] is in pole position now, but also other countries are in the race”) certainly suggest that there is a push towards bringing baseball to Europe.  The statement in the news article that “MLB had already approached Dutch baseball about possibilities to bring ML games to the Netherlands in 2012” adds to the impression that this is an idea that MLB is very keen on. 

It was reported a year ago that MLB was “exploring the possibility of sending a pair of clubs to Italy for a few spring training games next year [2011] or in 2012”.  That doesn’t appear to be on the cards now, and 2013 will be taken up by the World Baseball Classic, but it could be an option in future years.  As noted in that article, one of the stumbling blocks would be finding a location where the weather is most likely to be baseball-friendly during March.

The question then is whether the idea of bringing some regular season games across the pond is feasible from a logistical standpoint?  The nature of the MLB regular season makes it difficult to create a window in which two teams could travel to Europe and back without some disruption. 

The Netherlands’ proposal notes that their preference is to play three games in July 2014 and that could be the answer.  With a bit of nifty scheduling work, the two teams could play a day game and then travel that evening, get an off-day the following day, then play three games leading up to the All-Star break.  Any All-Stars involved could then get back to the States for the All-Star Game, missing out the Home Run Derby day.

If it happened this year, that schedule would look like this:

Wednesday 6 July – day game for both teams involved then travel to Europe
Thursday 7 July – off day
Friday 8 July – 1st game (a night game)
Saturday 9 July – 2nd game
Sunday 10 July – 3rd game (possibly a mid-afternoon game)
Monday 11 July – travel day
Tuesday 12 July – All-Star Game
Wednesday 13 July – off day
Thursday 14 July – 2nd half of MLB season starts

It would be more complicated than a normal road series, but it would be possible to do and the All-Star break period would give everyone a chance to get readjusted before starting the second half of the season.  You would need to find a team willing to give up three home games of course, but that’s easier to do in MLB – compared to the NFL, for instance – when that would still leave the team with 78 contests to host in their own ballpark that year. 

It’s just a proposal at the moment, but all signs point to Europe staging some Spring Training and/or regular season MLB games over the next five years or so.  That’s definitely something to be excited about for those of us in the UK.

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8 Responses to MLB could be heading to Europe in 2014

  1. Gareth Pitman March 22, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Interesting idea and certainly exciting from a UK / European baseball fan’s perspective. A few thoughts..

    -I can’t see the players being at all enthused about the idea. Spring training games fine, but I’m sure there’ll be a lot of opposition to coming so far in so short a time-frame. I remember the Red Sox and Athletics players being not that thrilled going to Japan for the start of the 2008 season, and that was for Opening Day with rest days built in. Any routine changes seems to throw ballplayers into a tizz, look at the issues the World Baseball Classic always brings up. There will surely also be calls that whoever is chosen will be disadvantaged. There is already much debate each year about teams having to go outside their league for inter-league play!

    -Owners might be far more amenable however, given the possibility to expand revenues. I think the loss of a few games from their home schedule will be more than made up for.

    -Any chance to expand the awareness of MLB in the UK especially would be welcome. Compared to the NFL and the NBA, Major League Baseball is virtually non-existent in Britain, outside of Yankees hats being worn by every chav worth his/her salt.

    -I agree with your point about the lack of facilities in the UK being a drawback and any attempt to modify an existing facility would only be a fudge and detract from the experience. For me, live baseball is all about the ballpark and all it brings. It is a unique experience and I doubt Wrigley Field could be replicated at Lords, or Stamford Bridge. I guess I am lucky in having been to the States a few times in recent years and managed to get to quite a few ballparks. Just spoiled I suppose.

  2. Chico17 March 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Hi Matt! Haven’t posted in quite a while. Busy with the Wisconsin All Stars almost year round now. Just wanted to comment that I hope it comes to fruition in GB. It’s unfortunate that a nice size ball park doesn’t exist for the fans there. At least MLB is considering coming to Europe. Hello to Joe Gray also!

    Chico

    PS: I still enjoy your outstanding work. You are better than many baseball writers here in the states!

  3. Matt Smith March 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Hi Gareth

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that the players probably won’t be thrilled at moving out of their routine. That makes Spring Training a better possibility because by the sounds of things the players find that it gets boring after a while. Having a trip away would be a good way to break things up. Still, I think there’s a way to make it work if the will is there.

    Hi Chico

    Good to hear from you. Hope things are going well in Wisconsin.

  4. Dave Lippman April 1, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    I’d like to see MLB play in England, The Netherlands, Italy, or anywhere else in Europe…it would be great for the sport. It’s not as bad a jet lag as an Asian trip, especially for a pair of East Coast teams. It would have to not be a Mets-Yankees game, or the like, because those are sellouts in New York, though.

  5. peter lang-stephens February 9, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

    The sooner MLB get their act together the sooner the better. …….. MLB if your reading this ….Get your act together. In the UK we are starved of Baseball. We are not all Yankees fans…….. I for one would love to see the Cards here. Scotland would be great for me but will travel too England Italy Holland France. ……..sending a opening game to Australia is just plain stupid.

    • Matt Smith February 10, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      Hopefully we’ll get some games in the future.

      One of the biggest hurdles we face is that, unlike the NFL, there isn’t a gap between games that would allow the travel (and impact of that travel) during the regular season (other than potentially around the All-Star Break, although even that would be less-than-ideal from MLB’s point of view).

      Spring Training is the best time to do an international game or two and that is one of the main issues we, and the rest of Europe, face. You can go to Australia in March and have a fair chance of getting good weather, just as you can go to Japan and play in the Tokyo Dome at that time of year. Coming to the UK is a much riskier prospect in terms of getting good weather for it.

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  2. BaseballGB » Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Alex Liddi makes it to the Majors - September 12, 2011

    […] so in the name of diplomacy it’s worth picking up on some positive Dutch news.  Back in March, I wrote about plans to build a new ballpark in Hoofddorp and to bring some Major League baseball to Europe.  […]

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