Some 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  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.