SYDNEY, Australia — On the morning the
There was a small box that included a picture of basketball star
The gist of the story: That large crowds at the upcoming two-game baseball series between the Dodgers and
The implication was clear: Australians care about basketball and football, but not baseball.
Australia ranks No. 1 outside the U.S. in
About as much as known here about
The Dodgers' nearly sold-out regular-season games against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday and Sunday — Saturday at 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. PDT — won't suddenly change that.
"We're not going to know the benefits of this game on Sunday night," Archey said. "It's long term. It can be generational."
MLB was paid by a promoter to open its season in Sydney, but Archey said that wasn't the league's motive for coming. "This is not about money," he said. "This is about the future. It's about developing the market for bigger business and it's about developing the market for more players."
MLB has opened regular seasons in Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico. What makes Australia different is that baseball doesn't have a large fan base.
The Dodgers were also involved in MLB's last venture into a nontraditional market. That was in 2008, when the Dodgers and the
Archey views that trip as a success. MLB now has 11 television partners in China, where it funds three youth academies and a 60-school intercollegiate league.
"None of this existed prior to that game," Archey said.
The intercollegiate program illustrates MLB's long-view approach to expanding the game's reach. MLB doesn't expect to find future All-Stars there right away, but Archey said, "Those are young people who are going to go into the workforce. They're going to know the game. They'll have kids, introduce the game to them. They're going to become teachers, maybe become physical education teachers. Now, they can introduce baseball."
Whereas MLB started from scratch in China, it already had a foundation in Australia.
Baseball here is believed to date to the mid-19th century, brought by American miners during the Victorian gold rush. Baseball is a niche sport, but enough of it is played that the country has produced 28 Australian-born major leaguers, many of whom are still playing. The most notable is All-Star closer
Ian Chappell, a cricketer who was captain of Australia's national team in the early 1970s, was also a baseball player. Chappell grew fond of baseball in the 1950s listening to
"It would have been a tough decision," said Chappell, who will call the Australian national broadcast of the series between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
Chappell's younger brother Greg offered a similar sentiment. A former shortstop in baseball, Greg became the greatest Australian batsman of his generation as a cricketer.
Baseball continues to lose Australia's top athletes to other sports, particularly Australian-rules football, rugby and cricket. But in a country where only a handful of athletes earn more than $1 million annually, Archey is hopeful that baseball's salaries can entice top talent. To convey Kershaw's stature to a largely novice audience, Australian newspapers have written at length about the left-hander's new seven-year, $215-million contract.
"When you see the salaries, it helps," Archey said.
Since Australia's defunct baseball league relaunched in 2010 with MLB's backing — MLB owns a 75% stake in the league — youth participation in baseball has increased 33%, according to Archey.
However, the Dodgers don't view themselves as baseball missionaries. Provided they do what they're supposed to do, they say the sport should sell itself.