Major leagues a big hit Down Under but legacy uncertain

Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:19am EDT
 
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By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - There can be little doubt Major League Baseball (MLB) hit a home run with its first visit to Australia in a century after nearly 80,000 fans swarmed to the Sydney Cricket Ground over the weekend to get a taste of America's pastime.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks started the long journey back to the United States, though, there was little certainty about what had been left behind beyond the detritus of thousands of hot dogs and nachos.

Memories certainly for those lucky enough to be able to afford tickets - Australia's reputation as a sports mad country is not exaggerated and the chance to see some of the finest athletes in the world up close was never going to be passed up.

How much impact it will have on the popularity of baseball in the long-term, however, remains a moot point.

The previous six overseas opening series were played in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Japan, countries already boasting well-established baseball cultures.

While Australia's connection with the sport goes back to the tour that sporting goods mogul Albert Spalding organized in 1888, the local MLB-owned league is very much a minor player in the country's fiercely competitive sports market.

So much so, in fact, that for the week the Sydney Cricket Ground was magnificently transformed into a ballpark, it was the only baseball stadium in Australia's biggest city.

"I hope that it leaves a legacy and part of that legacy is a growth in participation," said Craig Shipley, an Australian-born former major league player now on the Diamondbacks staff.   Continued...

 
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley (C) throws a pitch during the opening game of the 2014 Major League Baseball season against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Sydney Cricket Ground March 22, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray