Possible international sites for MLB games

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Previously, I discussed some possible neutral-field games in the USA or Canada. Today, it’s time to look beyond the borders and muse about possible neutral-field games internationally going forward.

Go below the jump for more.

The previously-done

The following stadiums outside of the USA and Canada have hosted MLB regular season games: the Tokyo Dome (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2019), Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey in Mexico (1996, 1999, 2018, 2019), a converted Sydney Cricket Ground (2014), a converted London Stadium (2019), and Estadio Hiram Bithorn in Puerto Rico (2001, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2018, with 2003 and 2004 being extended stays by the Expos). All of them, of course, can (and should!) presumably host again, but that’s too boring for this post, so I’m skipping them.

The Mexico City games lost to COVID

In 2020, the Padres and Diamondbacks were scheduled to play a two-game series in Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú in Mexico City. For obvious reasons, that didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the delay of the MLB season. Holding over 20,000 fans (second only to Monterrey in capacity in the Mexican League) and opened in 2019, it seems obvious that this would be one of the first picks for an international game going forward, if only to make up for the fact that the 2020 game was wiped out. Just make sure that a humidor is ready for that high elevation.

The Dominican

It’s kind of crazy that the Dominican Republic hasn’t had a regular-season MLB game yet. In fact, even exhibition games have been fairly rare, with only some appearances in 1999, 2000, and a pre-COVID visit during 2020’s spring training. It also hasn’t hosted any of the World Baseball Classics. One reason, apparently, is the issue with facilities on the island. The two largest facilities (the 14K+ Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo and the 18K Estadio Cibao in Santiago) are both old stadiums built in the 1950s, lacking most of the modern amenities required in union agreements and broadcasting contracts. A nation like the Dominican generally had much bigger priorities than upgrading stadiums, and so it hasn’t happened yet. Surely, MLB is wealthy enough to pick up the bill for such things, the question is if they will and if so when that might be.

Other Latin destinations

There are, of course, other stadiums in Latin America that could host MLB regular season games, albeit with upgrades. The most notable is likely Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, which is (depending on what capacities you’re going by) the largest baseball stadium outside of the United States. Of course, there are political obstacles there, as well.

Should MLB want to have games in Puerto Rico but not in Hiram Bithorn, they’d be wise to consider Roberto Clemente Stadium in Carolina. While smaller than Bithorn and not located in the capital of San Juan (although it is not that far away), it is newer and also has the advantage of being in the hometown of Clemente, which could make it an ideal place for a game held in his honor featuring the Pirates.

Other possible destinations include the new Dennis Martinez National Stadium in Nicaragua, Rod Carew National Stadium in Panama, Edgar Renteria Stadium in Colombia, possibly Aruba and Curacao, and various stadiums in Venezuela (the biggest are in Maracaibo and Barquisimeto). Like the Dominican and Cuba, however, there are logistical, economical, or political hurdles that are in place that may make these unlikely. You could also probably play baseball in some of the cricket stadiums in the West Indies, but given how small those populations are those aren’t as big of a priority compared to visiting places where baseball is already being played.

Literally any other Japanese stadium

Sticking with countries that MLB has played in before, we move to Japan, the most common destination for foreign MLB games other than Puerto Rico (which for the purposes of this post I’m considering separate from the USA). The main issue is that every time MLB has opened up in Japan, they’ve played in the Tokyo Dome.

Now, it isn’t hard to see why. The Tokyo Dome has one of the largest capacities in Japanese baseball, it’s in the largest metropolitan area in the world, and the fact it has a roof also means that MLB doesn’t have to worry a rainstorm.

The issue is though that from what I understand the Tokyo Dome sucks. It’s the pressurized air-supported style of dome made infamous by the Metrodome, Carrier Dome, RCA Dome and Silverdome. You’ll notice that all four of those are now either demolished or in the case of the Carrier Dome renovated into a different style of dome. In addition, according to some who have been there, it’s not a very good place to watch a game and most of its reputation is from the fact that it is large and the home of Japan’s most popular and successful team, the Yomiuri Giants. Also, playing every game in Japan in just one stadium every time they have an MLB regular season game there is honestly boring.

No, instead, they should play somewhere else. The best choice, of course, would be Koshien Stadium. The cathedral of Japanese baseball, home of the national high school baseball tournaments, and their equivalent of a Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, Koshien is nearly 100 years old and is neck-and-neck with the Tokyo Dome in capacity. Located between Kobe and Osaka in the City of Nishinomiya, off the top of my head there are only a few reasons why it hasn’t happened yet: it has an all-dirt infield that the players union may balk at, it has no roof and thus is at risk of rainout, it is cooler during the late-March/early-April dates that MLB usually has games in Japan, and (perhaps the biggest reason) the Spring Koshien Tournament may preclude it (although presumably some sort of deal could be made to have the Spring Koshien happen earlier or later than usual for one year).

If MLB wants a more modern facility, then perhaps Hiroshima could be a possibility: it’s the only stadium in Japan that was built in the style of the neo-retro stadium trend that swept America after Camden Yards.

Even if we go with the idea that MLB would have to have a roof so as to not risk a rainout, though, there are still better choices than the Tokyo Dome, such as the stadiums in Sapporo and Osaka.

Other Asian destinations

Neither Korea or Taiwan have ever hosted regular season baseball, partly because they aren’t as big as Japan, but also because the weather in those places early in baseball season can at times be even worse than in Japan, so it’s likely that MLB would really want to use a dome, especially for any first visit. Korea does have a dome, the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. It would almost certainly be the host for any initial MLB series in Korea. Taiwan, however, doesn’t have a dome. At least not yet- one has been under construction for nearly a decade and has had several issues along the way that have halted construction at times.

Outside the traditional baseball powers of Asia, options are more scarce. The Philippines has a large old stadium in Manila, but it likely needs significant upgrades for MLB use. Ballfields in mainland China, Indonesia, and the like are almost certainly too small of capacity for the international showcases that MLB would want.

It is possible that MLB could also pursue games in India, holding contests in one of the nation’s massive cricket grounds. While it seems unlikely, the fact is that if MLB could make even 1% of India’s population interested in baseball enough to play it or be an active fan of the game it would mean there would be more baseball fans in India than there are people in the Dominican Republic or any single US state aside from New York, Florida, Texas, or California. Heck, even 0.1% of India becoming interested in baseball would make its fandom larger than the total population of several states as well as places like Curacao. That possibility, however hard it may be to achieve, may be too much for MLB to ignore.

Give the Dutch their honkbal already!

The people at the Hoofddorp Pioniers had a dream: build the best damn baseball field in Europe, and have Major League Baseball come play on it. They spared no expense, making it far nicer than what the Honkbal Hoofdklasse (the Dutch league) required, importing special clay, and making sure it could be expanded to as many as 30,000 seats if MLB ever came.

MLB still hasn’t come to Sportpark Pioniers. When it came time to bring regular season baseball to Europe, MLB went to London. It’s time to fix that. Give the world a short series of regular-season Major League Honkbal.

Other European possibilities

Outside of Africa (which I’ll get to later) and Antarctica (obviously not going to happen), the hardest continent for MLB to hold regular season games is Europe. The reasons are obvious: soccer/football/futbol/whatever is so entrenched and popular there that you could probably combine all of the big four sports leagues in America and still not have them measure up in relative popularity here than some soccer contests have in Europe. Only three-to-five countries there even have any baseball parks that could pass for minor league parks in America, and only one (the aforementioned stadium in Hoofddorp, although I imagine some others could be raised to that standard with enough money thrown at them) definitely has their park up to MLB standards… and even they would have to expand the seating.

What’s more, there is the issue that outside of the cricket grounds in the UK it is extremely hard to find pre-existing stadiums that an MLB stadium could fit into without creating some sort of LA Coliseum-style abomination with hilariously short porches.

However, it is not impossible, as was seen in 2019 with the games in London. Although MLB could obviously have converted a cricket stadium to a temporary baseball field as they had done in Sydney, they instead played in the stadium that had been built for the 2012 Olympics. They were able to fit something like a traditional baseball stadium in it thanks to the fact that A) the stadium still has a track attached, and so it the total area was larger, and B) it had movable seating (so that it can be in the right configuration regardless of whether it’s being used for soccer, track, or a concert).

So presumably, if MLB wants to return to Europe and for whatever reason wants to keep poor Hoofddorp hanging, the places they play would have to be A) a cricket stadium, B) have track and field (and thus a bigger surface area to play with) or C) have movable seating. Preferably more than one of those. Well, good news to anyone from MLB who may be reading this (I’ll take payment in tickets), but I’ve done the research and found what places like that fit the bill.

First, the obvious ones: the cricket stadiums. Cricket is really only popular in the UK, and what’s more is primarily popular in England specifically. It is unlikely that MLB would use any of the cricket stadiums in London given that they have figured out how to have a much-larger capacity venue with London Stadium, but there are 20K+ seat cricket venues in cities like Southhampton and Birmingham. Other cricket venues are even smaller. It seems unlikely that MLB would go all the way over to the UK just to have a crowd of 20,000 or so.

So next there are stadiums with tracks on them (thus providing a bit more surface area to use to fit a ballfield in) and stadiums with movable seating that could allow for a London-style set-up. One of the few that fits both is the Stade de France in Paris, which like London has movable seats so that it can switch between soccer and track. Given its location in one of the world’s great cities, it seems like it would be near the top of the list for MLB. In fact, at one point there were even discussions about bringing MLB there, although who knows how those turned out.

Sadly, aside from the Stade de France, all the other European stadiums with movable seating (besides London, obviously) are both smaller and also in either London or Paris, so that doesn’t really work. So instead, it’s time to look at stadiums with tracks that could be covered.

Thankfully, Europe’s long Olympic history means there are several of those. Just fiddling around with the distance ruler on Google Earth, I found you could probably fit a semi-respectable ballfield (i.e. around 300 feet to right and left, somewhere between 380 to 420 to center, etc.) in the following stadiums:

(That list above doesn’t count countries where it’s unlikely that MLB would want to go to due to political or social reasons (i.e. Russia, Turkey, etc.). It also specifically ignores stadiums of lower capacities.)

Of those, the ones that MLB should most likely go to are those in Italy and Germany, perhaps Spain or maybe Belgium. Those are the only other European countries besides the Netherlands with any major baseball history or infrastructure, although it’s a sharp dropoff as you go down the list.

There is one other possibility in Europe I haven’t mentioned: Croke Park in Dublin. It is used for more traditional Irish games like Gaelic football and hurling (which is sort-of like a cross between field hockey and rugby), and its playing field is larger than what would normally be used for soccer, even though it lacks a track. Measuring out distances on Google Earth it actually fits a baseball field quite nicely (although right field might be a little short if you are going from corners, it wouldn’t be hilariously so, depending on where they place home plate), and its corners are even rounded like those behind home plate at ballfields. One possible issue though is that Gaelic sports stadiums actually have rules that usually prohibit non-Gaelic sports from being played there, although they are usually relaxed for sports that aren’t British in nature (for example, Croke Park has hosted NCAA football games).

Return to down under (Australia/New Zealand)

Baseball went to Australia to start the 2014 season, and there were rumblings that it would return shortly. That never happened, however. At least, not yet. Reports came out last year, however, that it could be soon, potentially in Melbourne.

The two places being considered, at least as of those reports, were the gigantic Melbourne Cricket Ground (an exhibition there during the 1956 Olympics between Australians and a team of US servicemen actually held the record for largest baseball crowd in the world for decades) and the smaller-but-retractable-roofed Marvel Stadium. However, these reports were before it was announced that Brisbane would host the 2032 Olympics, which may draw MLB’s attention there instead. If that’s the case, they’d likely look to the cricket stadium there.

Of course, Australia isn’t the only country in that area. New Zealand has baseball too, and at least as of a few years ago baseball was reportedly the country’s fastest-growing sport, enough that they now have a team in the Australian Baseball League, although they sadly have had to sit out ever since the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, Auckland has the largest stadium in the Australian League, a 25,000 seat stadium shared with local rugby teams. One can easily imagine MLB putting in some money to expand it even more temporarily. Alternately, they may be able to play at one of New Zealand’s cricket stadiums, likely Eden Park.

Africa: Birthplace of humanity, likely the last place MLB will go to

Unless you want to break the Middle East out as its own thing, the inhabited continent we’re least likely to see a regular season MLB game is Africa.

It isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, the amount of interest in baseball in Africa even compared to Europe is extremely small. In addition, many countries are poor or politically hazardous, so even if they were into baseball it’d be unlikely that they’d have the facilities or ability to have MLB come. Still others are in climates that aren’t very conducive to baseball, getting too hot or rainy during the season.

In fact, the only country in Africa I can imagine MLB playing a regular season game anytime in the semi-not-too-distant future is South Africa. For one thing, it’s one of the few places in Africa with a baseball culture of any kind, to the point where it has even produced two MLB players. In addition, it is one of the top economies on the continent and the weather there (depending on the location) is pleasant during what is their winter. English is also one of South Africa’s official languages, cutting down on some of the possible linguistic issues.

Where would they play? It seems likely that any visit to South Africa would take place at one of the country’s cricket stadiums, such as Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium, Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban, or the Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town.

Guessing on likelihood

So, what are the most likely places we’ll see MLB have international games going forward?

I’d say the most likely in the near-future are the Tokyo Dome (again), Hiram Bithorn (again) and Mexico City. All three either are regular places that MLB visits (for better or worse) or were scheduled to have a game in 2020 before COVID put the kibosh on it. I’d say London is close behind, but I’m not sure since you would have thought that MLB would have announced such a game already when they cancelled the 2020 one.

After that, the most likely are probably other Asian locations (most notably Korea), Australia (presumably Melbourne or Brisbane), Paris, and the Netherlands, not necessarily in that order.

Past that point, though, I feel it’s kind of a jumble that depends on financial, political, and social happenings. If the Dominican gets an upgraded stadium, for example, it probably soars up the list. If tensions rise between North and South Korea, the odds of games in Korea greatly decrease. That sort of thing.

That’s just what I think, though. I could be entirely wrong!

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