Being a fan of Major League Baseball in Australia is great. The only thing I can say to follow up that statement is this: being a fan of Major League Baseball in Australia sucks, mate! Strewth, it is a roller coaster ride that can make you “deadset rapt” one minute, then want you to “crack the shits” the next!
For example, you’re watching MLB At Bat and there is a break in the game. An MLB Memorable Moment clip plays: You know those well, right? Fernando Tatis Jr.’s first-ever hit, or Ronald Acuña’s grand slam in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Well, they play like the same five clips over and over every break in Australia! Just imagine seeing the same clip up to 200 times per week? This is just one of the quirks international baseball fans have to deal with! And it doesn’t end there.
Despite the number of barriers for international fans enjoying baseball, I have to say I absolutely love supporting the game from Australia. There are perks that might not be too obvious for fans in the U.S. First of all: the time difference. As games are starting on the East Coast, we are just waking up, so I can easily follow the action as I eat a bacon butty for brekkie, or take my leisurely commute into work.
Don’t tell my boss, but I then log into MLB At Bat at my desk and can enjoy the sounds (and sometimes video) of the game as I do some “hard yakka” through the morning. After lunch? Time for the full slate of games from the West Coast. Perfect!
The advantage of unrestricted access to MLB At Bat is also worth mentioning. We are not subject to blackout periods due to the many local broadcasting rights state by state in the U.S., so I can watch any game, any time throughout the season. However, this means we are subject to those Memorable Moment clips over and over! Please MLB, you are a multi-million dollar business, make us some more. It is the digital age! Crikey!
There are also factors beyond the control of MLB that makes being a fan outside of the USA both unique and rewarding. The most rewarding is being a part of the passionate community of fans that share supporting the game over here. It is a dedicated group that is very engaged and active on social media and chat groups, and one of the unique aspects is that we all support a variety of different teams.
There is no “one-town feeling,” and this means there is both healthy banter and excellent debate. There are meetups at games in the Australian Baseball League in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane; baseball card break and swap groups; fantasy baseball leagues that draft live and in person; the list goes on. It is a special feeling.
The boom in sports media has helped this community grow and also learn more about the game. Podcasts, in particular, have revolutionized the way international fans can find out information about games, teams, players, statistics and the finer details that were not accessible some 10 years ago.
It is safe to say that international fans of baseball often get short-changed, and MLB doesn’t help themselves in attempting to foster audiences worldwide and grow the game. The hardest thing about being a fan in Australia is also the most obvious: we can’t go and watch games live. This is a biggie, right? There is nothing more enjoyable than heading down to the ballpark and watching the beautiful game play out in all its glory. The atmosphere, the fans, the food, the first pitch, the 7th-inning stretch, need I go on? We are pretty much robbed of it all.
The number of games played outside of the continental U.S. and Canada has steadily grown over the years, but focus from MLB has been centered on Mexico, Puerto Rico and Japan.
Indeed for us Aussies, the 2019 opening series between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics in Japan was the first opportunity to ‘realistically’ travel to see Major League Baseball since the 2014 Opening Day Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Clayton Kershaw wowed the 38,000 strong crowd that day with 6.2 strong innings and 7 strikeouts as the Dodgers won 3-1 thanks to Scott Van Slyke’s two-run homer.
Murmurs of a revisit to Australia haven’t come to much recently, MLB is still licking its lips after the hugely successful sold-out London Series last season, where the Yankees and Red Sox put on an entertaining show. MLB will head back to London this year, along with series in Mexico and Puerto Rico, too.
The other negative is access to merchandise. Stockists of official MLB merchandise, and particularly sports trading cards from Topps and Panini, are very rare. If they are available, they usually pass on the taxes, shipping, and markups directly to the customer, which makes it very hard to afford more than a baseball cap of your favorite team.
There seems to be a feeling among fans that the MLB is refusing to acknowledge that international fans want the same retail options as those in the USA. To rub salt into the wounds, the MLB online shop no longer ships orders outside the USA, and they recently partnered with Fanatics to create an online shop for international customers only. The number of items available is drastically reduced, overpriced and sub-standard. It’s not good enough.
If you love baseball, you will go to the ends of the earth with Frodo and Sam to find the game, and that is sometimes what international fans have to do. I know many fans of the game who plan years in advance to visit the U.S. just to watch baseball. The day the schedules are released, they plan their trip to multiple cities to see as many games as possible, book their flights and buy their tickets. The excitement is unparalleled. Yeah, we can’t finish work and mosey on down to the ballpark, but in a way planning a trip like this is even more special … like planning your wedding, just way more fun!
International fans are some of the most dedicated and committed fans the game has. If MLB is to grow the game, it needs to recognize this and throw them “another shrimp on the barbie!”
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)