Nick Martinez of the San Diego Padres looks on prior to game two for the MLB World Tour Mexico City Series against the San Francisco Giants at Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium on April 30, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
MEXICO CITY – When the National League was planning its 1969 expansion, Warren Giles, then the league’s president, told the league’s owners that “If we’re going to expand, let’s really spread it out.” In the year the United States landed a man on the moon, the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos landed in Major League Baseball, two diagonally across North America from each other.
Fifty-four years later, Major League Baseball continues to “spread it out,” taking regular season games to both the capital of Mexico and London this season, spreading America’s game across the world. And in a world where the competition for fan attention and advertising dollars is stiffer than ever, where foreign sports are available live and just a click away, Major League Baseball needs to spread its product across the world, not merely across North America.
Since 1996, Major League Baseball has played regular season games in Monterrey, Mexico, Tokyo, Sydney, and London. As MLB’s World Tour continues, there will be more games to come in London, Paris, the Dominican Republic, Asia, and other places, some where baseball is a passion, others where it is merely an American curiosity. But regardless of the cache baseball may hold in the places MLB will drop into for a few games each season, the effort is important to both grow the game of baseball itself as well as build worldwide appeal for Major League Baseball.
Sure, the stadiums aren’t always ideal for the Major League game – the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox combined for 50 runs in two games on a field shoehorned into London Stadium, home of the English Premier League’s West Ham United.
It’ll probably be similar in 2025 when MLB regular season games are played at Stade de France in the Saint Denis neighborhood of Paris, the 81,500 seat home of France’s national soccer team.
The Padres and Giants combined for 11 home runs and 27 runs in the first of two games at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu last night, a ballpark that has a relatively normal-sized field that felt as big as a cigar box with bigger, stronger players playing at altitude where pitch movement is reduced and fly balls carry.
But the stories these series create – this series in Mexico City especially – for both fans and players make the trip worth it.
To hear Gabe Kapler, as good a spinner of yarns as anyone in baseball, tell the story of his Mexico City Metro adventure on Friday that made him late to practice brought smiles, as did his recounting of his second attempt Thursday night, when he hoped to go to a concert.
“I went to the subway station that was closest to our hotel, and it was jam packed. I didn’t know what I was worried about. The trains come by, and there’s not room to get on the train. So there’s a few people who are really savvy, and they’re going running back style, and pushing through the line and getting on the train, but I didn’t quite feel confident enough to do that,” Kapler said, smiling. “So one train had come by,, couldn’t get on it. Another train had come by, doors were open, couldn’t get on it.”
Kapler’s night wasn’t ruined, however.
“I ended up pivoting and walking to my second taco spot. And just, you know, got some beers and some tacos, and it turned out to be equally rewarding.”
For the players from Latin America, the event recreates the atmosphere of the ballgames they went to growing up, be they in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, or elsewhere.
“I’d say that I’m closer to my roots, even in Mexico,” said Giants infielder Thairo Estrada, a Venezuelan, prior to Sunday’s game. “Obviously, everybody here speaks Spanish. We’ve enjoyed it, and yesterday was an unbelievable scene.”
While baseball, by and large, is the No. 2 sport in Mexico, far behind soccer, events like the MLB Mexico City Series spread the game abroad and build an audience for Major League Baseball.
There were plenty of fans who made the trip to Mexico City from California and elsewhere – the stands at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu were full of Padres and Giants jerseys – but there were plenty of jerseys from the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol and the Liga ARCO Mexicana del Pacifico. You couldn’t walk 10 yards on the concourse without seeing a fan wearing a jersey from the Diablos Rojos de Mexico, who play at the ballpark where the series was held, or, say, someone with a jersey from the Narajeros de Hermosillo or the Acereros de Monclova.
You can flip through any number of live soccer games from around the world every day on cable TV in the United States, and if you’ve cut the cord, you can stream them online. But unlike in soccer, where the top leagues in, perhaps, a dozen different countries can credibly claim to be the best league in the world, there’s no debate in baseball.
If every team played a two-game set abroad every season, Major League Baseball could effectively and quickly build a fan base in countries that already have baseball as a part of their sports culture, as well as in countries that don’t.
In a time where more and more sports leagues outside the United States are competing for American viewers, rights fees and advertising dollars, playing a series outside the U.S. and Canada is the best way to spread the gospel of baseball abroad.
This series, and those like it, including the MLB London Series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals later this season, shouldn’t be a curiosity, they should be an annual event for every franchise.