By Ronald Blum
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball plans to start the 2019 and 2020 seasons in Asia and play regular-season games in England in June of both years.
The collective bargaining agreement reached in November was finalized and sent to the clubs Friday, and it contains a schedule for international play through 2021 along with how much extra money each player will receive for making the trips.
“Playing major league games abroad is critically important to growing the game internationally, and we are very pleased that the parties were able to agree on a very comprehensive international play plan in bargaining,” MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said in an email to The Associated Press.
The agreement calls for the season opener to be played in Asia in 2018 and 2020 and specifies Japan for 2019. However, plans have not progressed for a 2018 Asian opener and those games are now unlikely, according to a baseball official familiar with the planning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was authorized.
A two-game series between Cleveland and Minnesota in San Juan, Puerto Rico, already has been announced for next April 17-18, and the agreement calls for an additional series in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic in May 2020.
“I think it’s probably been in the works for a while for MLB to try to find out how to expand on the international and global market,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You try to market your product the best way you can into the most expansive areas you can. … The fact we were able to pique enough interest in fan bases from parts maybe we never would have imagined a decade or two ago can only be good for the game.”
Series in Mexico are planned for each April from 2018-21 and for May 2019 and 2021.
London’s Olympic Stadium, West Ham’s Premier League home, has been looked at as a possible venue for the games in Britain, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the most likely teams for 2019.
The NFL has played regular-season games in London since 2007 and has expanded to four games there next season, when it also will play in Mexico City for the second straight year. The NBA has held regular-season games in Japan, London and Mexico City since 1990, and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant of the champion Golden State Warriors is currently in India as an ambassador supporting the sport’s growth.
“Sharing my love of basketball with thousands of boys and girls across India was an unbelievable experience,” said Durant, who along with 3,459 Indian children set a Guinness World Record for the largest basketball lesson ever with some participating via satellite.
Baseball players will receive an extra $60,000 each for regular-season trips to Asia or England, and an additional $15,000 for trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. Each event can be one, two or three games.
No games in Australia are in the works during the five-year deal, which began this season.
The deal calls for spring training trips in the next three years: two Mexico series in 2018, Mexico and either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic in 2019 and one Mexico series in 2020. Players receive an extra $5,000 for each international spring training series.
Post-World Series tours are planned for Japan in 2018 and 2020, and Asia or Mexico in 2019. Players get $100,000 for postseason All-Star trips to Japan, $50,000 for the rest of Asia and $25,000 for Mexico.
MLB opened its season at Monterrey, Mexico in 1999 (Colorado-San Diego); the Tokyo Dome in 2000 (Chicago Cubs-New York Mets), 2004 (Tampa Bay-Yankees), 2008 (Boston-Oakland) and 2012 (Seattle-Oakland); and at Sydney, Australia in 2014 (Los Angeles Dodgers-Arizona).
It played additional regular-season games at Monterrey in 1996 (San Diego-Mets); and at San Juan in 2001 (Toronto-Texas), 2003-04 (a total of 43 Montreal home games) and 2010 (Mets-Florida Marlins).
“Our trip to Japan in ’12 was terrific,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “For us it was a bonding experience for a bunch of new guys that were together for the first time, and I think we were better for it when we left. Sometimes you have to look around and smell the flowers, too, and when you get a chance to go somewhere else, not only is it a business trip for you but you’re probably well served to look around and understand that you get a chance to go somewhere you wouldn’t normally go and it entertains a different type of crowd.”
Oakland infielder Adam Rosales played in that ’12 opener in Tokyo.
“That was a really cool experience,” he said. “Obviously it’s a long trip, but it depends how they’re going to schedule it. It’s definitely a really good sign that it’s growing. I think they’re doing a good job, both the players’ union and MLB communicating. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been two good experiences for me, experiences that I’ll always talk about, tell my kids about.”
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