‘Futures Game’ Shows Baseball’s Global Allure

Carl T. Hall, Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 2007

Baseball proclaimed its growing international status Sunday as players representing 11 foreign countries competed in a Minor League “World vs. U.S.A.” All-Star exhibition.

San Francisco Giants great Juan Marichal, a nine-time All-Star pitcher and the only native of the Dominican Republic in the Hall of Fame, managed the World team to a 7-to-2 victory.

He said the unexpected popularity of the World Baseball Classic last year, which was won by Japan, highlights the globalization of the game’s fan base and future.

“That was one of the best things to happen to baseball,” Marichal said. “That’s something that’s going to benefit baseball forever.”

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About 27 percent of Major League Opening Day rosters last year were foreign-born, but 45 percent of the Minor Leaguers were from other countries—suggesting baseball’s international flavor will only be increasing.

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Along with the Latin flavor, baseball has been gaining strength in Asia due in part to the arrival of superstars from the continent—such as the Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, a member of this year’s American League All-Star squad.

Kevin Tamaki, a baseball fan from Studio City who attended Sunday’s game, said he hope the major leagues will eventually include teams from around the world, “so you’ll have a true World Series.

“The future of baseball depends on the participation of other countries,” Tamaki, whose grandparents immigrated from Japan. “People here, when they see players from their home country, they’re going to care more about the game.”

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Global and multi-cultural approaches are increasingly showing up in marketing for teams like the Giants that can expect to draw from sizable immigrant communities.

Giants Executive Vice President Larry Baer said Sunday that international markets are key to the bottom-line expansion of baseball and the Giants—who have been able to nearly max out attendance since AT&T Park opened in 2000.

“We’ve done a good job in Latin America, and an increasingly good job in Asia. But a whole part of the globe is untapped—China, Europe, Africa, Russia. I think that’s really exciting,” he said.

Baer said the Giants’ fan base already is seeing more—but not enough—diversity. A study by the team in 2004 found that 64 percent of Giants fans—including those who attend games and watch or listen to broadcasts—were non-Latino whites. Latinos made up 14 percent, followed by Asian fans (11 percent) and African Americans (6 percent).

In an effort to attract Latino fans, the Giants have upped the number of games broadcast on Spanish-language radio to 93 from 62 last year, officials said. The team each year wears “Gigantes” uniforms during a game and throws a “Carnival” party, and has a promotional partnership with Univision, the Spanish-language TV station.

“We see it as a bubbling, growing momentum, moving toward the Hispanic part of the Giants fan base,” Baer said. “We’re much more inclusive in our outreach than we were 10 years ago.”

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