Baseball

Field of Dreams is Over, Where MLB is Headed Next

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Major League Baseball has made it clear over the past quarter-century that they’re willing to go outside the box when it comes to looking for unconventional neutral sites for MLB games, and the Field of Dreams Game last night was no exception.

CHICAGO – AUGUST 12: Players from the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees walk through the rows of corn while being introduced prior to the game on August 12, 2021 at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

By all accounts, the game was a success, even if we had to wait an extra year for it to happen. The question is now, where does MLB look next after this? Rob Manfred confirmed the game will happen again in August 2022, but that doesn’t mean that MLB doesn’t have to stop looking at other ideas.

Where Have They Been Before?

First, let’s look quickly at some places where MLB has already played neutral-site games in the past, and we’ll take them off the table for future consideration.

The neutral-site trend seemed to kick off in 1996, and the San Diego Padres got into the act, playing three-game series in Monterrey, Mexico (1996) and Honolulu, Hawaii (1997). Then the Padres returned for a game in Monterrey in 1999, three games in 2018, and four in 2019.

Tokyo is another frequent site, with season-opening series at the Tokyo Dome in 2000, ’04, ’08, ’12, and ’19. Other forays outside U.S. soil includes two 2014 games in Sydney and the 2019 London Series. Additionally, Puerto Rico infamously hosted 44 Montreal Expos home games in 2003-04, as well as one-off series in 2010 and 2018.

Of course, there was also the annual Little League Classic in Williamsport, PA from 2017-19, the Fort Bragg game in 2018, and the game in Omaha in 2019 immediately leading into the College World Series. Finally, we have Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, where the Rays played three-game sets in 2007 and 2008.

That right there takes quite a few options off the table. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any interesting ideas left. Let’s explore some of my personal ideas and look at how feasible they would be.

Havana, Cuba

Potential Ballpark: Estadio Latinoamericano (Capacity: 55,000)

Why it Makes Sense: Cuba is a baseball hotbed, having produced 378 MLB players (including 21 who’ve suited up this season), the second-most outside the U.S. (behind the Dominican Republic). Yes, despite conditions being extremely difficult for Cubans to leave the country for over 60 years, the island nation of just 11 million people has produced over 100 more players than even Canada.

Additionally, Havana and Estadio Latinoamericano were the home of the Havana Cubans/Sugar Kings from 1946-60, the only affiliated professional baseball team to ever last a full season outside the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. After five straight seasons leading the Class-C Florida International League in attendance, the Sugar Kings played their final six-and-a-half seasons in the Triple-A International League, winning the Little World Series over American Association champion Minneapolis (featuring a young Carl Yastrzemski) in their final full season in 1959.

Alas, the rise of Fidel Castro meant the demise of the Sugar Kings, and midway through the 1960 season, amidst worsening relations between the two nations, the U.S. government ordered the IL to pull the Sugar Kings out of Cuba immediately, ending a one-of-a-kind era of baseball history (I highly recommend reading that link).

HAVANA, CUBA – MARCH 22: The Estadio Latinoamericano is filled with people watching an exhibition game between the Cuban national baseball team and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Estado Latinoamericano March 22, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro attended the game. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Is it Feasible?: Yes and no. On one hand, in 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays played against the Cuban national team at Estadio Latinoamericano, with Barack Obama and Fidel Castro’s son, Raul, sitting side-by-side. On the other hand, relations between the U.S. and Cuba have gone downhill since the Obama administration ended. Most recently, President Biden recently imposing new sanctions on the country after widespread demonstrations in July.

With that said, the likelihood of a regular-season MLB game on Cuban soil is probably considerably lower now than it was five years ago, though the fact that MLB has been comfortable enough to send an entire team to Cuba before is an important first step towards a potential regular-season game, though there’s still a ways to go. We’ll see.

Osaka, Japan

Potential Ballpark: Koshien Stadium (Capacity: 47,508)

Why it Makes Sense: It doesn’t need to be stated that Japan is a baseball-crazy nation, being home to the second-best baseball league on earth. MLB has already been to Japan before, with ten MLB games hosted over five years, spread out over two decades. However, all of those games have taken place at the Tokyo Dome in Japan’s capital.

Koshien Stadium, located a little more than 300 miles west in Osaka, is arguably the most storied venue in Japanese baseball history. Opened in 1924 (just one year after Yankee Stadium), it was the second-largest baseball stadium in the world at the time of its opening and has been in use ever since as the site of Japan’s prestigious National High School Baseball Championship (the “Summer Koshien”) and Invitational Tournament (the “Spring Koshien”).

Additionally, the Hanshin Tigers have called the stadium and it’s unique all-dirt infield home since their founding in 1936 and have posted staggering attendance figures. In 2019, the team drew nearly 43,000 fans per game and topped 3 million fans in just 72 home games.

NISHINOMIYA, JAPAN – NOVEMBER 11: Franklin Morales #56 of Colorado Rockies and Drew Butera #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers speak during the friendly match between Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants at the Hanshin Koshien Stadium on November 11, 2014 in Nishinomiya, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Is it Feasible?: Possibly. If MLB is willing to play regular-season games in Tokyo, then playing at Koshien absolutely can be done. There are a couple of roadblocks, though. One is the fact that Koshien is not covered like the Tokyo Dome, making weather a factor. Additionally, any MLB series in Japan takes place to begin the season, in late March.

In 2021, the Spring Koshien took place from March 19-April 1. Coincidentally, every MLB game in Tokyo has taken place between March 20 and March 31. Given the prestige and popularity of the Koshien tournaments, it’s unlikely that Japanese officials would want to change the schedule or relocate all or part of a 32-team tournament just to allow MLB to play a couple of games there. The Hanshin Tigers (who already have to schedule home games around both tournaments) also probably don’t want even more days blocked out.

That said, if MLB could live with the threat of rain and somehow work out the scheduling, the facility is about as close to MLB-ready as any outside North America.

Anchorage, Alaska

Potential Ballpark: Mulcahy Stadium (3,500, likely expanded)

Why it Makes Sense: Well, to be honest, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but let’s roll with it anyways…

Part of this is the “they’ve already played in Hawaii, why not Alaska?” argument. Part of it also has to do with the Alaska Baseball League, a long-time prominent summer collegiate league where superstars such as Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, Michael Young, and Aaron Judge (among others) all played before being drafted. The last part of it is incorporating the awesome tradition that is the Midnight Sun Game, where since 1906, a game is played, well, through midnight of the Summer Solstice (usually June 21) without any artificial light.

Yes, the Midnight Sun Game takes place in Fairbanks, a city of 31,000 located over 350 miles north in Interior Alaska. For this sake, though, we’ll meet in the middle with Anchorage, the economic hub of the state with 287,000 people. On the summer solstice, Anchorage receives over 19 hours of daylight, with the rest being twilight (i.e. the sun never entirely goes down that night), compared to almost 22 hours or daylight for Fairbanks.

As for the venue, Mulcahy Stadium is generally unimpressive, with much of the 3,500 seats being uncovered bleachers, so getting the stadium up to sort-of big-league size and standards would require the erector-set feel that the Field of Dreams stadium has.

Is it Feasible?: Almost certainly not. The Mariners would probably have to be the home team, being a mere 1,400 miles away from Anchorage. No one else is within 2,000 miles. This would probably have to be a multiple-game series between two west-coast teams (likely the A’s, if they’re still in Oakland) with off days packed in on each end. The series would be a scheduling and traveling headache.

Additionally, a true Midnight Sun Game-feel would be about impossible. The real Midnight Sun Game starts at 10:30 p.m. Alaskan time (2:30 a.m. on the East Coast) and is played largely in dusk (again, no artificial lights), both of which would be non-starters for MLB. That would mean a day game, with the lights being used if needed. Taking away the two things (besides the location) about the game that are the most interesting pretty much defeats the purpose of playing it.

Birmingham, Alabama

Potential Ballpark: Rickwood Field (Capacity 10,800)

Why it Makes Sense: This is a two-fold reason: first is that Rickwood Field is the oldest professional baseball stadium in the country, opening in 1910. The second is that the venerable facility was home of the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons for four decades, longer than any other Negro Leagues facility.

Rickwood Field also has a rich history as the home of the Birmingham Barons for seventy years, before the team left the ballpark following the 1987 season. However, since 1996 the Barons have returned each year (with exception of 2017 and 2021) to play the annual Rickwood Classic; one regular-season game at the historic venue.

Additionally—and unfortunately, time is running out—this would be a way to pay tribute to 90-year-old legend Willie Mays, an Alabama native who began his professional career playing at Rickwood with the Black Barons in 1948. If he would still be able to travel, you could not get a better first pitch candidate.

BIRMINGHAM, AL – JULY 07: Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball park in the United States in Birmingham, Alabama on July 7, 2018. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Is it Feasible?: Yes. The natural matchup would probably be the Braves (closest MLB team) and the White Sox (Barons parent club), so scheduling could be a bit tricky due to interleague rotations, but logistically, Birmingham isn’t too far away for any team in the eastern half of the U.S. to get there easily.

Player facilities would be a concern, but for one day, it’s not as problematic. If Major League Baseball has been willing to sign off on minor leaguers playing in the Rickwood Classic for nearly a quarter-century (and assuming in post-purge times they still will), then big leaguers should be able to safely play there for one day as well.

From a fan standpoint, there is enough room down the left-field line and beyond the right-field fence to bring in bleachers to potentially draw upwards of 15,000 fans to the game, which would certainly make it worthwhile financially. This may be the most plausible option on this list, all things considered.

Cooperstown, New York

Potential Ballpark: Doubleday Field (9,791)

Why it Makes Sense: Cooperstown, New York is synonymous with baseball immortality. Okay, you knew that already, but we might as well state the obvious here. The Baseball Hall of Fame draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to this sleepy town in upstate New York, tens of thousands of which descend on Hall of Fame induction weekend, which is normally the last weekend of July.

For nearly 70 years, the annual Hall of Fame Game was held at Doubleday Field, located two blocks away from the Hall of Fame on the alleged site that Abner Doubleday (didn’t) invent baseball. Despite the myth, of course, the museum and the aura of the town remains, and from 1940-2008, an exhibition game was held there, before the challenges of scheduling an in-season exhibition game led to the event’s demise.

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: Hall of Fame member Brooks Robinson hits balls to waiting fans during the Play Ball with Ozzie Smith Clinic held at Doubleday Field on July 27, 2007 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Is it Feasible?: Probably. The Hall of Fame Game showed that yes, holding an MLB Game at Doubleday Field is doable. Now, holding a regular-season game there is probably a little more challenging. For one, the park itself is tiny (dimensions are 296-390-312) and player facilities are probably scant. Like Rickwood Field, these shortcomings may be forgiven for one day.

However, if these issues cannot be readily fixed or overlooked, then a potential compromise could be NBT Bank Stadium, (capacity 10,815) a Triple-A ballpark in Syracuse, located about 90 miles away. Syracuse is also the largest major city near Cooperstown, which would make it a logical option for accessibility purposes.

Other Ideas

These five options only scratch the surface of what MLB could do. They could go back to Europe with games in other English cities, or perhaps in Germany or the Netherlands. How about the Dominican Republic? South Korea? Taiwan? Or even play big-league games at select minor league ballparks?

One way to help grow the Major League Baseball brand is to bring the game to those who aren’t normally exposed to it, so it only makes sense for MLB to be creative and forthcoming as to where we might see neutral-site affairs in the future.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@BrennanMense) for more of my content. Don’t forget to listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seats Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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