Every four years, since the turn of the millennium, MLB has staged it’s season opener at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. That’s where the Mariners and Athletics will get the 2012 season started on March 28. Oakland will be making their second straight appearance in the “International Opener.” The Athletics split a two-game series with the Red Sox in 2008 at the Tokyo Dome. Surprisingly, this will be the first time the Mariners will play a regular season game in Ichiro’s homeland. The Mariners seem like a perfect fit for Japan, and I think the Astros would be an equally ideal candidate for an “International Opener” in a different locale.
The Cubs and Mets played the first regular season game on Japanese soil back in 2000. Our old buddy Mike Hampton became the first MLB pitcher to suffer a loss there in a 5-3 Cubs win. But one year earlier, the original “International Opener” was held at Estadio de Beisbol in Monterrey, Mexico. On April 4, 1999 Darryl Kile pitched the Colorado Rockies to an 8-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.
I’m not sure what kind of compensation is awarded to the teams involved in these games, but I imagine it makes for a pretty nice payday. The Astros could use a little stimulus from MLB to help out with the rebuilding process. I figure Bud owes us one after the home series in Milwaukee fiasco.
The Astros are the perfect ambassadors for bringing the MLB back to the country of Mexico. Our neighbors to the south need a team to root for. The Astros should be that team. Our city’s geographic proximity makes the Astros a natural home team for a large number of Mexico’s residents. Our new owner understands the importance of broadening the team’s fan base. Nolan’s Rangers have already secured a foothold as far south as Round Rock and their recent success threatens to further deplete the Astros following. Mexico provides a virtually untapped well of baseball fans willing to support the first team that shows an interest.
Jeff Luhnow was born and raised in Mexico City and still has ties there. Luhnow handled international scouting duties for the Cardinals for the last seven seasons. Surely part of his 25-page plan to improve the Astros includes at least a couple of pages on Central America. Now I know there are plenty of Dodgers and Padres fans in the state of Baja, but the rest of the country is ripe for the picking. The Astros roster includes several up-and-coming young players from Latin-America that should be quite endearing to the people of Mexico.
I think the Astros should look into opening the 2014 season in Mexico City. A lot could be gained by such a move. And unlike Japan, the games wouldn’t start at 2:00 a.m. Houston time.