MLB aims to play games in Europe

MLB aims to play games in Europe

Major League Baseball is currently looking at sites in London, Amsterdam and Sydney, Australia, for the possible staging of regular-season baseball games as early as 2007.

With that in mind, MLB International is in the process of having Murray Cook, its chief of groundskeeping and venues, visit and check on the possibilities of using one the prospective sites. It could be the first time MLB plays regularly scheduled games outside of North America or Japan.

"Major League Baseball is very interested in playing games in Europe," baseball senior vice president Paul Archey said on Thursday in Amsterdam, where officials of MLB and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) have gathered for the biannual IBAF World Cup of Baseball. "We're investigating possibilities in Europe where we may be able to play regular-season games as early as the 2007 season."

MLB officials, along with Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Players Association, met on Thursday in The Netherlands to discuss the prospects of playing regular season games in Europe, among other things.

MLB has long studied sites in Europe, most recently looking at venues to play regular-season games in Italy prior to last summer's Olympics in Athens, Greece. But those plans were dashed when Team USA was eliminated from those Olympics during a qualifying tournament.

The Netherlands and Italy are the top two professional baseball-playing nations on the European continent. London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has dropped baseball and women's softball from that year's competition. And the U.S. won its only Olympic baseball gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia, where the sport has been growing by leaps and bounds.

The Netherlands, Italy and Australia are among the 16 nations invited to participate in next year's inaugural World Baseball Classic, tentatively scheduled to be staged in Japan, Puerto Rico and the United States from March 3-20. That will be the first international tournament to include Major League players.

In the past, MLB has opened the regular season in Japan, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Midseason baseball games have also been played in season in Mexico and Puerto Rico, where the former Montreal Expos played 22 games in each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons before moving to Washington this year.

MLB also sends an All-Star team to tour Japan every other year, when it plays a series against its counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball.

The last international events were in March 2004, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the New York Yankees opened the season with a two-game series at the Tokyo Dome, and this past November, when the MLB All-Stars made a five-city tour.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.