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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Opener in Australia is testament to Selig's legacy

Opener in Australia is testament to Selig's legacy

Opener in Australia is testament to Selig's legacy

Opening Series in Australia? Bloody splendid, mate. Hey, was there any doubt there'd be a Yasiel Puig world tour?

For the D-backs and Dodgers, it'll be a wonderful adventure, a chance to see a different part of the world and introduce their sport to a new audience.

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This is a day Commissioner Bud Selig envisioned years ago when he began drawing up a blueprint for Major League Baseball. This isn't the final step, only the next one.

Where next? Rome? Sure, why not? Beijing? Absolutely. Baseball is already being played and watched around the globe, so why not show it off at its highest level?

The World Baseball Classic has been wildly popular in places like Japan and the Dominican Republic, and in the last 14 years, baseball has played regular-season games in Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico.

So Wednesday's announcement that the D-backs and Dodgers will open the 2014 regular season with a pair of games in Sydney on March 22-23 feels like an appropriate next step in growing the sport.

Besides, baseball has deep roots in Australia. Opening Day 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the White Sox and Giants playing an exhibition game there. Thirty-one current Major League players were born there, and baseball has for years scouted Australia for talent.

Now, a little history. When Selig became Commissioner in 1992, he had two immediate goals for Major League Baseball. He wanted financial stability for clubs and labor peace between players and owners.

He believed baseball had the potential for amazing growth -- for instance, playing games in Australia -- but everything hinged on accomplishing those first two things.

If you're of a certain age, you might not know it was ever otherwise, and that's probably the greatest tribute to this Commissioner. Still, baseball's growth has been so breathtaking that on some levels it's barely recognizable from, say, 1985.

In 21 years under Selig, the sport has indeed achieved financial stability and labor peace. And because of those two things, baseball has done incredible things. Selig challenged his people to dream big and think outside the box, to respect the past without being smothered by it. His personal legacy is that he might be the most effective Commissioner professional sports in this country has ever had.

Don't believe me? Here's a list of things that have happened on his watch: attendance records, Wild Card playoff berths, Interleague Play, revenue sharing, parity, new ballparks and using the Internet more creatively and more successfully than almost any other industry on Earth.

Baseball has done all of this while continuing to honor its past. It pays tribute to Jackie Robinson every season and uses his legacy as one of its guiding lights. It also raises millions for cancer research and has the best drug-testing program in professional sports.

All these things, every last one of them, has been accomplished because of that original vision that players and owners absolutely must work together. They've done this for over a decade, and the sport's growth has been almost incomprehensible.

The World Baseball Classic was an example of that cooperation. To have many of the game's best players competing for their countries has been great fun to watch in terms of emotion and competitive fires.

Baseball has done such a terrific job making the game available around the world that it's simply a matter of finding suitable venues for Major League games.

Thirty years ago, I spent three weeks touring Japan with the Orioles. In every city -- Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc. -- there were large, energetic crowds cheering their hometown teams against the Orioles.

Dozens of fans gathered outside the team hotel each morning hoping for a glimpse of Eddie Murray or Cal Ripken or Jim Palmer. Even the players who hadn't been thrilled by making the trip after a long, tough season were happy to have gone. They'd seen a different part of the world, different ballparks, etc., but they'd been reminded that playing Major League Baseball is an honor.

Hopefully, that's how the Dodgers and D-backs will feel when they're flying home next March. They will have done something to help their sport grow, they will have given Aussies a taste of the greatest sport on Earth and they might just have one of those experiences they'll remember forever.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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