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Baseball Sees a World of Possibilities

Diversity of rosters and expanded international coverage drive fans' interest in faraway places.

October 23, 2002|Mike Hiserman | Times Staff Writer

The World Series? How about the Pacific Coast Highway Series?

A trip around the world would span just shy of 25,000 miles. A trip from Edison Field in Anaheim, home of the Angels, to Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, the Giants' turf, goes about 420 miles.

Call it what you want, but Major League Baseball's championship series has never been very worldly.

Unless, of course, the focus is on the hometowns of the players rather than the teams.

Of the 50 players on the World Series rosters, 11 -- six from the Giants, five from the Angels -- were born outside the United States. And major league baseball is wont to miss an opportunity to bring its product to hometown fans -- even if the town is Montecristi in the Dominican Republic, or Fukuoka, Japan.

Last year, the international telecast of the World Series had an audience estimated to be more than 100 million, generating more than $50 million for baseball in television rights. This year's Series is being televised in 224 countries and in 14 languages. And 225 of the 1,200 credentials issued to media covering the games went to foreign press representing 13 nations besides the U.S. -- although the Jerusalem Post has been a no-show.

Where it's not being televised, baseball is offering streaming video over the Internet at a cost of $4.95 a day, or $19.95 for all the playoffs.

"Clearly we've become a global game," said Paul Archey, president of Major League Baseball International. "Having the diversity of players we have in baseball is what really drives the interest."

On opening day, 26% of players on major league rosters were born outside the U.S., including Sammy Sosa, Ichiro Suzuki and Pedro Martinez, some of the biggest names in the sport. Indeed, at July's All-Star game the percentage was even higher -- 23 of 60.

So while a World Series between California teams a freeway drive apart might not be of any interest in Beijing, or even New Jersey, it's of prime interest in Japan and Venezuela.

In Japan, the games might best be remembered as "The Shinjo Series," in honor of Tsuyoshi Shinjo, reserve outfielder, part-time designated hitter, most-times cheering-from-the-top-step-of-the-dugout member of the Giants.

Shinjo is the first Japanese player to appear in the World Series, so even though his role has been minimal in the first three games, his every move is footnoted for posterity by the 15 newspapers and four television stations from Japan that are covering the event.

National broadcaster NHK's coverage of the first game was dominated by Shinjo footage, with Japanese commentators breathlessly providing updates such as: "Here's the first Japanese to bat in a World Series," "Shinjo made the first swing by a Japanese in the World Series" and "Shinjo made the first World Series hit by a Japanese."

Japan's largest daily newspapers, Yomiuri Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun, both published photographs of him on their front pages the next day. Various sports pages gave his hit -- in his second at-bat, Shinjo lined a single to right-center -- prominent coverage under such headlines as "Shinjo Beats the Pressure," "Magnificent First Battle" and "Hit Fires Up Teammates."

"We Envy You, Shinjo" gushed a headline in the sports tabloid Nikkan Sports. "First Hit By Japanese in the World Series!"

Although Shinjo is a reserve, the spike in his popularity can be traced to relatively low expectations for him -- in stark contrast to their hopes for national hero Suzuki, who many expected to lead the Seattle Mariners to the World Series.

"I don't expect much from Shinjo, but when he actually achieves something it's impressive," said Yasushi Ishibe, a tour guide. "When Ichiro doesn't do well, it's very disappointing."

Across the globe in Venezuela, young Francisco Rodriguez's surprising rise to a starring role for the Angels has become a welcome distraction for a nation overwhelmed by a general strike and seemingly ever-increasing political turmoil.

The 20-year-old right-hander, who has been the winning pitcher in five of the Angels' nine postseason victories, was a relative unknown until a month ago when he was first called up to the majors.

Now, in the Caracas sports sections, details of his exploits get prime play beside accounts from games between the Venezuela Lions and the La Guajira Sharks, longtime bitter rivals in the Venezuelan pro league.

In Mexico, which has produced many major leaguers, sports sections trumpet the showdown between Los Gigantes de San Francisco vs. Los Serafines de Anaheim.

In the capital, Tuesday's edition of Reforma carried the headline, "Latin American Duel," previewing the Game 3 pitching matchup of the Giants' Livan Hernandez, a Cuban, against the Angels' Ramon Ortiz, of the Dominican Republic.

Fortunately for Hernandez, who was hit hard by the Angels, Cuban newspapers aren't covering the Series. However, outlets from Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Panama and Puerto Rico are.

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