Baseball represents our countries’ best shared values

Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich (Ambassador to Australia, 2009-2013)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Bleich’s March 20, 2014 special to The Australian.

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There are few things in international affairs that could bring together three current and former US ambassadors to Australia at one time. But this week incumbent US ambassador John Berry and former ambassador Tom Schieffer and I will all be together in Sydney to commemorate a bond that has endured between our nations for more than a century: baseball.

Long before our people served together, triumphed together and formed an alliance together, we played ball together; 130 years ago Joe Quinn, the great second baseman from Ipswich, debuted in St Louis and became the first Aussie to play in the major leagues.

He went on to have a storied career playing, coaching and even umpiring in the majors for nearly three decades.

This year, in fact, marks the centenary of when the 1914 Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants arrived in this harbour to play an exhibition game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Although it happened 100 years ago, Barack Obama, a Sox fan, still won’t let me forget that his White Sox beat my Giants by 10-5. To commemorate that event, the SCG and Major League Baseball have arranged for two of baseball’s greatest rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, to come to Australia to play their season opener. They are terrific teams that, I know, will be battling hard this season to be the second best team (after my San Francisco Giants).

The success of baseball in Australia is evident in the great players who continue to follow Quinn into the major leagues. For example, my other favourite US team, the Oakland A’s, had four Australians in its starting lineup in last season’s play-offs. Among my proudest mementos from my service as ambassador is a signed “bobble-head” of Grant Balfour, the great Australian pitcher, who holds the all-time record for the Oakland A’s for consecutive saves.

Other Australian stars such as Rich Thompson, Josh Spence and Luke Hughes are proving that baseball is truly the world’s game. In fact, the reason we call the US baseball championship the World Series is not — as some people think — because the US is being presumptuous; it’s because the series was originally sponsored by a paper called The World, and that name stuck. The major leagues have players from more than a dozen countries in their starting line-ups; and baseball is growing in places as far-flung as Japan, Australia, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Last season, I experienced the same excitement in the crowd watching the Canberra Cavalry win its championship in Narrabundah, ACT, as I did watching the Giants take the series in 2012.

That Major League Baseball has helped renovate the Sydney Cricket Ground for this year’s 100th anniversary is just one example of the prosperity that baseball also brings to both our nations. Baseball is good for business. All you have to do is visit the new ballparks in Baltimore, Washington and San Francisco and see how baseball has revitalised those neighbourhoods and brought in restaurants, hotels, tourists, new businesses and community pride. Based on ticket sales throughout Australia, the US, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asia, the exclusive Sydney engagement between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks has brought baseball fans from across the region and injected millions of dollars into NSW and the Australian economy.

But what I love most about baseball is that it’s not just about practical things — trade and revenues. It is a sport that reflects some deep values that connect Americans and Australians.

Baseball is about giving it a go. Every single player on the team must step up to the plate and take a swing, even when the pressure is greatest.

It’s a game about perseverance. The best batters in history — the ones who are in the hall of fame — still failed seven out of 10 times they stood at the plate. Ballplayers never quit.

Baseball is about teamwork. Many great players never won a championship because a winning team depends on every player.

And most of all baseball is about hope. It is a sport where no matter how many runs you are down, as long as you have an at bat left you can still come back and win.

That’s why baseball can bring together nations, families, communities and even ambassadors. Our goal is the same as every batter on that field — give your best, play fair and make it home “safe”. So in the immortal words of Quinn, let’s go out and “play ball”.

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