The 2013 season was ushered in with an expanded World Baseball Classic, the postseason ended with a splitter from a Japanese pitcher, and the next season will begin for the first time in Australia, when the Dodgers and D-backs take part in the Opening Series in Sydney.
On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that its ever-increasing international focus will include players traveling this offseason to share their passion for the game with fans and young players from seven developing baseball countries.
Seven players are serving this offseason as MLB Ambassadors. They are taking the sport to the Netherlands, France, China, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.
All-Star Curtis Granderson, Roger Bernadina of the 2013 Netherlands World Baseball Classic team and Chris Dickerson will visit Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Nov. 16-17 and Paris on Nov. 22-23 as part of the fourth annual "European Big League Tour." The tour is led by former Major League pitcher and Netherlands native Rick VandenHurk, supported by the MLB Players Association and MLB International. Players and coaches conduct free youth clinics, and more than 3,000 young ballplayers have attended in the past three years.
"I've enjoyed doing this every year since 2006, and this year I'll be in the Netherlands and also in France," Granderson said. "We're continuing to make the game even more global than it already is, trying to promote the game. The game has given me an opportunity to do some amazing things, so I want to continue to give it back to everybody."
Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is headed to China next month for clinics and promotion, and he will visit Beijing on Dec. 6, Changzhou on Dec. 7-8 and Shanghai on Dec. 9. MLB Development Centers are located in Wuxi and Changzhou, providing a world-class facility for talented Chinese student athletes in grades 7-12. Each Development Center's program incorporates an innovative teaching model that combines mainstream school curriculum with baseball skills development, and Guthrie will work with them.
Pirates reliever Mark Melancon will serve as a special guest instructor at the MLB African Elite Camp in South Africa, visiting Durban on Dec. 7-9 and Cape Town on Dec. 14. For the third consecutive year, the camp will feature 40 of Africa's top young players. Rick Magnante, manager of the Vermont Lake Monsters in the Oakland A's system, and former Major Leaguer Craig Lefferts will lead instruction at the camp, while coaches from the participating nations -- Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda -- will be on hand to learn from the experienced MLB staff.
Indians catcher Yan Gomes, the first Brazilian-born player to play in the Major Leagues when he debuted in 2011, will participate in a number of community baseball events around his native São Paulo on Dec. 12-15. He will visit the Confederation of Brazilian Baseball & Softball (CBBS) training complex and speak with their players. In addition, he will lead a clinic for school-aged children in Mogi das Cruzes, where Gomes began playing baseball as a child.
Brazil was competitive in last spring's World Baseball Classic under Hall of Famer and manager Barry Larkin, and MLB International is seeking to build on that momentum. To that end, 19-year veteran pitcher LaTroy Hawkins will serve as a pitching instructor at the MLB Brazil Elite Camp from Feb. 2-12 in Ibiuna.
That camp, which has taken place each year since 2011, brings together 50 of the best players from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, ages 14-17, to participate in morning instructional workouts, afternoon games and nightly seminars lead by MLB field staff. Players receive Major League instruction from top professional coaches and put their talents on display for Major League scouts. The staff will include Larkin and former Major Leaguers Steve Finley and John Mizerock.
MLB will continue to reach out Down Under in advance of its March 22-23 Opening Series at the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds -- a series that will mark MLB's first games in Australia. D-backs left-hander Patrick Corbin and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis will head there before the series, following the lead of D-backs All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who recently returned from a promotional tour to Australia and New Zealand.
Goldschmidt visited a local aboriginal community to meet with promising young players, helped to launch the Sydney Blue Sox season and met with the New Zealand national team. The Blue Sox are a member of the Australian Baseball League, a six-team league started in 2010 that features homegrown talent, as well as many players who hail from outside Australia, playing a 46-game season from November through February.
Last Opening Day, 28.2 percent of all players on MLB rosters were born outside the U.S. -- the fourth-highest total of all time. The World Baseball Classic, won by the Dominican Republic in 2013, is next scheduled for 2017.