Baseball is one of several sports seeking a slice of the huge Indian market and its similarity with cricket, often called a religion in the country of 1.4 billion, could give it a head start, MLB officials hope.
MLB spent about 15 years studying the market before opening a sixth international office in New Delhi last year and was encouraged by the throwing, hitting and catching techniques that link America’s pastime and India’s obsession.
“Cricket is such a big sport here. So catching, throwing and swing of the bat come very naturally,” said Ryo Takahashi, who heads MLB’s business and commercial operations in India. “The sheer size of this country, the population — to be able to hook India to baseball, that definitely boosts the sport worldwide.”
Takahashi, perhaps wisely, said that the plan was not to try to supplant cricket in India.
“We’re not trying to bring baseball as an alternative, or as a replacement, by any means,” he said. “Anything new, whether it’s music or restaurants, it’s exciting. So new sport is something that might resonate. Within that, if there’s some sort of familiarity, it’s easier for people to relate. I think it’s a good mix, it’s a perfect mix.”
The NBA, which opened an office in India in 2011, staged two pre-season games in Mumbai in October last year.
MLB, which has previously played games in Mexico, Japan and Australia, made a foray into Europe last year when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox took their rivalry to London.
Takahashi said it would be premature to do something similar in India, where MLB has attracted more than 30,000 school students in 320 workshops since opening its office.
“We eventually want to get there. I don’t think the demand is here yet, so it wouldn’t make sense to suddenly do that,” he said.
The league also plans to revive the Million Dollar Arm, a contest that began as a reality television show and inspired a 2014 Hollywood movie.
Takahashi said that the contest, which drew thousands of aspiring pitchers competing to earn a tryout with a Major League team, would now be an annual affair.
“When it happened, there was a buzz. We plan to do it again ... and make sure we were able to capitalize on that,” he said.
The India men’s team played in the Asian Championship in 1987 and 1989, but the country’s Olympic Association only recognized the national amateur baseball federation in 2002.
The long-term goal remained to facilitate Indian representation at the elite level, Takahashi said.
“I think there’s a lot of ways for us to measure success. It could be a situation like Yao Ming for the NBA [in China]. It could be TV rating numbers, it could be the national team of India competing in the World Baseball Classic.”
“We have the resources, we have the experience and we definitely have the will... Tough to put a date to it, but I think definitely all of it is achievable,” Takahashi said.
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