For those of us feeling cooped up after days of quarantine and social distancing, baseball can offer a great reminder that there’s a big world out there, and the Yankees can be an integral part of it.
While the MLB season remains dormant here in the United States, signs of real baseball began sprouting up overseas last week. Both the KBO League in Korea and NPB in Japan played exhibition games, offering folks in the U.S. a reminder of the joys that await, and reinforcing the game’s continued growth and appeal to fans around the globe.
At the start of last season, 251 players represented 20 different countries and territories outside the U.S. on Opening Day 25-man rosters and inactive lists. This number came from a record-high pool of 882 players born outside the U.S.
The Yankees play a prominent role in this trend. Their current roster features players from eight nations outside the U.S., including Canada (James Paxton), Colombia (Gio Urshela), Cuba (Aroldis Chapman), Japan (Masahiro Tanaka), Mexico (Luis Cessa), Nicaragua (Jonathan Loaisiga), Venezuela (Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Yajure) and the Domincan Republic (eight players).
The team has a history of relying on stars of the international game. In the last 25 years, players from around the globe have been crucial to the Yankees’ success.
But you don’t have to travel back a full quarter century to feel their impact. In January of 2019, Panama-born Mariano Rivera became the first ever unanimous Hall of Fame inductee. And a decade earlier, Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui was crowned World Series MVP.
Even Yankees born in the U.S. have contributed to the game on the global stage. David Hale, the oft-overlooked righty reliever, preceded his most recent stretch in the Bronx with a stint in the Korean Baseball Organization, playing for the Hanwha Eagles, one of the teams who participated in last week’s exhibitions.
And over in Japan, Tyler Austin, product of the Yankees’ minor league system and onetime charger of the Boston mound, crushed a home run in an exhibition game of his own.
In the most recent World Baseball Classic, held in March of 2017, Giancarlo Stanton went 2-for-5 with an RBI in the championship game, setting the tone for the monster MVP campaign he was about to drop on the National League. In the very same game, former Yankee David Robertson was on the mound to secure the tournament-clinching out for the U.S. And way back in the Classic’s inaugural season in 2006, Derek Jeter earned All-WBC honors at shortstop.
These moments, along with the geographic diversity of their rosters, contribute to the Yankees’ global stature as a brand. Then again, winning 27 World Series titles in a media mecca doesn’t hurt, either.
When MLB sought to introduce London to its first live Major League games, it came as no surprise that the Yankees — and of course, the rival Red Sox — were called upon. It’s a good indication that as the game’s global profile continues to grow, so too will the Yankees’.
And independent of MLB’s efforts to promote the game overseas, the team has been aggressive in pursuing international free agents, using their resources to leverage a vast international scouting network.
As part of a forward-thinking strategy, the front office spent recent seasons shrewdly acquiring international pool money, which they used to land Dominican phenom Jasson Dominguez, now age-17. The prospect’s tools and athleticism have been compared to Mickey Mantle’s, and have earned him the nickname “the Martian” — which I guess means he’s actually an interplanetary player, not an international one.
Obviously, it would be amazing to see Dominguez fulfill his seemingly limitless potential. But with the ranks of the international talent pool steadily deepening, the Yankees will survive if he disappoints. As the game blossoms internationally, they’ll scour new corners of the map to unearth more unique prospects.
It’s a funny paradox: the smaller technology shrinks the globe, the more limitless its possibilities become. Baseball’s growth has added new dimensions and character to the game’s existing richness, and by embracing these changes, the Yankees have positioned themselves to succeed the whole world over.