Fort Bragg: Baseball's best neutral sites

MLB makes history Sunday with first game at active military base

June 28th, 2016

The Braves and Marlins cast aside home-field advantage to pay tribute to the nation's armed forces during Independence Day Weekend. The National League East clubs played a regular-season game on Sunday at the newly constructed Fort Bragg Field, a 12,500-capacity ballpark at Fort Bragg, a military base in North Carolina, with the Marlins claiming a 5-2 victory.

This game was a truly unique event as the first professional contest of any kind to be played on an active military base, but it's far from first neutral site regular-season game in Major League history. Inclement weather has accounted for several changes of scenery, including the most recent instance in 2008 when a series between the Cubs and Astros shifted from Houston to Miller Park in Milwaukee in response to Hurricane Ike. Others were the result of stadium renovations and repairs, such as the A's playing six home games at Cashman Field in Las Vegas in 1996 when Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum underwent football renovations.

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This year's Fort Bragg Game, however, is the latest in a long line of scheduled affairs designed to further extend MLB's presence beyond the 27 cities that are currently home to its 30 big league clubs.

Baseball has often ventured into untapped markets for spring exhibitions, and at times, tested the waters for a potential relocation in regular season, like the Brooklyn Dodgers did in 1956-57, playing 15 home games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J. But it wasn't until 1996, when the Mets and Padres met in Monterrey, Mexico, that neutral-site games evolved into what we know today. 

Below is a deeper a look into the past 20 years of planned neutral site games:


Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Rays shifted to another Florida market in 2007, playing the first regular-season Major League games in the Orlando area, home to Grapefruit League action each spring. Tampa Bay -- then the Devil Rays -- swept the Texas Rangers in three games at the Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports on May 15-17, 2007. The club returned to the Disney venue, rebranded as Champions Stadium, the following season for three-game set against the Blue Jays on April 22-24, 2008, and again swept its opponent, remaining undefeated at the site.

Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii

The Padres and Cardinals played the first and only MLB regular-season games in Hawaii on April 19-20, 1997, bringing baseball to the islands with a three-game set at Honolulu's Aloha Stadium, the site of the NFL's Pro Bowl and University of Hawaii home football games. The series opened with a doubleheader, which the Cardinals swept, then wrapped the next day with a Padres win before 40,050 fans.


Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia

The Dodgers and D-backs brought baseball Down Under as the National League West foes opened the 2014 season with a two-game series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw embarked upon his NL Most Valuable Player Award campaign with a win at the Sydney Cricket Ground, converted into a baseball field for the continent's first MLB regular-season game. It was the first time the venue hosted a Major League team since the Chicago White Sox played an exhibition there in 1914. Both the Dodgers and the D-backs played an exhibition game against the Australian national team before meeting in the Opening Series, which the Dodgers swept.

Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan

The Tokyo Dome has seen its share of Major League action, housing the Opening Series four times. It was a natural progression for a long history between North American and Japanese baseball, which also features a biennial All-Star exhibition series. Regular-season baseball first migrated to Japan at the turn of the century when the Cubs and Mets split the Opening Series in Tokyo on March 29-30, 2000. MLB would return to the Tokyo Dome three more times in 2004 (Yankees vs. Rays), '08 (Red Sox vs. A's) and '12 (Mariners vs. A's).

The 2004 series between Boston and Oakland featured Hideki Matsui's return to his native country, playing at the ballpark he called home for 10 years with the Yomiuri Giants. Matsui was the series MVP, batting 3-for-9 with a double, a home run and three RBIs. In 2008, fans in attendance were treated to an extra-innings Opening Day thriller that was decided by Manny Ramirez's two-out, two-run double in the 10th inning. Hideki Okajima became the first Japanese pitcher to win an MLB game played in Japan, while Daisuke Matsuzaka took a no-decision in his homecoming. 

The most recent trip, in 2012, was used to aid rebuilding efforts in Japan following the previous year's earthquake and tsunami. Japanese baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki starred for the Mariners, totaling four hits in the season opener. The series was several years in the making; Seattle and Oakland were previously scheduled to open the 2003 season in Tokyo, but the trip was canceled over travel safety concerns when the U.S. invaded Iraq the day before the teams were scheduled to depart. 

Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan played host to an MLB game for the first time on Opening Day in 2001, a contest between the Rangers and Blue Jays, which Toronto won, 8-1, at Estadio Hiram Bithorn, an eventual World Baseball Classic venue. Two Puerto Rican stars -- the Rangers' Ivan Rodriguez and the Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado -- participated in the game.

As part of the efforts to bring a permanent team to the U.S. territory, the Montreal Expos played 22 home games each at Estadio Hiram Bithorn in 2003 and '04. The Expos went 20-23 through two seasons at their part-time home ballpark.

MLB's most recent regular-season visit to the island was a three-game series between the Mets and Marlins on June 28-30, 2010. It wasn't the first visit for either club as both the Marlins and the Mets played the Expos in San Juan in 2003-04. The Marlins, whose manager Edwin Rodriguez was the first Puerto Rican-born skipper in the big leagues, took two of three games from New York.

The Pirates and Marlins were scheduled to play two games in San Juan this May for Roberto Clemente Day, but the series was shifted to Miami amid concerns over the Zika virus.

Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico

Monterrey, Mexico, was home to MLB's first venture abroad as the Mets and Padres traveled south of the border on Aug. 16-18, 1996. for the first regular-season games played outside the United States and Canada. Mexico native Fernando Valenzuela started the opener for San Diego and earned the win with six-plus shutout innings.

The Padres returned to Monterrey to face the Rockies on April 4, 1999, and again made history with the first Opening Day game outside of North America. The Rockies bested the defending NL-champion Padres with an 8-2 victory in Jim Leyland's managerial debut for Colorado. Mexican-born two-time All-Star Vinny Castilla batted 4-for-5 with a double in the game.