As it continues its efforts to broaden baseball's reach on a global level, MLB's European program enjoyed one of its most successful years in 2017, a hopeful sign of things to come. Recently, MLB Europe held the MLB All-Star European Camp in Regensburg, Germany, with 57 top players in Europe from ages 12 to 15.
MLB's efforts in Europe have taken on a more significant expansion in recent years, perhaps most notably with MLB scheduling its first regular-season games there for next season. And as part of the first ever MLB London Series, the league is sending two of its most storied franchises, as the Red Sox and Yankees will meet at 55,000-seat London Stadium on June 29-30.
MLB's burgeoning presence overseas is reflective of its aspiration to widen its net of interest and talent. Among the countries represented at the MLB All-Star European Camp were Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, and the event was held at the same facility that hosted the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September 2012 for the '13 tournament.
The All-Star European Camp serves as a showcase of sorts to help amateur-level participants gain exposure to coaches and scouts in the United States. As baseball has become a more global game, with events such as the World Baseball Classic and baseball's return to the Olympics for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, so has its interest among international youth, MLB believes.
"This is a starting point for a lot of kids to really take baseball to the next level," said MLB European operations coordinator Martin Brunner, who, with the aid of other MLB Europe representatives Dan Bonanno, Bill Holmberg and Shawn Bowman, coordinated and ran the camp, which had MLB scouts on hand as well.
"Not everybody is made for pro ball or made to be a Major Leaguer. But I'm very sure that kids who are in the program today, we're going to see playing for the national teams in the World Baseball Classic or other international events," Brunner said.
With the success stories of European-born players such as Twins outfielder Max Kepler (Germany) and Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), MLB is hoping that its pool of big league talent from Europe continues to widen, and it believes such an aspiration can manifest by on-hand engagement with European youth by affording them similar coaching and exposure to what many in the U.S. receive.
For some of the most ambitious amateurs in America, baseball is a 12-month sport, which isn't necessarily the case for those in Europe.
MLB's efforts in Europe reflect the larger imprint that the league has attempted to make under Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has made a concerted effort to engage young audiences -- players and fans alike. In 2017, MLB Europe ran at least four similar programs in Spain, France and Germany.
"MLB's vision for these types of programs is to grow the game," said Joel Araujo, who works in MLB's international talent development department. "We have a mandate from Commissioner Manfred. He wants to grow the game to different parts [of the world] that aren't traditional baseball places. The idea is to give these players the opportunity to be seen by the scouts, whether they can be drafted or whether they go on to junior colleges or go off to be drafted by MLB clubs. That's the idea. It gives them the exposure and game experience. Hopefully this will pick up and continue to help grow the game."
"I think our youth programs are our most important initiative," Manfred said at the All-Star Game in July. "It's about our future in two respects. First of all, our game is compelling because we have the greatest athletes in the world, and we have to be out there competing and make sure that kids choose baseball so that we have great athletes for the future. But equally important, youth participation builds fans."