MLB exploring spring training in Italy

ROME -- Major League Baseball hopes to have two teams trade hot dogs and apple pie for pasta and gelato.

MLB is exploring the possibility of sending a pair of clubs to Italy for a few spring training games next year or in 2012.

International Baseball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari told The Associated Press on Wednesday that MLB officials recently scouted several locations: Nettuno, near Rome; Parma; and Palermo and Messina in Sicily.

"In Sicily, the weather would be better," Fraccari said. "It's still winter in Parma in March."

Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice president of international business operations, said the league will try to arrange the trip for next year but is running out of time.

"We would like to play spring training games in Italy at some point, whether that's 2011 or 2012 or 2014," Archey said by phone from New York.

MLB would like to hold regular-seasons games in several different European countries at some point, but weather restrictions for March make Italy the most appealing choice for spring training.

"What you don't want to do is take a major league team out of spring training and put them in either a cold or a wet environment where you might not even be able to play the games," Archey said. "So you need to make sure you're in a place in March that can accommodate baseball."

Spring training games have already been played in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and Taiwan.

Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said he wasn't sure about playing in Sicily but said the Rome area was a possibility. An agreement with the union would be necessary.

"We need to find places where both the facility and the community and the weather all make sense," Archey said. "There are a number of facilities in Italy that are of that spring training type."

The scouting delegation included World Baseball Classic director James Pearce, Clive Russell from MLB London and MLB's representative in Italy, Dan Bonanno.

"We have not discussed it with any players, obviously, so it's all in a preliminary stage, but, yes, we are interested in exploring spring training games in Italy," Orza said. "It would probably be toward the end of spring training and coming back and resuming spring training briefly and then going right into the regular season. It would only be a couple of days of games. It would not be an extended spring training. It would probably be split-squad. Again, we don't know exactly. We haven't really gotten to any of the details, just the feasibility."

MLB officials have been scouting sites in Italy for years with the hope of holding regular-season games but have been unable to find an adequate facility. Even finding a site for spring training games isn't easy.

"The question is fields and size of stadiums, etc., and obviously there are revenue issues associated with it," Orza said.

Meanwhile, Fraccari is working with MLB and professional leagues in Asia to create a commercial and marketing agreement with the international federation to boost baseball's chances of getting back into the Olympics.

Baseball was a full medal sport at the Olympics from 1992 to 2008 but has been dropped for 2012 and 2016.

"We've got to continue thinking about how we promote the sport," Fraccari said. "The important thing is that the international federation is represented by the big baseball countries and that includes the United States, Cuba and Japan. I want to present a global sport to the IOC."

Fraccari added that baseball and softball need to apply to the IOC together.

"That's the only solution," he said. "There's no way there's going to be two spots available."