JUPITER, Fla. — Cameras have followed Miami Marlins All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton everywhere since he reported to camp three weeks ago.
According to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who spoke to media on Tuesday morning at Roger Dean Stadium, it’s all part of a concerted effort to develop faces of the game.
"I think we have a group of young players — and Giancarlo’s one of them — that are tremendously appealing because of their amazing ability on the field and the type of human beings they are off the field," Manfred said. "The quality of that young talent and the quality of the human beings in that group gives baseball a tremendous opportunity to grow the game."
Stanton, who turned 25 this winter, signed the largest sports contract in North American history last November. He is part of a collection of young stars that includes Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.
Each player, in his own right, offers a tantalizing degree of marketability.
Since taking over for Bud Selig in late January, Manfred has reached out to players and clubs, making his presence and goals known. Tuesday marked his latest stop on a spring-training tour
"If you said to me if I have a list of five priorities, I think increasing the profile — if you’d let me use that word — of some of our young stars would be in the top five," Manfred said. "It’s important for the future of the game, it’s important in terms of working with or attracting young fans to the game. Our players face a challenge with respect to marketing activities. The challenge being they play 162 games in 183 days. They do not have the kind of time that some other professional athletes have during the season, but despite that limitation, there are programs we are undertaking right now that are designed to achieve exactly what you suggest."
When asked whether Major League Baseball could find and promote a LeBron James-type guy, Manfred had no doubts.
"I believe baseball absolutely can have that type of figure in terms of profile, and we’re really going to work hard to make sure that happens," Manfred said.
MLB has already begun closely working with both FOX and ESPN to develop player-centric storylines over the course of a season. The hope is to take advantage of the big platform of the national broadcasts. Manfred said to look no further than last year’s postseason when the Kansas City Royals became the darlings. Fan interest crossed the country, not just the midwest.
Stanton’s blockbuster long-term deal holds a higher purpose than just a monetary benefit for the two-time All-Star and runner-up to National League Most Valuable Player. It provides optimism for the Marlins organization and the sport’s future growth.
"I see the contract as a sign of the current ownership’s commitment to Miami, and I see Miami as a really important market for us in terms of expanding the game into Latin America," Manfred said. "I see it as a positive on both fronts. I really do."
It’s a concept Manfred spoke of during last month’s 2017 All-Star Game announcement at Marlins Park.
With ongoing discussions between Cuba and the United States, MLB has been in close contact with the U.S. federal government.
There could be endless possibilities — from the World Baseball Classic to spring-training games — on the island and in that market. Manfred envisions "sustained" international activity around the globe, particularly where baseball-embedded cultures are located.
"People view Miami as a sort of jumping-off point to Latin America, and I do see Latin America as a place where baseball already has great popularity, but also has a great potential for growth from an international perspective," Manfred said. "In addition, I think we are focused on the Hispanic fanbase. Obviously, large Hispanic fanbase in South Florida, and we hope the efforts we have undertaken there — we have a new marketing campaign directed at Hispanic-Americans — they take root in Miami and it’s a good place for us to test our ideas about growth."