MLB heading to Australia with new pro competition

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major League Baseball (MLB) has agreed to join forces with cricket-crazy Australia to form a professional baseball championship between six teams in the southern hemisphere.

MLB said on Thursday the Australian Baseball League, which will start in November and run until mid-February, will act as a launching pad for players from Australia, Japan and Korea hoping to break into the professional ranks.

"Major League Baseball is very excited about the opportunity to join the Australian Baseball Federation in bringing professional baseball back to Australia," MLB's Paul Archey said in a statement.

"With the level of talent originating Down Under, it is only natural that a national baseball league returns, both for the players and for the fans."

Baseball has been played in Australia since 1857 and the country has enjoyed some success in the sport, winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and producing dozens of players who have played in MLB.

However, the sport has struggled for mainstream recognition in Australia where cricket is the national summer sport.

The new professional league will begin with six teams, one in each of six major cities in Australia.

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)