2014 SEASON PREVIEW (PART 8): Everything you wanted to know about the opening series in Australia but didn’t ask

So, it won’t be long before the 2014 MLB Regular Season starts… in Australia. Yes, this year, it starts in Sydney, Australia. You may or may not have questions about this, but I don’t particularly care what you think, so for our latest preview, we look at these two games that will start off the season.

Okay, first thing’s first, give me the basic details of this thing again?

The LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are going to play a two-game series at Sydney’s Sydney Cricket Grounds. These are regular season games that count in the standings.

Okay, so when are they taking place?

Game one takes place around 4 AM Eastern (1 AM Pacific) on March 22nd, with the second game taking place later that date at around 10 PM Eastern (7 PM Pacific). The reason for that is due to the international date line- locally the first game takes place a bit past 7 PM on the 22nd and a bit past 1 PM on the 23rd. Fun fact: Due to these games being in the Southern Hemisphere, the MLB season will, for the first time, START in Fall, as opposed to merely ending in it.

In addition, both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will have exhibitions against the Australian National Team on the 20th (Dodgers) and 21st (Diamondbacks).

Who’s the home team here?

The Diamondbacks will be the “home” team.

Is it on TV here in America?

Yup. They’ll be on MLB Network, with Matt Vasgersian and Tom Smoltz calling it, with Ian Chappell providing further commentary.

The games will also be on the local TV broadcasts in Arizona and LA. The games about the Australian National Team should be available online, for example on MLB.TV.

Who’s Ian Chappell?

One of the greatest Australian cricketers of all time and a major fixture of Australian TV coverage of Cricket, Chappell has a baseball pedigree, and his son had a brief stint in the minors. Presumably he will be there to provide some local flavor, such as information on the Sydney Cricket Ground, some Australian traditions, etc.

Speaking of which where is this being played, again?

The Sydney Cricket Ground, established in 1848 (although renovated and/or rebuilt several times since then), is one of the world’s most storied cricket venues. It has also been used for both rugby union and league, the Commonwealth Games (at the time called the “British Empire Games”), Australian Rules Football, soccer, concerts, and, yes, at one point baseball- the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played there during their 1914 world tour.

For baseball, the fences have been set up as 328 down the lines, 370 in the gaps and 400 to straightaway center. Here’s how they changed it from cricket to baseball:

So, who’s pitching?

Game 1: Clayton Kershaw vs. Wade Miley (filling in for Patrick Corbin, who is hurt)

Game 2: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Trevor Cahill

Where’s Zack Greinke?

Partially not there because an injury screwed up his throwing schedule, partially not there because his rather… unfiltered… thoughts about how he felt about starting the season in Australia. Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp also didn’t make the trip due to injury.

Are there even any Australians on these teams?

Sort of. Ryan Rowland-Smith. AKA “Hyphen”, is fighting for a spot in the Diamondbacks bullpen. He definitely will be playing in the exhibition games- in fact, the Diamondbacks have given him permission to pitch for Team Australia against the Dodgers.

Can you give me a brief history of baseball in Australia?

From my 2013 WBC preview:

The first baseball in Australia was played by American expats and their friends in the 1850s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the first organized teams were formed. The sport received more attention during the World Tours of barnstorming MLB players in the 19th and early 20th century and by the time American servicemen arrived in Australia during WWII there was a small but devoted amateur culture of baseball, one that has survived to this day. However, baseball has not yet been able to get permanently get past that amateur status, with two professional leagues (the Australian Baseball league of 1989-99 and the International Baseball League of Australia of 1999-2002) failing and a complete lack of professional baseball until the new Australian Baseball League was formed with MLB help a few years ago.

What will the crowds be like? I mean, you just said that professional leagues have struggled to survive and that it’s amateur baseball is simply “small but devoted”.

Well, they’ve sold out (or come very close to selling out) both games. It’s also likely, if reports are anything to go on, that they are going to be Diamondbacks fans.

Is this going to be one-off, or a regular thing?

Well, baseball has becoming increasingly driven in expanding the game’s reach internationally, and just having the WBC and the occasional opener in Japan isn’t going to be enough. Already there is some talk that MLB could return to Australia in 2018 if this series is a success, and there have also been rumblings about games in the Netherlands. And, just this year, there have been exhibition games in Panama City and, later in the spring, a return to Montreal. So, yeah, this is going to be a regular thing. Maybe it won’t be in Sydney, maybe it won’t even be a return to Tokyo, Mexico or Puerto Rico (although all of those are certainly possible), but there will be more openers overseas in the future.

Like where?

Besides obvious suspects like Korea, Taiwan or the Dominican Republic (none of which, amazingly, have ever hosted an official MLB game), I wouldn’t be surprised if you see rumblings about maybe doing series in other countries that play cricket, since it’s a lot easier to turn a cricket ground into a baseball field than, say, a soccer pitch. So, don’t be surprised if we end up seeing games in New Zealand (where baseball is the fastest-growing team sport) and the United Kingdom (although the weather there could be a problem) in the not-that-distant future.

Can I see the picture of Vin Scully holding the Koala Bear?


Next time: More baseball previewing!


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