D-backs, Dodgers arrive in Sydney fired up
Excitement for Opening Series trumps fatigue from trek across Pacific
SYDNEY -- They spent more than 14 hours on airplanes, left their Spring Training camps back in the States and crossed the Pacific, and now they stare down the beginning of the Major League Baseball season in a beautiful, welcoming country and city.
So if the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers were a tad jet-lagged upon arriving in Australia on Tuesday morning, the feeling was washed away by the excitement of the upcoming Opening Series and a sun-splashed Sydney Cricket Ground that's more than ready for some serious hardball.
That was the truth of the matter on Tuesday, or, in the native lingo of D-backs pitcher and proud Aussie Ryan Rowland-Smith to his manager, Kirk Gibson, "fair dinkum."
"The flight was great," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said at a welcome news conference at the hallowed Sydney Cricket Ground, which has been the city's premier sporting venue since the 1850s. "We got off the flight, everybody was feeling good. We're excited to be here."
Members of the D-backs got in earlier than the Dodgers and had a few hours to traipse down to the Circular Quay area, where the water sparkled under a deep blue sky, the early-autumn temperature begin climbing into the 80s, and the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House are unmatched.
By the time the players reached the ballpark and stood on the pristine field that has been put in to accommodate these games, however, it didn't take long to be reminded that they're here for a very serious reason that has little to do with sight-seeing.
"We're ready to go, and there's definitely no feeling of these being exhibition games," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "We'll be ready to play Saturday."
It's an honor for this organization and our players to represent @MLB, Los Angeles and the millions of Dodger fans around the world. -NC- Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 18, 2014
Tuesday's news conference featured a video with bouncy techno music and some of Sydney's most famous architectural wonders being lit up in neon while its fun-loving people moved to music and celebrated around them. New South Wales, the Australian state in which Sydney is located, was represented by its premier, Barry O'Farrell, who welcomed MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark, plus Mattingly, D-backs skipper Kirk Gibson and the dueling first basemen, Gonzalez and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt is a regular Australian veteran, having visited earlier in the winter for a few days, but even he seemed surprised when O'Farrell presented him and Gonzalez with autographed cricket bats. He reported that the field held up well during his team's brief workout, and the only real difference between this configuration of the very oval Sydney Cricket Ground and most big league parks is that this one has a lot more foul territory than in America.
"It's just something to deal with," Goldschmidt said. "All the baseball stadiums are different in the States, so it's just another little adjustment."
As for the rivalry between the two clubs, nothing needs to be adjusted there, but as Gibson pointed out, this trip has been in the works for a long time and it goes beyond box scores and pinch-hitters and a couple of games in the standings.
"We expect it will be great," Gibson said. "The first game we played this spring was against the Dodgers. … You go through the spring season, guys were ready for it. We want to show them a good show. We want to play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"We're trying to leave Major League Baseball's legacy here. We're all grateful that we've had great careers and we want to give back to the game."
Arizona starter Wade Miley, who will throw the first pitch of the Major League season on Saturday at 7 p.m. Sydney time (4 a.m. ET), said he's "not great" on airplanes, but that the long haul from Phoenix wasn't too bad and that the challenge and eagerness to tackle the task at hand made every minute worth it.
Of course, Miley gets to pitch for his team, while the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, gets the ball for the Dodgers.
O'Farrell, meanwhile, pointed out that the two games will be played in front of more than 80,000 Aussie spectators who have been getting hyped for this event for much of the winter ... or, in their case, summer.
The Dodgers and D-backs seemed to agree that a rambunctious Sydney Cricket Ground would be most preferred.
"I hope they're loud and they're excited," Gonzalez said. "I love when the crowd gets loud, so we're expecting that."
And while the continuation of this hard-fought struggle for NL West supremacy also is expected, the pageantry of the Opening Series managed to lend itself to good-natured humor on Tuesday.
"These are real games, and I'm sure Mr. Gibson feels the same way," Mattingly said. "And from my standpoint, if we can't win, I hope they do."
After Gibson answered that with a quick, "I hope he lets us win," he told the media that he came to Sydney on his honeymoon with his wife, Jo Anne, after their wedding in 1985.
"That part's worked out pretty good," Gibson said. "So I hope this one does, too."