SYDNEY (AP) — After taking its opener to Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico over the past 15 years, Major League Baseball is expanding to a new territory this weekend: Down Under.
When Arizona’s Wade Miley throws the first pitch of the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the teams will be nearly 7,800 miles from Chase Field in Phoenix.
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw celebrated his 26th birthday Wednesday by cuddling a kangaroo.
“It’s been a good experience for us and, hopefully, we can get a couple of wins and make it a great one,” Kershaw said. “Opening day is always fun, no matter what continent it’s on.”
The games will be played at a revamped cricket field that seats 40,000-plus.
Some things will be familiar: Vin Scully will be in the Dodgers’ broadcast booth for the start of his 65th season, a run that dates to the team’s time in Brooklyn.
Plate umpire Tim Welke will shout “Play ball!” not too different from a cricket umpire yelling “Play!” before the first ball is bowled.
But there will not be “stumps,” the cricket term for when the umpire declares play over for the day.
And no breaks for lunch or tea.
Baseball began its season at Monterrey, Mexico, in 1999; at Tokyo in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012; and at San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2001. This series marks the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game between the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox at the same venue on Jan. 3, 1914.
The Cricket Ground, opened in 1882, has been transformed into a baseball field over a few weeks. The right- and left-field foul poles are each 328 feet from home plate and straightaway center field is 400 feet away. From all reports, balls have been carrying.
The Dodgers defeated Australia’s national team 4-2 Thursday night in an exhibition that drew just 14,385. Yasiel Puig, batting .122 (5 for 41) coming in, hit a two-run homer in the eighth, two innings after throwing out Mike Walker at the plate from right field.
Miley will be pitching in place of Patrick Corbin, who has a partially torn ligament in his left elbow that may require season-ending surgery.
Kershaw, the 2011 and 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner, will be making his first start since signing as $215 million, seven-year contract, the largest deal ever for a pitcher.
“I don’t take for granted the contract,” Kershaw said Thursday. “It’s a really amazing thing that the Dodgers think enough of me to give me something like that. I understand the responsibilities that come with that. As long as you win, everything takes care of itself.”
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks play each other nearly 20 times a season in the NL West, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said this week that any teams would develop a healthy rivalry in such a situation.
Last June, a brawl between the teams resulted in the suspensions of eight players. And when the Dodgers clinched the West title in Phoenix, a decision by some of their players to jump in the Chase Field swimming pool angered some Diamondbacks.
“I don’t know what their sentiment is, but for us, it’s just a new season,” Kershaw said. “We’re just going to play a game, not wonder what could or would happen. We’ve had our scuffles in the past and it should all be in the past.
“Obviously their big name guys — Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Martin Prado — some of these guys they have over there — they play the game the right way. I enjoy watching them play. It’s tough to beat them.”
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson plans to use Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop over the two games as other teams discuss possible trades involving the infielders. With outfielder Cody Ross on the disabled list due to a hip injury, the Diamondbacks could carry two shortstops.
“I’m probably going to play one of them each day,” Gibson said. “Not sure how I’m going to do it yet.”
Los Angeles, which could overtake the New York Yankees as baseball’s biggest spender, went 92-70 last year and won the NL West title by 11 games over the Diamondbacks, then beat Atlanta in the best-of-five division series before losing to St. Louis in a six-game NL championship.