Opening Series leaves a lasting impression
Cultural exchange goes beyond the diamond during Australia showcase
SYDNEY -- The scoreboard showed that the Los Angeles Dodgers had beaten the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-5, to take both games of the Opening Series and make a 15-hour flight back across the Pacific seem a bit shorter because of a cushion atop the National League West a week before the other teams even start playing.
And as the fans filed out of the Sydney Cricket Ground, the grounds crew began to think about how to take what had been so beautifully transformed into a baseball stadium worthy of an Opening Day and restore it back to its alignment as an iconic pitch for cricket and Australian rules football.
Meanwhile, the players, club officials and Major League Baseball staffers, who once again enjoyed tremendous success in conceiving and organizing a worthwhile trip to foreign soil for the beginning of a season, were busy showering and shuttling off to their charters, with little time to reflect what had transpired.
Sydney was quiet, or at least as quiet as a bustling metropolis with a population of more than 4 million could be, given that it was late Sunday afternoon and the baseball carnival had left town.
W: Kershaw L: Miley SV: Jensen
But even in those moments, even as the frenzied but fabulous pace of a six-day whirlwind visit from American's pastime had come to a stop and the anticipation had finally calmed into the realization of a job well done, there was a bit of time to log on to the emotional hard drive and enter some bullet-point data.
"It's been worth it," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "At the end of the day, it's something you won't forget. I don't think the guys will forget coming to Sydney and being able to play in this city as part of a Major League Baseball Opening Day. So it's historic, I think, for all of us that are involved with it, and it'll be something that we won't forget."
Here are a few of the pixels to process as we head around the horn with 10 images that will pop out of the smart phones and cameras and hearts and minds of all who made the trip to Oz.
• Mere hours after arriving at the Cricket Ground for the first time and settling into a packed news conference in the old Members Pavilion, Mattingly and D-backs skipper Kirk Gibson seem to have put the bad blood of Los Angeles' division-clinching swimming-pool party at Chase Field from late 2013 far behind them when Mattingly tells Gibson to thunderous laughter, "If we can't win, I hope you do."
• The Dodgers and D-backs are all over the streets and waterways of Sydney. Players do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, they cruise the sparkling waters around the Central Business District. Mark Trumbo is spotted hiking the cliffside trail that connects the north Sydney beaches all the way up to Bondi, where four Dodgers are playing catch with local Little Leaguers on the sand, telling them stick with this game they love.
• Paul Goldschmidt is Paul Goldschmidt, 2013 NL MVP runner-up and all-around MVP person. He's the ambassador for the D-backs, posing for pictures at Taronga Zoo. He's raking at the plate, with two hits on Opening Day and another in Game 2. He's making the most of every chance he gets to tell the people of Australia how thrilled he is to be in their country and how thankful he is to be a Major League Baseball player.
• Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw. Last year's NL Cy Young Award winner poses for pictures with a kangaroo early in the week and aces the no-brainer assignment of pitching on Opening Day, doing what he does by tossing 6 2/3 effortless innings and earning the first victory of the Major League season.
• MLB Commissioner Bud Selig spends Saturday digging the scenes as a temporary Sydneysider and people-watcher, witnessing a couple of Aussie blokes hoofing it while wearing Cardinals and Pirates jerseys.
• Game 1 is a rain-threatened, wind-swept joy of a pitchers' duel between Kershaw and Arizona starter Wade Miley. The Aussies pack in to the tune of 38,000 fans and cheer the foul balls. Scott Van Slyke starts a home run trot only to find out that his towering fly to left field caught the breeze and hit the wall. Van Slyke figures several innings later that his slicing ball to right is foul until the umpires signal that it's a homer. He is asked after the game what's the most different about fans in Australia, and he says they seem to drink more beer at games than Americans. Good on ya, Scott.
• The history of Australian baseball is honored, as it should be. Aussie-born former big leaguers Dave Nilsson, Graeme Lloyd and Craig Shipley are on hand for all four games, big league and exhibition, in various roles as they continue to pound the drum for this small but passionate and statistically successful movement. D-backs reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, born in Sydney and raised in Newcastle, pitches a scoreless inning for Team Australia against the Dodgers and suits up for Arizona the next night. Prior to Sunday's game, about 20 former big leaguers from Australia are paraded out to the pitcher's mound wearing their old uniforms.
• Yasiel Puig is Yasiel Puig. The firebrand Dodgers outfielder has a rough go of it at the plate in the opener but gets three hits and an RBI in the finale. He also runs into two outs on the bases, treating the Australian fans to their first pickle, a 7-5-4-3-5-4 rundown in the top of the third inning. All the while, Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu just keeps doing what he did in 2013, baffling hitters with his mound craftsmanship en route to five shutout innings and another "W" for the boys in blue. It was the first Major League win by a Korean pitcher overseas.
• Trumbo being Trumbo. The slugger shows why the D-backs pulled off a three-team trade to get his bat and penchant for drama, slugging his first long ball of the year to cut the Dodgers' lead to two and send a final charge through the crowd -- with two out in the bottom of the ninth.
• People smile and exude friendship wherever you go. Sydney embraces America and its game, from the who's-who of MLB teams and jerseys, new and throwback, appearing in the stands to the food being sold in the concourses, such as two-foot-long, loaded-up hot dogs, D-backs and Dodgers helmets filled with waffle fries topped with brisket, cheese sauce and more. Selig is asked if the league will come back to Australia and he answers in the affirmative, saying it's not a matter of if, only when. He promises it won't take another hundred years, as it did after baseball's first venture Down Under.
"I wish we had about one more free day of exploring Sydney," D-backs veteran Eric Chavez said. "It's been great. The people were great. … They really seem to just enjoy life, they're very peaceful. It's been a good experience.
"Just getting to leave the country and see how other people across the world live is pretty cool, and the fact that we get to sightsee and play baseball at the same time, check out some good restaurants, all in all it makes it a great trip."
This trip is over now, but MLB's international adventures will continue. The details and itineraries of the next excursions have yet to be mapped out. There's a whole world out there, and much of it is as intrigued by baseball as it is in Taiwan or China or Japan or, as it turns out, Down Under.
So cheers, Australia, and no worries. Major League Baseball will be back.