Dodgers, Diamondbacks arrive Down Under

Associated Press
The Los Angeles Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez laughs during a press conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The MLB season-opening two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney will be played this weekend. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
.

View gallery

SYDNEY (AP) — Adrian Gonzalez ripped line drives to all areas of the park, often scattering his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates in the outfield from the safety of the batting cage. It was just a few hours after arriving in Australia, with his body thinking it was about midnight.

Still, the first baseman who led the Dodgers in hits, home runs, RBIs and games played last season did a good job of making Sydney Cricket Ground, the home for two Major League Baseball season-opening games this weekend, sound and look like a real ballpark.

The Dodgers and their weekend opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks, arrived early Tuesday on separate jumbos from the U.S. west coast. It was a 15-hour flight and took the teams across the International Date Line, missing Monday altogether, and putting them in a time zone 18 hours ahead of the one they left behind.

Hence Gonzalez in the batting cage was well past his usual bedtime, but looking pretty impressive.

"We're all very excited to be here," Gonzalez said before the Dodgers' workout. "We'll have a few hits, see how the ball carries, but it all looks like a real ball park."

Vin Scully, the 86-year-old Dodgers' announcer, proclaimed after he got off the plane that "it's great to be here," and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and his Diamondbacks counterpart Kirk Gibson later gave the ball field a similar thumbs-up.

"No question, everyone is saying that having a chance to start the season here in Sydney, to be able to get out of spring training a bit early, it's great," said Mattingly. "Let's get this thing started."

Gibson said he had fond memories of Australia because he spent his honeymoon here in 1985 "and that part worked out pretty good, so I hope this does."

"Of all the historic places we've played over the years, you walk in and you can see they've put a lot of work into the field," Gibson added. "And I've been told by (Diamondbacks' Australian relief pitcher) Ryan Rowland-Smith, it's fair dinkum."

Translated, that means he thinks it's a pretty good place to play baseball.

Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was in the best position to judge the change to Sydney Cricket Ground, having been part of a promotional visit here last year.

"When I was here it was set up for cricket matches, but you wouldn't know that walking out there today," he said. "Very impressed."

Goldschmidt said he was surprised by the distance in foul territory between the baselines and the stands. That's in keeping with the natural shape of a cricket ground, where the batting "wicket" is usually closer to the center of the ground and the entire field is in play.

"Foul territory, that's going to be the big difference," Goldschmidt said. "But baseball stadiums are different in the States, so it'll just take some adjusting. We'll work it out in the next few days."

The teams will only have one workout Wednesday before taking on Team Australia in a pair of exhibition games — the Diamondbacks on Thursday and the Dodgers on Friday.

Clayton Kershaw, who spent time Tuesday stretching in the outfield bullpen, will start for the Dodgers in Saturday's season opener. Left-hander Wade Miley replaces Patrick Corbin, who has a left elbow injury, as the Diamondbacks starter.

Gibson said Tuesday the Diamondbacks were still waiting for a second opinion on the severity of Corbin's injury, which could require surgery and put him out for the season.

The teams will close out the two-game series Sunday when the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu is slated to start against Arizona's Trevor Cahill.

The series marks the first regular-season games in Australia. Previous MLB season openers were held in Monterrey, Mexico (1999), San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001) and four times in Tokyo, most recently in 2012.

The weekend games will mark the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game played by the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants at the same stadium.

Capacity crowds of about 40,000 are expected for both games at the historic ground where Australia's cricket teams have played memorable matches for the past century and a half. In keeping with the theme, Goldschmidt and Gonzalez were presented with cricket bats signed by Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke.

The two first basemen were asked to pose with the bats, and a few in the crowd chuckled when Gonzalez initially slung it over his shoulder in a very un-cricket like pose. But he quickly adopted an impressive Clarke-like stance for the cameras.

Gonzalez also prompted laughter later when he answered a question in Spanish for about 30 seconds. When asked for a translation into English, his response took only several seconds. He smiled and said: "We're ready to go."

View Comments (29)