Updated Mar 16, 2014 - 6:29 pm
D-backs, Dodgers off to Australia to open season
They're off to Australia to open the major league baseball season.
Both teams played a spring training game Sunday, then were to board their chartered planes for a flight of 15 hours or so to Sydney.
Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who never has been to Australia, called it "a great adventure."
The teams opened spring training early to get ready for the trip. When they return, they'll have a handful of spring games before getting back to games that count.
"There are some challenges, but I think guys like to play in different places," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "The important thing is that this is for the good of the game."
The teams will have a few days to acclimate, then each team will play an exhibition game against an Australian national squad before opening their seasons with games on March 22 and 23. The games will be played at Sydney's historic cricket grounds, reconfigured to accommodate baseball.
"I look forward to it as a cool opportunity, a cool experience," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "The people from Australia, the cricket grounds, there's a lot of history there and we're looking to make history in a different fashion. The games that have been played globally have been very successful and we're trying to get it out there that major league baseball is a quality environment. We promote the right things, we stand for the right things, and it's good to get it out to the rest of the world."
The Diamondbacks got some significant bad news in the hours leading up to their departure when left-hander Patrick Corbin, who was scheduled to start next Saturday's season opener, was diagnosed with a partially torn ligament in his pitching arm. Corbin, an All-Star as a rookie last year, is getting a second opinion from noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews but could require season-ending surgery.
Gibson chose lefty Wade Miley to take Corbin's place. Miley hadn't been scheduled to make the trip.
" I was zero percent packed," he said. "But you know what? It's one of those things where it's really not a decision. You just do it. It's for the best, and we'll see what happens."
Reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kerhsaw will start for the Dodgers in the opener.
"Anytime you get to start opening day, no matter what continent, it's an honor," Kershaw said.
He was unsure how the travel would affect his performance.
"I think everybody reacts to it differently," Kershaw said. "I've flown to Africa. But I've never traveled that far to compete."
Diamondbacks All-Star slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who made the trip in the offseason to promote the games, thinks the travel is "no big deal."
"You've got to kill 15 hours anyway," he said. "You might as well do it in the air."
Dodgers' right-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu has traveled a lot in international competition. Asked how the travel would affect the players, Ryu said through an interpreter, "it depends on the individual, but it usually takes about a week to get used to the change."
The opener will feature teams not particularly enamored with each other.
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers engaged in a monumental brawl last June, resulting in eight suspensions. The incident has been credited with ignited the Dodgers' stunning run that propelled them to the NL West title.
Then when the Dodgers clinched the NL West crowd in Arizona, they drew the ire of many Diamondbacks by celebrating in the Chase Field swimming pool.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers is glad for the early matchup with the Dodgers.
"That's the team we're going to have to beat," he said. "I don't take anybody in our division lightly, but I'm sure most people are picking them to win, and we've got a chance to hopefully be two games up on them when we come back home."
It will be a homecoming for Arizona reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, born and raised in Australia. He will play for the Australian team against the Dodgers, then switch to the Diamondbacks for their game against Australia.
Baseball ranks far below rugby, cricket and Australian rules football in Australia, so this will be an unprecedented chance to showcase the sport there.
"To go back to Australia and play in my own back yard is a special feeling," Rowland-Smith said. "I think it will be an overwhelming experience for me, especially in front of a sellout crowd in Sydney, which is something I never would have imagined."
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