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Arizona Diamondbacks ‘honored’ to open regular season in Australia

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After months of planning and weeks of waiting, there’s only one thing remaining for the Arizona Diamondbacks to do: Fly 17 hours to the other side of the world.

A traveling party of 180 — more than three times the size of a typical road trip — is on its way to Sydney, Australia, for Major League Baseball’s 2014 Championship Season opener.

“I’m excited for the start of the year,” first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It’ll be fun being in Sydney, being in a different part of the world, doing something different, breaking spring training up a little bit.”

Spring training for the Diamondbacks began early, back on Feb. 6, in anticipation of the trip, which managing general partner Ken Kendrick described as “a great adventure” on Sunday.

The adventure includes two regular season games against NL West rival Los Angeles.

“That’s the team we’re going to have to beat,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “I don’t take anybody in the division lightly, but I’m sure most people are probably picking them to win. We’ve got a chance to hopefully be two games up on them when we come back home.”

The Diamondbacks gave up two of their own games at Chase Field for this opportunity, so they’ll be the designated home team at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, which underwent a $186 million renovation to help get the stadium ready for baseball.

“I just kind of describe it as like a Wrigley (Field) or Fenway (Park) or old Yankee Stadium here — where it has a lot of history,” said Goldschmidt, who visited Sydney on a promotional tour in November. “It’s one of the most famous, if not the most famous, stadiums over there. That adds a little bit to it as well — that we’re not just playing in a regular baseball stadium. It’ll be a first for everyone.”

Perhaps the most excited person on the trip is starter Ryan Rowland-Smith.

The Australian native will pitch in the two exhibition games prior to the regular season matchups. He’ll first throw for the Australian National Team against the Dodgers on Thursday, and then for the Diamondbacks against the national team on Friday.

“It’ll be an overwhelming experience for me,” Rowland-Smith said.

The Diamondbacks, according to team president Derrick Hall, were approached more than a year ago about the possibility of playing in Australia, and immediately jumped at the opportunity.

“That’s a market that is growing when it comes to baseball, participation, popularity, interest, intrigue,” he said.

“It is a chance to showcase our brand worldwide,” Kendrick added. “It’s important to build the game every place that it’s played. There hasn’t been Major League Baseball played there for 100 years. We’re honored to be a part of it.”

Four years ago, the Diamondbacks were involved in discussions to play the San Francisco Giants in a regular season-opening two-game series in Taiwan.

“We’ll go anywhere,” Hall said. “The more that we can get out there internationally, I think it’ll help our chances in trying to recruit talent and build relationships when it comes to finding players and scouting. It helps to have that presence internationally.”