Opening Day Takes a Journey Down Under
Sydney — Bob Wardle came ready to root for the Arizona Diamondbacks on opening day Down Under, all dressed in his Paul Goldschmidt jersey.
The special menu at Sydney Cricket Ground? Not quite to his taste.
“I’m not sure if I’ll try anything here,” said Wardle, born in Canada and now living in Sydney. “I’ve already had some very strange things at ballparks in the U.S.”
At $36 for a 2-foot-long hot dog, he was ready to pass Saturday night. He was holding off on the nachos and ice-cream sundaes served in batting helmets, too.
No worries, though.
Wardle and his daughter were having a fun time as the most quintessential of American sports took top billing at the symbolic home of Australia’s national game when the 2014 Major League Baseball season got started.
At a venue steeped in the history of another bat and ball game — cricket — the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 3-1 before a sellout crowd of about 40,000.
The two-game series marked the first regular-season games in Australia. Previous MLB season openers were held in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1999, San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2001 and four times in Tokyo (2000, ’04, ’08 and ’12).
Speaking ahead of the first pitch, Commissioner Bud Selig said this visit had been a success. He was noncommittal on when MLB would return to Australia or anywhere else around the globe.
“We don’t know yet, we’re working on several things,” Selig said. “We’re going to examine all our possibilities. The nice part about all of this is we’re getting now overtures, really good ones, from all over the world.”
“It won’t be 100 years until we’re back here, I can promise you that,” he said in reference to the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game played by the White Sox and the New York Giants at the Sydney Cricket Ground, won 5-4 by Chicago before 10,000 fans on Jan. 3, 1914.
While excitement for this series may be muted within the U.S., Australian baseball fans arrived in their thousands to catch a glimpse of multimillionaire players and the quality of a sport they’re not used to seeing.
Dodgers fans Narelle Walton and Mereana Joseph traveled for more than seven hours, including taking two flights in the 2,810-mile journey from Karratha — a remote mining town in Western Australia state — to see this matchup.
“This is our first major league game,” said Walton, donning a Dodgers cap and shirt. “It’s on our bucket list to be here.”
Wardle had far less distance to travel, but was just as keen to experience the major leagues here after playing in a masters baseball tournament in Phoenix and adopting the Diamondbacks as his team.
“I’m originally from Canada, so I’m an old Expos and Blue Jays fan,” he said. “My first game was back in 1968 in Detroit, where Denny McLain lost one of his six games in a season where he won 31.”
Another novelty for the local crowd was keeping a ball hit into the stands, unlike cricket where the ball is returned to play.
Dodgers second baseman Justin Turner threw five balls into the member’s enclosure at the bottom of the first inning, setting off desperate attempts by fans to catch a souvenir.
Clayton Kershaw flashed his Cy Young form, Scott Van Slyke homered and Los Angeles opened the season with a win over Arizona.
Kershaw, who signed a seven-year, $215 million contract in January, allowed one run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. Van Slyke hit a two-run homer and also doubled.
The first pitch was delayed because of rain for 14 minutes.
The long trip Down Under took even longer for some Arizona players. A team bus had a flat tire, and the Diamondbacks said “a handful” of players decided to walk the last half-mile to the stadium instead of waiting for a replacement bus.