SYDNEY, Australia – Those prone to routine or, for that matter, outrage had for long enough found reason to hate this. At the very least to feel it unnecessary. Just kind of a pain.
The baseball season would open too far away to attend and too late to even watch, in a place that hardly even likes the game, and who needs any of that when there are perfectly good ballparks and time zones to attend to?
The Los Angeles Dodgers themselves weren’t altogether enthralled by the idea, but every once in a while a bloke’s gotta do what a bloke’s gotta do, and if that means 15,000 miles of recycled air and non-threatening flatware, well, you breathe shallow and eat with your fingers and start your season … here … at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
And it was delightful.
From a rail of the Members Pavilion, a brick building a century-and-a-half old, a homemade sign read, “Sidney Baseball Ground.” Across the road, at the Olympic Sports Bar & Grill, where if you ask for a pilsner they’ll sigh and await your real order, men and women in Dodgers blue and Arizona Diamondbacks red mingled with those in the colors of their beloved Blues and Rabbitohs. When it came time, they filled most of the old place with great ardor and some curiosity, chased foul balls with uncommon pleasure (cricket balls are politely returned), and watched the Dodgers defeat the Diamondbacks 3-1 Saturday in the first official major-league game played on their soil.
Clayton Kershaw threw 6 2/3 typically capable innings and Scott Van Slyke sliced a two-run home run that skittered over a severe crosswind and ducked into the stands at the right-field foul pole.
For three hours there’d be no conversations about the globalization of the game, whatever that really means, or who are the good guys and bad guys here, or what time it was in Scottsdale or Van Nuys or on Park Avenue. It’d be about Kershaw’s slider and Mark Trumbo‘s wall scaling and Van Slyke’s bat and a setting that looked like baseball, felt like baseball and honored baseball. Sometimes it’s enough to settle the Southern Hemisphere championship, in the land of a hundred different kinds of venomous snakes and saltwater crocodiles and killer snails and cricket, in a Diamondbacks home game with meat pies and statues of heroic batsmen but no pool, so there’d be none of those shenanigans.
At the end, when Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gathered a Gerardo Parra comebacker and underhanded the ball to first base, and the Dodgers streamed from a dugout a full 87 feet from the foul line, the largely non-partisan crowd rose to its feet in ovation, as if to thank both organizations for coming.
The Dodgers seemed to think it’d be a shame to come this far just to lose, and presumably the Diamondbacks felt similarly. There was a sense that both clubs were forcing themselves to inch away from spring training and the surreal nature of a week spent in a fascinating and unfamiliar place called Oz, concluding in two games that actually meant something. For several days they’d boated the Sydney Harbour, and patted purportedly tame kangaroos, and played along with the local customs, when suddenly there was a game to play.
“Obviously it’s a little different,” Kershaw said. “Once you start warming up, though, it’s a game.”
They waited out the threat of rain, the skies gray and somewhat angry, baseball gods perhaps determining that if Dodger fans couldn’t watch the game, then no one would. Fourteen minutes late, Diamondbacks lefty Wade Miley threw a fastball to Yasiel Puig, Vin Scully broadcast back to L.A. that it was a strike, the ball was tossed out for posterity, and a season was born.
The rest was just baseball.
“It feels good,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “We came a long way to get one.”
That of course has been the theme, how far everyone came. But the play was taut enough. Following his usual imprecise spring, Kershaw rode his slider and was in real trouble only a couple times. It helped that the wind insisted the game be played well short of the outfield fences, and Kershaw pitched to the bigger parts of the field, and Van Slyke – the opening day left fielder because neither Carl Crawford nor Matt Kemp were here – had a big night in the five hole.
Adrian Gonzalez on first base in the second inning, Van Slyke turned on a curveball and hit it about as hard as he could, assumed his home run trot, high-fived first-base coach Davey Lopes, then looked into left field.With
“The ball was coming in,” he noted.
An Andre Ethier ground ball eventually scored Gonzalez.
In the fourth inning with Gonzalez again at first base, Van Slyke drove an outside fastball to his opposite field and figured it would be foul or caught. It was neither. The Dodgers led 3-0. Kershaw allowed a run in the sixth, got two outs in the seventh, gave way to Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and Jansen, and the Dodgers were 1-0.
The Diamondbacks, some of whom began the day hoofing the final five or six blocks to the ballpark when their bus blew a tire, ended the day 0-1.
And that was it. Yes, baseball likely picked up a few fans, and pushed the global agenda along, and put a fine product before the 38,266 who thought it would be cool to witness it. More, they came all this way and it was all quite familiar. Well, most of it.
“I noticed a lot more people here have beer in their hands,” Van Slyke said.
And what’s wrong with that?
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