SYDNEY, Australia -- Trying to hit a 90-mph pitch can be tough enough -- even for Paul Goldschmidt -- but making contact with a smaller ball at that speed after it bounces proved to be nearly impossible for the D-backs' National League MVP Award candidate. Australia's first baseman, as he has now been dubbed, found that out the hard way Monday afternoon, when he tried his hand at cricket during the team's first promotional visit of the month to Sydney in advance of next year's Opening Series.
Goldschmidt was joined by D-backs president & CEO Derrick Hall and special assistant to the general manager Craig Shipley -- who was the first Australian to play in the Major Leagues in the modern era -- as the club's contingent continues to raise the profile of Major League Baseball around the globe. With throngs of reporters on hand to document the team's visit to the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, Goldschmidt exchanged playing tips with New South Wales cricket stars Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc.
"I didn't realize there would be media watching, so there was a little more pressure on me," joked the recent NL Hank Aaron Award and Gold Glove Award winner. "But I had fun. The cricket swing is different, and I definitely want to practice more, so that when we come back in March, I'll be better at it."
The promotional stop took place at Australia's equivalent of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, a venue established in 1848. Nearly $175 million in renovations are taking place before the D-backs host the Dodgers on March 22-23, 2014, and as Goldschmidt walked out to the field on Monday, "D-backs Swing" blared over the loudspeakers. Standing at home plate, he looked out in awe at the spot where he'll make his first regular-season plate appearances next season.
"I know there's a lot of history here, and I am hoping to learn more while we're in town," Goldschmidt said. "I think guys are excited to come out here. It's a long season, but this is something different -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come across the ocean and play a couple games at Sydney Cricket Ground -- and we're going to enjoy the whole experience."
It's not just the D-backs players that are looking forward to next year's trip. Hundreds of fans have already taken advantage of travel packages available at dbacks.com/Sydney, while Hall and the organization have put together a special offer for front-office employees to be a part of the first Opening Day series to be played in an emerging baseball market.
"It gives me chills to come here," Hall said as he spoke to the assembled media inside the Members Pavilion, a structure dating back to 1886. "To be in here and know the history of this great place and the legends that have played here is an honor for all of us."
For Shipley, who grew up in Australia attending games at the Sydney Cricket Ground and even playing rugby on its hallowed grounds as a high school senior, next year's Opening Series is something he never imagined would come to fruition. The former big league infielder will stay in Sydney until Thanksgiving, and he'll be joined later in the month by D-backs left-hander Patrick Corbin, as well as members of the Dodgers and Major League Baseball.
Following the visit to SCG, the D-backs' contingent headed out for a cruise on the Sydney Harbour, taking in sights like the world famous Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, which the group will climb on Tuesday morning. The D-backs will also make a visit to Royal Randwick Racecourse, where the Australian Turf Club will host an actual race named in honor of the D-backs on the country's biggest horse racing day of the year.
"To see how much media attention there was for the D-backs' appearance at SCG on the day before one of our country's biggest sporting events of the year -- almost like the Super Bowl -- gives you an idea of just how excited Australians are to finally have Major League Baseball coming to town," said Moore Sports CEO Jason Moore, the Australian promoter putting on the event. "It is our hope that the Opening Series is something that fans both here and in America are talking about for years to come."
Josh Rawitch is the D-backs' senior vice president, communications.