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Fans Down Under appreciate MLB experience

Nearly 40,000 filled Sydney Cricket Ground to take in opener of 2014 MLB season

SYDNEY -- If there were any lingering questions about the level of baseball knowledge fans in Australia would display during Opening Series 2014, they were put to rest by one simple lap through the Sydney Cricket Ground corridors during Saturday night's Dodgers victory over Arizona that officially began the regular season.

Major League jerseys from markets big and small, and eras current and past, were seen on the backs of revelers in the Members Pavilion, throughout the bleachers and upper decks, and even behind the stadium out by the lines for hot dogs and other classic American ballpark staples.

One pass-through revealed jerseys featuring Cal Ripken, Luis Gonzalez (old-school, purple-and-teal 2001 D-backs), Brett Lawrie, Darryl Strawberry (1986 Mets), Roberto Alomar (Blue Jays), Barry Bonds, Evan Longoria, David Ortiz, Pablo Sandoval, Bryce Harper, Ron Santo, David Eckstein (Cardinals), Freddie Freeman and Jonathan Papelbon.

But more than anything else, there were Paul Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig jerseys, because, well, that's the way it should be.

Los Angeles opened up a one-game lead on its National League West rivals from Arizona, and Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, got the first of what could be many victories in 2014 with the Dodgers' 3-1 win on Saturday, but the other big win in the yard was scored by the game of baseball in Australia.

Despite the threat of a thunderstorm at game time and a 14-minute delay for caution, Sydney Cricket Ground drew 38,266, and they were into it from D-backs starter Wade Miley's first strike to Puig, all the way to Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen's last one to Gerardo Parra.

"There was an electric atmosphere," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "Opening Day, I think we all think of it in our home stadiums, [when] the whole city's got somewhat of a buzz, kind of like a holiday. … But great crowd tonight. They did a great job with the field, the rain held off, and I thought it was a very nice, great event."

Josh Guelzow agreed. The 29-year-old artificial-lawn salesman from Adelaide, Australia, traveled close to 1,000 miles not to root for either team, but merely to root against the Dodgers. Guelzow, who pitches for the Adelaide Angels in his spare time, is a Giants fan, after all.

That's why he was wearing a Buster Posey jersey.

"No Giants fan will ever say they want the Dodgers to win," Guelzow said. "So go Diamondbacks, I guess."

Guelzow said he pictured the Opening Series being raucous, but the display on Saturday night surprised him a bit.

"Look at the response," he said. "Look at how many people are here. It's unreal."

Unreal is a good way to describe Robert Rocha's hair.

Rocha, a grip for the motion picture industry who lives in Echo Park -- a neighborhood in Los Angeles mere minutes from Dodger Stadium -- sports three true blue tattoos and a bright blue Mohawk (for games) that sprouts from his head about a foot high. He and his buddy, Daniel Garcia, booked a trip Down Under as soon as they heard about the games, and they were getting stopped for photos by Aussie after Aussie while searching the concourse for commemorative L.A. gear.

"We're coming back for sure," Rocha said. "This was a spur-of-the-moment trip, just for the games, but we're coming back to do everything else. Once-in-a-lifetime-type stuff, man."

The Sydney Cricket Ground Members Pavilion was erected in the 1800s and still stands as a relic to this iconic venue's storied past. The waiting list for membership can be 20 years long, so some cricket fans can't even dream of sitting in those seats.

That's not the case for the Opening Series, and Ashley Reynolds is excited about that. Reynolds, who lives in Melbourne, had seen a D-backs game in Phoenix in 2012 and became a fan, so he flew up for these games with his mother, Julie, and other family members.

On Saturday, he was wearing on his head the Arizona plastic helmet that some 20 minutes earlier had been loaded up with waffle fries topped by beef brisket, chopped bacon, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, spring onions and sliced jalapenos. All for $18 AUS.

Luckily, Reynolds' mum, whose husband, Allan, plays baseball for the Kissing Point Angels club in Melbourne, washed out the helmet for her son in the ladies room.

"We're absolutely loving the crowd, loving the atmosphere of it, amazed that they had their first pitch here in Australia," Reynolds said. "It just needs a little bit more organ [music]."

Meanwhile, the players were soaking it all in.

They were entertained by the fact that Aussie fans seemed to get louder when foul balls careened into the stands than when a home run was hit. And Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke, who hit that home run on Saturday, also noticed one other curious quirk about baseball fans in Oz.

"A lot more people here have beers in their hand," Van Slyke said.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.
Read More: Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks