With Dodgers in town, D-backs look ahead to Sydney
PHOENIX -- With the Dodgers in town to play three of their 10 scheduled meetings at Chase Field this season, the D-backs have a chance to look ahead to another home series against their division rival, one that'll literally take place across the globe.
The D-backs will open the 2014 season by hosting the Dodgers for a pair of games at the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia, nearly 8,000 miles from their usual home venue. It will be the first time Major League Baseball has started the regular season in the southern hemisphere, part of its continuing effort to spread the game around the globe.
"We're looking forward to making our own Chase Field in Sydney," president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "It should be a great series. It's always been a priority for us to expand our brand internationally."
The games will be played on March 22-23, the first with a 7 p.m. local start time and the second at 1 p.m. Ticket information can be found MLBsydney2014.com. Season-ticket holders and registered users of Dbacks.com will have first crack at purchasing presale tickets, and season-ticket holders who renew early will have a chance to win a travel package to Australia that includes game tickets, airfare and hotel accommodations.
"I can't tell you how many fans have said they're so excited for Sydney," Hall said. "You never like to lose a couple of home games here, but we are sure that Sydney will make us feel at home."
Tickets for the historic matchup are already being rapidly scooped up in Australia. Through a limited release, around 20,000 have been purchased, with a portion of the remaining seats being held for fans in America and Asia.
"The excitement in Australia has been overwhelming," said Jason Moore of Moore Sports, the company promoting the event in Australia. "The popularity of Major League Baseball in Australia and particularly in Sydney should not be underestimated. We now have 14 games per week broadcast live into our market. There are World Series parties during that time of the year, and it's lead news on our sports programs. The fascination with American sports in Australia is growing immensely."
Adding to the uniqueness of the series is the facility where the games will be played, with Moore calling the Sydney Cricket Grounds the "Fenway Park and Wrigley Field of Australian sports."
At 130 years old, the facility is undergoing a $186 million face-lift that includes adding a video board, dugouts, clubhouses, camera wells and a main grandstand behind home plate. The deepest part of the ballpark will extend to 405 feet, with the foul poles 330 feet from home.
By the time the event begins, the stadium will be able to hold 40,000.
"It's a tremendous venue. It's an iconic venue in the world of cricket, and we hope now it'll become iconic in the world of baseball," Moore said. "It's got restored heritages encompassed around modern facilities."
With this series, Australia will join Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico as countries that have hosted regular-season MLB games. Although the nation has only produced 31 big leaguers, baseball has been growing in popularity at a staggering rate over the last decade and a half. In 2001, MLB opened an academy there, and in 2010 the Australian Baseball League played its inaugural season with six teams.
"We're really excited about what these games will mean for the excitement in the future of baseball in Australia," said MLB International's James Pearce. "We're building a whole new generation of fans in Australia off a very strong base of baseball supporters already there."
The D-backs will leave Spring Training on March 16 and arrive in Sydney on the morning of March 18. Because of the extensive amount of travel required for both teams, Hall said the two might begin big league camp early and play a home-and-home with each other before their normal Cactus League schedule starts.
Hall hopes the exposure to a new market will pay dividends for the organization long after the club completes its journey Down Under, perhaps starting with the expansion of Paul Goldschmidt's "America's first baseman" nickname overseas.
"Goldy is Australia's first baseman," Hall said.