SYDNEY — The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are getting the kinks out in a series of workouts at the Sydney Cricket Ground, site of this weekend’s season-opening Major League Baseball two-game series. The revamped stadium starts taking paying customers — and its snack bars begin serving typical baseball fare like hot dogs, nachos and Cracker Jack — on Thursday in the first of two exhibition games when Team Australia plays the Dodgers.
On Friday, the Australians play the Diamondbacks before the regular season begins Saturday night and the two-game series ends Sunday afternoon. Later Sunday, it’s the biggest of getaway days — another 15-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean back to the U.S.
Here are five things to know about Major League Baseball’s first foray Down Under:
THE BALLPARK: The field will have an 8-foot-high outfield fence. It’ll be 328 feet down the foul lines and 400 to straightaway center. The soil-clay mixture used for the infield and pitcher’s mound was imported in nearly 20 shipping containers from the U.S. West Coast. Because of the temporary nature of the park, the new expanded replay system for umpires won’t be used.
THE HISTORY: The series commemorates the 100th anniversary of an exhibition game played by the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants at the Sydney Cricket Ground, won 5-4 by the White Sox before 10,000 fans on Jan. 3, 1914.
THE STARTERS: Clayton Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young winner will be playing for the first time with a new seven-year, $215 million contract. It will be his fourth straight season-opening start for Los Angeles.
The Diamondbacks will have left-hander Wade Miley on the mound on Saturday, a replacement for manager Kirk Gibson’s first choice, Patrick Corbin. Corbin, an All-Star last season, was diagnosed with a partially torn ligament in his left pitching arm. He is getting a second opinion, but it could require season-ending surgery.
The Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is set to start the second game against right-hander Trevor Cahill.
South Korean Ryu begins his second season in the big leagues after going 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts as a rookie last season.
SPLIT ALLEGIANCES: Sydney-born relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, fighting for a spot in the Diamondbacks bullpen to start the regular season, will play for Team Australia against the Dodgers in the exhibition game on Thursday night, then play against the Australians on Friday night when he suits up for Arizona.
“I started playing a sport professionally 13 years ago that isn’t recognized at home like it is in the U.S.,” he says. “For me to come back at this level, playing Major League Baseball, to do the full circle and bring that back to my backyard is special.”
THE POTENTIAL: With sellout crowds of 80,000 expected for the two-game weekend series, local promoters and MLB are already talking about a potential series back here in 2018.
Working against Australia is its time difference to the East Coast of the United States — 15 hours this time of year.
That means television viewers in that part of the country will have to get up at 4 a.m. Saturday to watch the opening night game in Sydney. Sunday afternoon’s second game translates to a 10 p.m. Saturday start on the U.S. East Coast.
Mets ace Harvey not giving up on pitching this season
No matter what the New York Mets think, Matt Harvey is convinced he can pitch at some point this season.
The Mets ace had elbow ligament-replacement surgery Oct. 22, and hasn’t thrown a baseball from more than 60 feet off flat ground. The club doesn’t expect him to return until 2015.
“I still have in my mind that I want to come back this year, and whether the doctors clear that or the people upstairs have other ideas, my mindset as a competitor is to get back on the field,” Harvey said Tuesday.
Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and was the NL starter in last year’s All-Star game at Citi Field.
Cubs’ Kalish survives cut; Vizcaino sent to Iowa
After assigning eight players to the minors Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs’ latest moves likely revealed some of what their 25-man roster could look like well into the regular season.
The biggest developments involved left-handed hitting outfielder Ryan Kalish, who is one of 45 players remaining on the spring training roster, and reliever Arodys Vizcaino, who was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
Kalish missed all of 2013 because of right shoulder surgery.
Vizcaino’s fastball has been clocked at 98 mph after missing the last two seasons.