SYDNEY (CBSLA.com/AP) — 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 and it’ll be 328 feet down the foul lines and 400 to straightaway center field. More than 35,000 square feet of turf was temporarily removed to construct the clay infield, base paths and warning track. The soil-clay mixture used for the infield and pitcher’s mound was imported in nearly 20 shipping containers from U.S. west coast. And 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 and playing for the first time with a new seven-year, $215 million contract, will be making his fourth straight season-opening start for Los Angeles. Kershaw, who won his second NL Cy Young Award after a stellar 2013 season, was enjoying the local attractions on Wednesday, his 26th birthday. He and his wife, Ellen Melson, were shown in a photograph in a Dodgers tweet cuddling a kangaroo. 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 and is getting a second opinion, but 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 majors after going 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts as a rookie in 2013.
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 Major League Baseball are already talking about a potential series back here in 2018. Working against Australia is its time difference to the U.S. east coast — 15 hours this time of year. That means television viewers in New York 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.
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