Start time: 4:00 AM ET
TV: MLB Network
Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw vs. Wade Miley
The 2014 regular season gets underway on Saturday, and for the first time ever, Opening Day will be in Australia. The Sydney Cricket Ground — which hosted its first match in 1882 and has seating that dates back to the 19th century — has been converted to a baseball facility for a four-game series that already included one exhibition for each club against Team Australia. Around 40,000 fans — and one famous statue of a heckler — are expected for the two official games on the makeshift diamond, which features an eight-foot outfield fence that's 328 feet down the foul lines, 370 down the alleys and 400 feet to dead center. The new instant replay challenge system will not be in place for the series, but standard replay for home run and boundary calls will be. No word on whether the clubhouse toilets have been reverse-Coriolis-ed for the occasion.
This marks the seventh time in 16 years that Opening Day will take place abroad; previous hosts include Monterrey, Mexico (1999), Tokyo, Japan (2000, '04, '08, '12), and San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001). The choice to open the season in Australia is a tribute to the 100th anniversary of an exhibition series between the White Sox and Giants, which was played in January 1914 as part of a 13-country barnstorming tour that itself was a 25th anniversary tribute to Albert Spalding's famous 1889-90 world tour. Australia may be terra incognita to modern major league baseball, but the country does have a six-team professional league that plays a 45-game schedule from October to February, and 28 Australia-born players have reached the majors, most notably Rays closer Grant Balfour. Reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith and special assistant Craig Shipley, a former infielder who was the first Australian-born major leaguer, are part of the Diamondbacks' contingent.
Getting the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and their respective entourages — said to be around 200 per team — to Australia required a 15-hour flight from Arizona, one that departed on Sunday evening and landed Tuesday morning thanks to the International Date Line. They're 18 time zones ahead of Pacific Daylight Time; thus, a game starting at 7 PM in Sydney will begin at 1 AM in Los Angeles or Phoenix (which is on Mountain Time but doesn't do the daylight thing) and 4 AM on the East Coast. With the long travel distance and the compressed Cactus League schedule, each team is allowed to name a 28-man active roster including three exempt players who did not make the trip, but not including five alternates who aren't on the roster but did travel (marsupials such as Clayton Kershaw's kangaroo buddy, Vin Scully's personal koala and Paul Goldschmidt's wallaby pal don't count against roster limits). Once the series concludes and the two teams return stateside, they'll have a few days to re-acclimate themselves. The Diamondbacks resume playing exhibitions on March 26, the Dodgers on March 27 in their preseason Freeway Series against the Angels. The Dodgers play for realsies against the Padres in San Diego on Sunday, March 30, while the Diamondbacks take it to San Francisco on March 31.
As for who's actually playing, the matchup pits a pair of teams between whom there's no love lost. Last June, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers got mixed up in a beanball war that led to five suspensions. In late September, the Dodgers held an unauthorized pool party in Chase Field upon clinching the NL West flag in unfriendly territory, a move that chafed the Diamondbacks' hides. Alas, Arizona has already had to scratch their original Opening Day starter, as earlier this week, they lost Patrick Corbin to a torn ulnar collateral ligament; he could face Tommy John surgery. In his place will be fellow lefty Wade Miley, who ranked second on the team last year in terms of both ERA (3.55) and workload (202 2/3 innings). Facing him will be Kershaw, winner of two Cy Youngs, two strikeout titles and three ERA titles in the past three seasons, not to mention a record-setting $215 million extension in January; he put up a career-best 1.83 ERA while whiffing 232 in 236 innings.
Kershaw is in place, but the Dodgers will have their share of regulars missing from the action. Matt Kemp and Josh Beckett will start the season on the disabled list. Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Brandon League will be the team's three exempt players who remained stateside. Carl Crawford is stateside as well, on the paternity leave to be with his pregnant wife (Australian dingoes are notorious baby-eaters). Cuban defector Alex Guerrero appears slated to be optioned to minor league camp so he can shake off the rust, so ex-Met Justin Turner will get the start at the keystone. Here's the lineup for the opening game, via True Blue LA:
Yasiel Puig RF
Justin Turner 2B
Juan Uribe 3B
Andre Ethier CF
Clayton Kershaw P
As for the Diamondbacks, offseason acquisition Mark Trumbo will make his NL debut, and Chris Owings has been tabbed the starting shortstop, though Didi Gregorius is slated to start the second game. Cody Ross will start the year on the DL, and both Bornson Arroyo and Brandon McCarthy are on the list of exempt players who skipped the trip. From MLB.com:
A.J. Pollock CF
Aaron Hill 2B
Paul Goldschmidt 1B
Martin Prado 3B
Mark Trumbo LF
Chris Owings SS
Wade Miley PTrevor Cahill