If anyone is hitting a ball with a bat in Australia, it’s usually for a game of cricket, a sport most Americans cannot wrap their heads around. But come next March, the most American of all sports will come Down Under when the Sydney Cricket Ground hosts the Opening Series of Major League Baseball between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
The $13 million deal marks the first season opener in the Southern Hemisphere and the first time that it has been held outside of North America (including Mexico and Puerto Rico), with the exception of four series in Japan, where baseball’s popularity is massive. Naturally, Sydney is quite excited.
“This is a significant win for Sydney,” New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell enthused at a press conference in Australia’s largest city Thursday. Indeed, he was so excited about the games that he scrambled his words: “The Major Baseball League Opening Series will showcase New South Wales to a worldwide tourism audience, including key markets in Japan, Korea, China as well as the United States. It is estimated that the matches will deliver a direct visitor impact of more than $13 million for the local economy.”
Thursday’s announcement was the result of years of work between MLB, the Australian Baseball League and the state government. Sandra Chipchase of Destination NSW, the agency responsible for supporting the state’s growth in the tourism and events sector, called it a major coup for Sydney: “As the Sydney games will be broadcast live to the United States on ESPN, the focus of baseball fans will be on NSW in March 2014 ensuring we can showcase Australia’s global city and NSW as the natural home of major sport in this country,” she said.
The Opening Series could be seen by as many as 168 million households in key tourism markets for Australia, including 75 million in the U.S., 48 million in Japan and 20 million in China, according to NSW Minister for Sport Graham Annesley.
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To host the two games on March 22 and March 23, the Sydney Cricket Ground will be transformed into an MLB field, with the construction of an infield clay area, pitcher’s mound, dugouts and additional grandstand.
“Sydney has a long history of hosting significant baseball games at the Sydney Cricket Ground,” Annesley explained. He said 2014 would mark the 100th anniversary of exhibition games played by the Chicago White Sox and a combined New South Wales team at the sports complex, which is located in Sydney’s Moore Park. Yet, MLB’s history at the Sydney Cricket Ground goes even further back to December 1888, when Spalding’s World Tourists played a series of exhibition games that attracted as many as 5,500 spectators.
MLB’s 21st century push in Australia is part of its wider plan to expand the sport’s popularity around the world. "The globalization of our game continues to be paramount to Major League Baseball, and Australia is an essential part of our long-term efforts to grow the sport,” stated Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. “We look forward to writing an exciting new chapter in international baseball history at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground next March."
Some 31 Major League players over the years have hailed from Australia, including 19th century infielder Joe Quinn, former Milwaukee Brewers catcher David Nilsson, and former New York Yankees lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd. Current Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan, who was called up to the Club on May 31 after seven years with the Atlanta Braves, will play in his home country for the first time next year.
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