Dodgers Report: Australia

What we learned Down Under

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
SYDNEY -- Right about the time the Dodgers were landing in Los Angeles from their 13-hour flight, workers at the Sydney Cricket Ground were tearing up the infield and removing the temporary outfield walls. There's a rugby match to be played there in two weeks.

The Australia portion of the Dodgers' season is over. It was, on pretty much every level, a smashing success. People came from all over the region -- one cab driver told me he drove several baseball fans from New Zealand who came for the games -- and the fans seemed to be in a festive mood. Who knows, the Dodgers may have made a few new fans or might have inspired a young boy to pick up baseball who eventually becomes a Dodger.

[+] EnlargeDodgers
Matt King/Getty ImagesThe Dodgers learned plenty during their time in Australia, especially after playing their two games at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Even the players who dreaded the extra travel and worried about the disruption to the season seemed to enjoy themselves. The Dodgers took off the tourist gear and put on their uniforms at the appropriate time, sweeping two games from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks (0-2) sounded happier to be there when they arrived. The Dodgers (2-0) sounded happier by the end.

When Dodgers manager Don Mattingly came into the interview room after Sunday's 7-5 win, he was still a little grumpy after watching his young relievers walk seven batters in the final four innings and watching Yasiel Puig make two outs on the bases and, once again, complain of an injury after a strikeout. Eventually, Mattingly composed himself.

"It was a great experience," Mattingly said. "I know I come in here with the game on my head, but it's been a great experience to be able to come here and be able to see the city, to be able to play in this atmosphere."

You can't make sweeping generalizations about two games of a season, but you can draw a hazy conclusion or two:

  • The starting pitching, at least at the top, is strong. The Diamondbacks took a blow just before they came to Australia when they learned young lefty Patrick Corbin had an elbow injury. But remember, the Dodgers were without Zack Greinke, who stayed behind in Arizona after his spring was delayed by a sore calf. Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu got the Dodgers off to a roaring start in both games, giving up one run in 11 ⅔ innings combined. "When your pitching's this good, you really don't want to allow teams to get back in games," Mattingly sad.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 7, D-backs 5

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
SYDNEY -- For at least eight more days, the Los Angeles Dodgers can dream of going 162-0.

They handled the globe-trotting thing pretty well, traveling 15,000 miles roundtrip to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in both Opening Series games Down Under. After Sunday's 7-5 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground -- which took place Saturday night in Los Angeles -- the Dodgers don't play a real game again until the following Sunday.

That will present a certain challenge itself, but these first two games, played in front of enthusiastic Australian crowds, hinted that the Dodgers might be as good as they hoped they would be.

Or maybe it was about how bad the Diamondbacks looked. Dodgers pitchers dominated until some young relievers started walking batter after batting in the final two innings Sunday.

On a warm day and a fast field, the Dodgers' offense came to life. Arizona starter Trevor Cahill couldn't make it out of the fifth inning, having given up five runs and eight hits. Arizona third baseman Martin Prado got eaten up at third base in the series and the Diamondbacks committed three errors Sunday.

An unlikely hero, Scott Van Slyke, provided the offense in Saturday's win. Sunday, speedster Dee Gordon sparked a lot of the action with three hits, scoring two runs. Yasiel Puig, who had a miserable spring, also had three hits, as well as two RBIs. Puig, however, was thrown out twice on the bases -- by plenty -- trying to force the action.

The Dodgers like that Puig has learned to hit cutoff men, though much of his game is still under construction. He can, however, hit despite a sub-.200 spring batting average. Puig cranked a double into the left-field corner off Arizona reliever Josh Collmenter to add the Dodgers' sixth run. He was 0-for-4 Saturday, but it took swirling winds to keep one of his drives to center field from clearing the wall.

Hyun-Jin Ryu admitted to being a bit anxious, unusual for him, but he didn't show it. Ryu got through five scoreless innings, holding Arizona to two hits and striking out five.

On Saturday, the wind kept several well-struck balls from going out, but conditions were better for scoring in the heat and humidity of the Sydney afternoon. Gordon cranked a double into the gap in right center but stayed at third when Puig singled to left. The ball skipped to Mark Trumbo so quickly, Gordon never broke for home. Puig kept motoring and was an easy out after getting caught in a rundown.

Arizona benefited from the quick infield, too. Paul Goldschmidt squirted a single between Adrian Gonzalez and the first-base line in the first. He later reached on an error off Gordon's glove.

Hyun-Jin Ryu in a familiar time zone

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
SYDNEY -- Hyun-Jin Ryu's older brother and a good friend flew to Australia to watch him pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday and his parents will be watching back home in Korea, where the game starts at 11 a.m.

Ryu said he enjoyed Australia. He saw a koala, avoided eating kangaroo. He slept well. Sydney even has a Koreatown.

Who knows, perhaps one day the Ryu family will be able to watch a game in an even more familiar setting. Major League Baseball has had discussions with South Korea about one day playing a season-opening series there. The Dodgers, with the biggest Korean baseball star in the world, would be a logical choice to make the trip.

"Opening a season in Korea is a fantastic idea," Ryu said through an interpreter. "I will make it my personal wish to do that."

In another sense, familiarity is Ryu's biggest challenge this season. Teams tended to have greater success against Ryu the second and third times they faced him and only one team is more familiar with Ryu than the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have had more plate appearances against Ryu than any other team aside from the Giants. They're batting .300 with a .739 OPS against him. He's 1-2 with a 4.65 ERA in five games against Arizona.

Ryu admitted to being a little anxious before Sunday's start at the Sydney Cricket Ground and said he usually isn't nervous before starts. Then again, he wasn't acknowledging any edge for the Diamondbacks because they've seen him so frequently.

"As much as they've seen me, I've seen them equally," Ryu said. "I think it's a two-way street."

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 3, D-backs 1

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22

SYDNEY -- The Los Angeles Dodgers may have journeyed to Australia a bit grudgingly, but when they got here they made the most of it.

The players seemed to have a good time exploring Sydney's beaches and tourist spots all week and, when it turned into a business trip, they buttoned up. The Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 on Saturday night at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground.

The game took place in the middle of the night in the United States, but the Dodgers may have made a few new fans Down Under. A sellout crowd gave the Dodgers a standing ovation after it was over, though it was Arizona's home game. It gives new meaning to the term "road win," Sydney being about 7,500 miles from Los Angeles.

Clayton Kershaw, making his first regular-season start since signing a record contract, looked like the old Kershaw, pitching 6 2/3 strong innings. Scott Van Slyke powered an offense that otherwise looked a bit sluggish. The Dodgers' bullpen, which was supposed to be a strength after a winter of spending, looked like one, with Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen stifling Arizona in the last three innings.

Van Slyke wouldn't have even been starting if Carl Crawford hadn't stayed behind in Arizona awaiting the birth of a child. Van Slyke hit two deep drives. One looked like a sure home run that stayed in the park. The other looked like a fly ball out, but it left the yard. The wind, which whipped up after a pregame thundershower caused a delay to the start of the game, seemed to play a major part in both extra-base hits.

Van Slyke hit a towering, deep drive to left field in the second inning. Arizona left fielder Mark Trumbo tried climbing the wall to take away a home run, but a howling wind knocked the ball down and blew it 10 feet -- and off the wall -- from where Trumbo was set up. In the fourth, Van Slyke hit a slicing drive to right field that wrapped around the foul pole, 328 feet from home plate.

Kershaw threw 102 pitches, about 10 more than Mattingly had said he would, and held Arizona to a run on five hits. He struck out seven. The outing was a departure from a rocky spring for Kershaw, but hardly surprising. He had a rough spring last season and pitched a shutout on Opening Day.

Dodgers-Diamondbacks feud over?

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
SYDNEY -- They wouldn’t rumble Down Under, would they?

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks were chosen to be the 2014 ambassadors of Major League Baseball. They’re in Australia’s largest city preparing for their Opening Series games Saturday and Sunday. This is just the sixth time MLB has opened its season abroad and Australia is viewed as ripe territory to grow the game globally.

But there’s this nagging little worry out there, a potential embarrassment for the league: What if the teams fight?

“I think it’d be really bad for baseball if something were to spill over from last year, especially out here,” Arizona reliever J.J. Putz told reporters. “This country has welcomed everybody with open arms.”

It's over until something happens, you know what I mean?

-- Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell
It seems like a long shot, of course, for good reason. Both managers have spoken in conciliatory terms. Both teams say the bad blood of 2013 is in the past, that their conflicting World Series aspirations are the only reason for animosity. They’ve turned the page, they say.

But teams don’t typically spill their true feelings about one another through the media and, according to sources, there is some thought among the Dodgers that the Diamondbacks might, at some point, seek retribution for the little dip the Dodgers took in their pool when they clinched the NL West last September.

“It’s over until something happens, you know what I mean?,” Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said. “You don’t anticipate anything, but hey, there’s obviously ... I don’t know how they feel. I don’t know what’s going on in their team, but over here we’re trying to win ballgames. If something happens, we’re definitely going to defend ourselves.”

The culmination of the teams’ dislike for each other was the ugly brawl at Dodger Stadium last June 11, just hours after Major League Baseball had announced the teams would open the 2014 season in Australia. The brawl erupted amid a beanball war sparked when Ian Kennedy grazed Yasiel Puig's nose with a 92-mph fastball. The brawl resulted in suspensions for eight players. Miguel Montero and Zack Greinke also were hit by pitches in that game.

[+] EnlargeDodgers-Diamondbacks
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl on June 11 resulted in eight suspensions and a dozen fines.
“No, it’s not over yet, not at all,” Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario said at the time. “I don’t think anybody thinks it’s over.”

The teams never left their benches again the rest of last season, but several Diamondbacks -- and Arizona Sen. John McCain -- blasted the Dodgers for celebrating their NL West title with a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool beyond the outfield wall. The Diamondbacks' management had asked the Dodgers to confine their celebration to the visiting clubhouse.

Hostilities between the teams stretch back to a 2011 incident that included a yelling match between Clayton Kershaw and Gerardo Parra, who had admired a home run off another Dodgers pitcher. The next game, Kershaw hit Parra with a pitch. Kershaw is the starting pitcher for the Dodgers Saturday night.

“I’m just going to play baseball. I don’t know what their sentiment is behind it,” Kershaw said. “For us, it’s just a new season. We’re just going to play the game. I don’t really know what could or would happen.”

The teams, who arrived in Australia on Tuesday, haven’t pretended they like one another. They’ve only said they’ll confine the competition to pitching, hitting and fielding. Some of the combatants from last June’s brawl, including Kennedy and Belisario, are now on other teams.

“When you play somebody 19 times in the course of the season, you get tired of seeing them. It’s pretty much as simple as that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Like [Kirk Gibson] said, we’re going to try to break up two. We’ve got to pitch inside, they’ve got to pitch inside. It’s just going to be baseball. Sometimes, it just gets a little heated.”

Diamondbacks management took several verbal shots at the Dodgers over the offseason. The team has emphasized toughness under Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers. Just last week, Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley -- who starts Saturday’s game -- plunked Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the calf with a pitch. Colorado manager Walt Weiss said at the time he thought the pitch was intentional.

In separate interviews back in November and before spring training, Towers said he wanted his pitchers to strike more fear in opposing teams.

“I think, come spring training, it’s going to be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” Towers said.

Said Howell, “We know the difference between an accident and on purpose.”

Mattingly unveils his Opening Day lineup

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
SYDNEY -- So, this is where it begins.

It might be happening 7,500 miles from Los Angeles and televised at 1 a.m. on the West Coast. It might be taking place in a cricket stadium in front of fans who are a little hazy on the rules of the game. But it’s still Opening Day, and the Dodgers were beginning to get the familiar butterflies in anticipation of their Saturday opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The teams have been in Sydney since Tuesday.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with where it’s at. You just know that it counts, it’s part of what we’re starting up,” manager Don Mattingly said at his team’s final workout before Opening Day. “I think guys will have the same feeling [Saturday] as they would have anywhere else.”

The Arizona Diamondbacks have one more exhibition game left, against Team Australia, before the teams meet in baseball’s Opening Series Sydney this weekend.

Mattingly announced his Opening Day lineup, which includes Yasiel Puig at leadoff and Justin Turner at second base.

The Dodgers are facing left-hander Wade Miley on Saturday. Dee Gordon likely will start Sunday’s game at second against right-hander Trevor Cahill.

Here is the rest of the Dodgers’ Opening Day lineup:

Yasiel Puig, RF
Justin Turner, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, LHP

Despite perception, Dodgers enjoying trip

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
SYDNEY -- Clayton Kershaw's wife, Ellen, surprised him on his 26th birthday. She arranged to have a handler deliver a kangaroo to a park near the Dodgers' team hotel. Kershaw got to hold and pet the baby marsupial.

That counts as enjoying Australia, doesn’t it?

“That was something I’ll probably never get to do again -- pretty cool,” Kershaw said.

The Dodgers continue to be cast as the bad guys here, in part because of a perceived lack of interest in visiting Australia and in part because of their massively well-paid players. They’d like to clear one thing up, however: They’re just as happy to be here -- now that they are here -- as the Diamondbacks are.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the city,” said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who brought his parents along.

Catcher A.J. Ellis is on his second tour of Sydney. He was here in November as part of an advance party. Here’s what he said he has taken from the trip: “Just the beauty of Sydney, the hospitality of the people, their love of sport and their excitement for this event.”

It’s not entirely surprising that the Dodgers have had to wear the black hat here. They were painted in a similar way in the playoffs when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals, who were viewed as scrappy overachievers.

“We talked about it last year,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s something you knew coming in. When you get a lot of big names and you get a big payroll, you end up being the bad guy, no matter what.”

Young Dodgers dig in vs. Team Australia

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
SYDNEY -- Three of the players from the Australian national team currently work as delivery drivers. The team's biggest hitting star, Trent Oeltjen, played 99 major league games for the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Its best-known pitcher, Ryan Rowland-Smith, is a fringe left-handed reliever with a 4.57 lifetime ERA.

But you never know what's going to happen when players are asked to wear their country's colors.

The Dodgers play their first actual baseball game tonight (1 a.m. PT Thursday) against the Aussie national team at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This one, unlike the two games vs. Arizona this weekend, is an exhibition, of course. While pretty much every story involving the Dodgers here is cast as a "David vs. Goliath" tale, that's not quite accurate for this event. The Dodgers' two scheduled pitchers, Zach Lee and Red Patterson, have never pitched in the major leagues.

For a guy like Patterson, a fringe prospect fighting hard for recognition, this exhibition game could help him gain a foothold in the Dodgers' plans. It could help Lee, a first-round draft pick, inch a little closer to the major leagues.

"We’re in Australia. I get to throw against the national team. What more could you ask for?" Patterson said.

Patterson, who turns 27 in two months, could be entering a make-or-break season. He was effective pitching in both relief and as a starter at Triple-A Albuquerque, going 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA at an extreme hitter's park. He had 109 strikeouts and 49 walks. But he doesn't have overwhelming raw ability, and the Dodgers have a strong core of pitchers who could move up from Double-A.

Of course, there's only so much he can do. Patterson had a 0.93 ERA in 9 2/3 innings this spring and he already has been reassigned to the minor leagues.

"I tried to do what I could to get on the radar, show everybody what I could do, and I feel like I accomplished that," Patterson said. "I'll just keep going."

Dodgers painted as villain in Australia

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
SYDNEY -- Before the Los Angeles Dodgers even boarded their plane for Australia, one player said he thought the fans Down Under would be rooting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Zack Greinke set that tone when he said he couldn't think of "one reason to be excited" for the trip to Sydney.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Harry How/Getty ImagesZack Greinke probably didn't win over fans in Australia with his comments about not wanting to play there.
Greinke's not even here, but the Dodgers are continuing -- against their wills -- to play the role of the villain.

On Wednesday, the Daily Telegraph newspaper ran a headline that read, "Another Dodger hits at Australia." It linked to a Los Angeles Times article about Andre Ethier being upset about the outfield playing surface at the Sydney Cricket Ground, though Ethier was never quoted saying as much. The Dodgers media relations people scrambled to quash that story line by having Ethier do a series of interviews with Australian media members after Wednesday's workout.

Didn't matter. The Dodgers continue to be viewed as Goliath here.

In Thursday morning's Sydney Morning Herald, there is a rooting guide to the opening series. It said that if the Dodgers lived in Australia, they "would spend most of their time sipping lattes at Bondi. The payroll at the Dodgers is U.S. $245 million compared to $110 million for their rivals Arizona. If you like the idea of hanging with celebrities in Hollywood and strolling down Rodeo Drive, the Dodgers are your team."

The article went on to say that Dodgers players would spend their offseasons on private jets visiting resorts while the Diamondbacks would "spend time catching up with family and friends enjoying sports on television."

The Diamondbacks, of course, haven't done much to dissuade the public in Australia of these notions. They held a press conference before they boarded their charter in Phoenix to announce to the world, once again, how thrilled they were to be going to Australia. While the Dodgers sent a small contingent of backups and minor-leaguers to Bondi Beach for a clinic with little-leaguers Wednesday, the Diamondbacks' entire roster hit the beach nearby.

The narrative is pretty well set in motion these days. The Dodgers only hope this is one of those rare movies where the bad guys win.

Dodgers spread baseball gospel at beach

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
SYDNEY -- A group of Australian little leaguers were asked who they were most excited to meet on the Dodgers. After a few quiet seconds, one of them piped up, "Ryan Kershaw!"

Clearly, there's a little work to do in spreading the gospel of America's pastime to the Australian youth.

In fact, that is a pretty good way of describing the whole point of this Opening Series Down Under. Wednesday, the Dodgers played their part in that mission, with a group of their younger players visiting one of the most famous, most beautiful beaches on earth -- Bondi Beach -- to mingle with two little-league teams from the Sydney suburbs.

Teresa Fletcher had her two boys, Jack, 6, who was wearing a Dodgers cap and Luke, 9, who was wearing a Diamondbacks hat. They play for the Ilawong Marlins. Teresa Fletcher said her family was watching the news on TV Tuesday night when a clip of the Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl from last June was shown. Nice way to hype this weekend's series, huh?

[+] EnlargeDrew Butera
AP Photo/Rick RycroftThe Dodgers' Drew Butera got a demonstration in paddleboard rescue from an Australian lifeguard during the team's visit to Bondi Beach.
"I said, 'Oh, no, none of that,' " Teresa Fletcher said.

If you've ever been around two young boys, you know exactly what she was feeling. They don't need any more prompting to start fighting again.

Emma Green, 13, was at Bondi Beach, too, to mingle with the Dodgers. She's 13, but she has been playing baseball since she was 5. A club baseball team visited her elementary school and gave a demonstration and she was hooked. Green's mom woke up the other day and her daughter was in front of the TV watching a U.S. spring training game. It was 3 a.m.

So, yeah, there are some kids in Australia who have caught the baseball bug. Many of the little-league families I met were planning to attend one of the Dodgers-Diamondbacks games or one of the exhibitions against the Australian national team.

Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz looked as if he was having a good time in his sunglasses and flip-flops mingling with the Australian kids. He said most of them asked him how he liked Australia so far, but he didn't get much probing about the intricacies of catching. He sensed more enthusiasm than knowledge.

"A lot of them said they like it better than cricket, so that's good," Federowicz said.

The players got something out of it, too, in addition to spending time with some charming kids. They took a boat ride back to their hotel that featured stunning views of the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. First, they stopped to pose for pictures with a comely young blond lifeguard. She gave catcher Drew Butera a demonstration in paddleboard rescue and he looked pretty pleased with it.

Adrian Gonzalez walked up a few minutes later in sunglasses and a backward baseball cap. He was just visiting Bondi Beach when he ran into the Dodgers goodwill mission. He good-naturedly posed for a few photos. The beach sweeps to the south and then climbs some stone stairs to a sweeping view of the beach and those to the south, with rocks and the dark blue Tasman Bay dominating the senses. Mark Trumbo, the Arizona Diamondbacks new outfielder, was hanging out enjoying the view. He said it reminded him some of Newport Beach, not far from where he grew up.

It appears the players are enjoying this Australia trip more than they thought they would.

Dodgers, D-backs enjoy a historic venue

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
Major League Baseball in SydneyAP Photo/Rick RycroftSydney Cricket Ground, where the Dodgers open the season, is "sacred" to Australian sports fans.

SYDNEY -- They’ve got the bunting up in time for Opening Day as usual. The red-white-and-blue cloth, in this case, is decked out along the railings of a building that was almost 50 years old the day Wrigley Field opened its gates.

“This is sacred ground,” says Scott Egelton, the director of the Sydney Cricket Ground.

It might be sacred, but some of it is now foul ground -- and there's a lot of it. Major League Baseball, for the next week, is taking over the most historic sporting venue in Australia.

British troops played cricket at this spot in the 1850s. What’s known today as the Sydney Cricket Ground opened its doors in the 1880s, and two of the original buildings are still standing. They’re wood with pale green pillars.

One of them is the Members Pavilion and next to it is the Ladies Pavilion, where, until the 1970s, women were segregated from their husbands. Some people have chosen to have their ashes scattered on the pitch, and their names are commemorated on little silver plaques that line a white picket fence.

Major League Baseball sent Murray Cook here weeks ago. His expertise is carving out baseball fields out of non-baseball playing lands. He has built baseball fields in Beijing, Frankfurt, Germany, and here in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. He and his crew got the field in working order using the materials on hand, though they had to import a few hundred tons of clay from Southern California to make a proper infield.

The field looks like most any other major league field. The foul ground is more generous than most -- though not quite as expansive as it is in Oakland -- and, to avoid making it such a pitchers' park, Cook pinched the corners. You only have to hit it 328 feet down the lines for a home run.

The builders had to build dugouts where there were none. They are smaller than most. The steps were so steep, Arizona coach Mark Grace muttered, “Good Lord, don’t they know how un-athletic we ballplayers are?” as he struggled to make his way down them at Tuesday’s workout.

“Yeah, I like it. It looks like a pitchers’ park, a lot of foul ground,” said Arizona pitcher Wade Miley, who will throw the first pitch of the first major league game to be played here.

Miley wasn’t even planning to be in Australia. He would have stayed behind when the Diamondbacks embarked on the 15-hour flight to Sydney, instead pitching in minor-league spring-training games, but the Diamondbacks’ young ace, Patrick Corbin, injured his elbow. The team told Miley he would pitch Game 1 on Saturday night. He packed up hastily.

“I’m the first pitcher of the 2014 baseball season. That’s special,” Miley said.

Major League Baseball official John Blundell was here in January and took in a couple of games played by the local cricket team, the Sydney Sixers.

“I knew nothing, just like they’re going to know nothing about our game,” Blundell said.

Soon, they might know a little bit more. About 80,000 fans will get to see some of the best players in the world -- pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw and sluggers such as Paul Goldschmidt -- but the legends this place reveres compete in a different arena. Above center field, a sign reads, “Victor Trumper Stand.” Trumper scored 214 points against South Africa in 1910-11. Above right field, a sign reads, “Clive Churchill Stand.” Churchill was a fullback, one of the greatest Australian rugby players of all time.

And then there’s Stephen “Yabba” Gascoigne. He’s the fan who heckled the English cricket team so mercilessly, he became an icon. They built a bronze statue of him. If you look closely while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play, you might be able to make it out. He’s in the second row sitting in left-center field, his hands cupping his mouth, a bottle nearby.

One giant leap for Chone Figgins' comeback

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers’ clubhouse Sunday morning had the buzz of a camp in motion. Players were packing their gear into blue Dodgers duffel bags and cardboard boxes for the trip to Australia.

So far, the Dodgers’ attitudes toward opening their season 7,500 miles from home have ranged from grudging acceptance to Zack Greinke's “zero excitement,” comment. But not everybody feels that way. One player, in particular, Chone Figgins, was delighted to be boarding the plane for another continent.

After two dismal seasons in Seattle and one year away from the game, he’s one step away from making the Dodgers’ roster. When Figgins arrived at camp, he said his goal was to get on the plane to Australia.

Mission accomplished, but not quite completed. The Dodgers are taking 30 players to Sydney, only 25 of whom will be active when they play the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night. It sounds as if Figgins, 36, has an excellent chance to be one of them though he’s batting just .171 in the Cactus League. Despite the low average, Figgins has a .333 on-base percentage because he has walked nine times.

He’s also the most versatile player in camp defensively. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly confirmed that Figgins will go to Australia.

“His at-bats have been the kind of at-bats we like. He’s shown that he can play everywhere on the field, so there’s definitely a value there,” Mattingly said. “We still feel like the body’s live. He’s moving good, he’s running good, he’s had no issues. We like what we’ve seen and we do feel like the at-bats will get better and better.”

Kershaw leaves a rough spring behind

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have been taking this Australian time-zone challenge seriously.

Team trainer Stan Conte has been conferring with sleep experts for weeks. The squad is installing special light bulbs on the team plane to mimic the daylight hours in Australia. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and some players are wearing special watches to monitor their vital signs.

There is a workout mere hours after the team plane touches down in Sydney simply to keep the players from sleeping during the day.

[+] EnlargeKershaw
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsEven if opening the season in Australia means major time-zone adjustments, Clayton Kershaw is happy to put spring training and his 9.20 ERA behind him.

But, no matter what they do, it’s still going to be a little strange, especially for Clayton Kershaw.

Opening Day 2014 will offer a series of challenges to Kershaw, but none figures to be more extreme than the fact he will be pitching in the middle of the night. The first game of the Dodgers’ season starts Saturday at 7 p.m. in Australia, or 1 a.m. Pacific.

The Dodgers are scheduled to arrive in Australia on Tuesday morning. Kershaw will have four days to adjust.

“They’re trying everything,” Kershaw said. “They’re trying to keep us up right now, just try to stay up as late as possible. You get on the flight, you’re supposed to stay up for a few hours. If you can stay up for the first few hours, that’s a game plan. I’m going to try.”

He downloaded multiple episodes of “Friday Night Lights” to watch on the team’s flight, which should last about 15 hours. Kershaw didn’t have a particularly dazzling spring in 2013 -- a 4.18 ERA in seven starts -- and things worked out just fine. Kershaw won his third consecutive ERA title and won his second Cy Young in three years.

This has been a rougher spring, and also a shorter one. After giving up two home runs to the Chicago White Sox in a 5-4 loss Saturday night -- one of which was an inside-the-park job that should have been ruled a Joc Pederson error -- Kershaw will end his exhibition season with a 9.20 ERA in four starts. He said he his arm feels good; he just hasn’t found his best command yet.

“Obviously, I don’t want to have a 9.00 ERA in the regular season, so I’m going to try not to have that,” Kershaw said.

Exploring the Australia Effect on 2014

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
One of the great mysteries and nagging worries for the Dodgers all spring has been this: What will playing their first two games 7,500 miles from home do to the rest of their season?

It may not be a logistical nightmare, but it’s certainly a challenge: After playing their final Cactus League game Sunday, the Dodgers catch a midnight charter for Sydney, Australia.
They have a day to adjust to the time zone (16 hours ahead of PDT), a workout Wednesday, an exhibition game Thursday and real games against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. In between, MLB has lots of sightseeing activities planned.

Following Sunday’s game, they bus to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport and fly east for 13 hours. Oddly, they’ll land in Los Angeles Sunday about five hours before they took off in Australia. Then, they have four days off before any game, an exhibition against the Angels, and a week off before North American Opening Day in San Diego.

That layoff, of course, could do more damage than the trip itself. Jet lag is one thing. A stop-and-start season is equally worrisome.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was a coach on the 2004 New York Yankees, who opened the season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Japan, then came home and went 9-11 in early games before rallying and making it to the American League Championship Series.

“We came back with four spring training games and that was miserable and we started bad,” Mattingly said. “Those are the things I worry about. The bell rings, those two games count, then you come back and say, ‘Don’t matter.’ I worry about bad habits.”

The Dodgers’ players voted to go, so they have no one to blame but themselves (or their teammates) if it sends them into the season a bit sluggishly. Not everyone voted “yes,” of course, with the most public abstainer being pitcher Zack Greinke, who now won’t have to make the trek after injuring his calf.

History suggests that teams have been able to overcome the rigors of overseas openers, but there has been an early price to pay.

Major League Baseball has opened its season six times outside the continental U.S., but the first two were in Mexico and Puerto Rico, which offer only minimal travel and time-zone adjustments.

The last four were in Japan. One World Series team, the 2000 New York Mets, came out of such a series. Four of the eight teams reached the playoffs and two other teams, the 2004 Yankees and 2008 Boston Red Sox, went to league championship series. In other words, a lot of teams have started on the other side of the Pacific and gone on to great things, but it wasn’t easy.

Mattingly’s Yankees weren’t the only team to start a bit sluggishly after playing in Asia. Every playoff team that started in Japan got off to a losing start: The 2000 Mets started 5-8; the 2008 Red Sox went 5-6; the 2012 Oakland A’s started 4-7.

The only one of the eight teams to start with a winning record was the 2008 A’s, who lost 85 games that year. The 2004 Rays had the worst start: 9-23. There certainly seems to be some sort of lag effect.

A’s general manager Billy Beane doesn’t believe it’s a major concern, telling, “We had no issues getting players ready.”

On the other hand, Beane said it did present some challenges. The A’s had to face Felix Hernandez twice in their first four games. The Dodgers could benefit from the weird schedule by using Clayton Kershaw three times in their first six games without asking him to pitch on short rest.

They haven’t decided whether they’ll take advantage of that option, though they did announce Kershaw will pitch the first game in Australia, so it’s open. There’s no reason he wouldn’t also pitch the opener in San Diego, considering he’d be working on seven days’ rest. If he pitches the Dodgers’ home opener, too, on April 4, he’d be working on the customary four days’ rest.

Kershaw told reporters earlier this spring he was preparing himself for the rigors of the off-kilter throwing schedule. He spoke with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Brandon McCarthy, who pitched in Japan for Oakland.

“He said coming back is the hardest part, to get ready for the season,” Kershaw said. “It’s definitely not an ideal situation travel-wise, but I guess we’ve got to make it work.”

There’s always this to fall back on: If you think the Diamondbacks are the Dodgers’ biggest challenge in the division this year, they’ve got to try to make it work, too.
In less than a week, the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will board their chartered airplanes for their 15-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. In less than two weeks, they will have already played the first two games of Major League Baseball’s 2014 season.

With their two-game series at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground rapidly approaching, we thought we’d catch up with the perfect ambassador for Australian baseball, Craig Shipley. Not only was he the first Australian-born player in the modern era to compete in the major leagues, he broke in with the Dodgers. Oh, and he now works for the Diamondbacks, as a special assistant to general manager Kevin Towers.

Q. Craig, how would you describe the state of baseball in Australia in 2014?

A. It’s not a major sport. There is tremendous competition in Australia for the attention of sports fans. It’s one of the countries in the world where you have more competition for athletes and media attention than virtually any other. You have cricket, Australian-rules football, rugby, rugby union, field hockey, tennis, swimming. There are lots of sports in Australia and most kids play some type of sport. Baseball just doesn’t have the profile other sports have. It doesn’t have the participation base.

Q. So, what drew you to the game?

A. Thirty years ago, baseball was the winter sport and cricket was the summer sport. At some point around that time, baseball switched to a summer sport. My dad had played cricket, but when he was in his 20’s, he chose to switch to baseball. It was the first sport I was exposed to. He was heavily involved in the local club. I’ve been around baseball since I was born. I probably started playing when I was six or seven. I played other sports, too. I played soccer for a year, rugby for three or four years, including my last year of high school. Outside baseball, rugby was my favorite sport.

Q. So, how did on earth did the Dodgers find you?

A. At the time I left Australia, nobody scouted the country. Kids of my generation who wanted an opportunity had to figure out a way to get into a U.S. college. I’d made my first trip to the U.S. in 1979 on an under-18 national team that played at Georgia Southern. It was my first exposure to American baseball. At the end of that trip, I expressed an interest to one of the coaches who had just left Georgia Southern to be an Alabama assistant coach. I said I’d like to play college baseball and asked him what I needed to do to play in college. I came back the next year and stayed in touch with the coach. His name is Roger Smith and he’s now a scout for the Cardinals. Eventually, he caved in from me badgering him all that time.

Q. So, the Dodgers drafted you out of Alabama?

A. At the time, if you weren’t a U.S. citizen, you didn’t go into the draft. I was a free agent. I think they changed that the next year. But I had been exposed to the Dodgers 15 years before, when [Dodgers coaches] Monte Basgall and Red Adams visited Australia. I just remember them standing on our field in a Dodger uniform. It made a huge impact. We weren’t exposed to major league baseball. We didn’t get it on TV, nobody scouted the country. We knew it existed, but it was in this far-away place with no legitimate access to information. To see these guys on the field, that was a big deal. When I was in college, if I had an opportunity to sign with the Dodgers, it was pretty much a done deal.

Q. How do you expect this Opening Series to be received in Sydney?

A. I think there is going to be a huge reception. Australia is a sports-mad country. The games will be sold out, they’re at a historic venue. There’s a tremendous amount of attention on this series and it’s really starting to build as it gets closer and closer. It’s going to be a very successful event and, as you know, when MLB takes the show on the road, things will be done very well.

Q. Since you were a kid, has there been a lot of progress made in building up baseball in Australia?

A. I base a lot of whether we’re making progress on the amount of participation. I’m on the board of Baseball Australia and I’ve always been plugged into what’s going on there. I went in 2002, coaches the Australian team at the World Cup. I was on the staff during the first WBC, which was not a huge commitment but was fun. MLB has been influential and the reach is now global. In that regard, things have changed. They have an MLB academy there in the summer, which is a great thing for young players in the country. But participation-wise, the numbers have remained fairly stagnant. Hopefully, this series will give some impetus and attract enough attention to get more kids into baseball.

Q. You broke into the majors in 1986. Since that time, it certainly seems as if Australian players have become more commonplace in the majors. I’ve covered a few. The Dodgers had Peter Moylan. The Angels had Rich Thompson.

A. Yes, but Grant Balfour is the only player widely projected to be on an Opening Day roster this year. Travis Blackley spent some time with Texas and Houston last year. Ryan Rowland-Smith is trying to make our roster. The problem is no longer scouting. Australia has been heavily scouted for the last 15 years. If any country has a history of playing baseball, it will be scouted and Australia has a long, long history. What determines the number of players coming from a country is how many athletes are playing that sport. If you go to Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, most young boys are playing baseball. You have a lot more athletes to choose from.

Q. Some players, most notably Zack Greinke, have grumbled about having to make the long trip to play games. Do you think the ones who go will have a better time than they think they’re going to have?

A. I would imagine. The culture is very similar to the U.S. There’s no language barrier. The foods are the same. The diets are very similar. You’ve got a beautiful city with one of the prettiest harbors, if not the prettiest harbor, in the world. The ballpark is 10 minutes from the hotel. I think the players will really enjoy the trip.

There’s no way around it. It’s a long flight. Fifteen hours on a plane for anybody isn’t a particularly fun thing to do. But once they hit the ground and are exposed to the city, I think most, if not all, of the players and the traveling parties will really enjoy it.




Yasiel Puig
.296 16 69 92
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239