International season openers aren't new for Major League Baseball. But in 2014, the sport will literally extend its reach further than ever before when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks square off in Australia.
The historic two-game series will be held March 22-23 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association jointly announced Wednesday.
Commissioner Bud Selig has long been a driving force behind making baseball a worldwide sport.
"Major League Baseball is thrilled that the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers will open our 2014 regular season in Sydney, Australia," he said. "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. We look forward to writing an exciting new chapter in international baseball history at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground next March."
This series is the latest example of cooperation between baseball and its union that has led to the longest period of labor peace among the major professional sports in the United States.
"The players are excited about opening the 2014 season in Sydney, and they view this series as an important step in furthering their commitment to help increase the global popularity of baseball," said MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner. "We thank the Australian Baseball Federation and fans for welcoming us to their country. We anticipate the 2014 Opening Series in Sydney will prove to be a memorable experience for players and fans alike."
Executives from the participating teams applauded the initiative.
"The Dodgers are absolutely ecstatic to be opening the 2014 championship season in Sydney, one of the greatest cities in the world," Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said. "Our organization is committed to growing the game of baseball internationally, and I'm eager to kick off our season in one of the most exciting and rapidly developing baseball markets on earth."
D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall seconded that perspective.
"We are honored that Major League Baseball selected our franchise to participate in the first-ever series in Australia," he said. "The Diamondbacks take great pride in promoting our brand, as well as the greatest sport, globally. Being at the forefront of spreading international goodwill on this prominent stage is a feat that we enthusiastically embrace and accept."
The Rockies and Padres inaugurated the tradition when they opened the 1999 season in Mexico. Since then, there have been four occasions when the season started in Japan -- most recently last year, when the Mariners played the A's -- and one in Puerto Rico in 2001.
The Dodgers and D-backs will leave Spring Training after playing Cactus League games on March 16 and arrive in Sydney on the morning of March 18. The first game of the 2014 season will be played on the evening of March 22 followed by another game the next afternoon. Arizona will be considered the home team for both games.
Baseball has a long association with Australia. In fact, the first game played at the Cricket Ground hosted Spalding's World Tourists playing a series of exhibitions in December 1988. Next year's Opening Series will be the 100th anniversary of an exhibition played between the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants at the same venue. For the Opening Series 2014, the facility will be fully renovated to a baseball configuration and will meet Major League standards.
There have been 31 Australian Major Leaguers, including 28 who were born in the country, beginning with infielder Joe Quinn, whose career dates back to 1884. Craig Shipley, currently the assistant to D-backs general manager Kevin Towers, pioneered the most recent wave of Australian players in the big leagues. Former Brewers catcher David Nilsson was a 1999 National League All-Star.
Current Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan is the fifth Australian native. A's closer Grant Balfour and Astros Melbourne-born reliever Travis Blackley are also active in the Majors. Right-hander Liam Hendriks was on the Twins' Opening Day roster. In all, there are more than 60 Australian players under contract to big league organizations.
Moylan is excited that MLB is going to his native land.
"It will be huge for Australia," he said. "When I started over here in '06, the thought of two teams from the Major Leagues playing in my home country was way far out there and, eight years later, here we are. I think it's really going to work.
"Two games, people will come from all over the country to be a part of it. It's history. Sports is a huge part of our culture. They could bring over synchronized swimming and people would show up."
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, in a video released by the team, noted that he spent his 1985 honeymoon in Sydney.
"I'm really looking forward to bringing my team ... to Sydney next year for the first-ever [regular-season] Major League Baseball game," Gibson said. He then added jokingly: "We're looking for new fans."
Major League Baseball has supported the new Australian Baseball League along with the Australian Baseball Federation since 2010. The League reflects the continuation of a long-term partnership between MLB and the ABF to significantly grow the sport in Australia. Wednesday's announcement is another giant step in that direction.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Ken Gurnick contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less