GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The good people of Australia will be pleased to hear that several Dodgers are actually excited about the club's participation in the Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Grounds next month.
Veteran reliever Brian Wilson, for example, vacationed Down Under over the winter and is eager to return. Catcher A.J. Ellis went to Sydney on a promotional tour after last season and raved about his treatment there. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez came back from a similar goodwill series in China a few years ago and hopes this trip can match the cultural experience of visiting the Great Wall and Forbidden City.
And club president Stan Kasten said the organization is all-in for trip to a nation that MLB considers a prime emerging market for the sport.
"We consider it an honor to be invited and a privilege to be going," Kasten said.
The Players Association approved the trip, and the games will be televised live on MLB Network at 1 a.m and 7 p.m. PT on March 22.
The trip will involve 30 flight hours, has necessitated a compressed Spring Training and has posed particular challenges for pitchers building arm strength.
But Wilson, in particular, said there's a bigger picture in play here.
"The baseball player might not be informed of the positive angle," said the former All-Star. "The angle should be only positive. We can be an example to young people living in a not-so-great area that can be led into a downward spiral of life, or learn the order and punctuality and teamwork that are provided by sports in general and baseball in particular.
"I see a kid that might have an opportunity to make something good of himself just because he turns to baseball. It happened to me. If I didn't have baseball in my life, I'd probably be into some negative things. Look what baseball has meant in the Dominican Republic. A lot of families have been changed for the better because of the opportunity baseball presents. If promoting this game gives a kid a reason to play baseball, I see that as our duty. I'd like to be that reason, or at least part of it."
And Wilson said the players will get something back from Australia, too.
"Guys will see the Australian culture, they'll see that everyone is smiling there, there's a social community and a lot of outdoor activity," he said. "The weather's beautiful. OK, it's a long flight. We deal with tough travel all the time. At the end of the day, we're playing a sport. A lot of us get in the mindset that we deserve or are supposed to have certain amenities. We take things for granted."
Gonzalez was one of the few San Diego Padres who made the 2010 trip to China, which was voluntary.
"It was a great experience, a chance to experience another culture, and the fact that I'm multicultural that really appealed to me," he said. "The Great Wall was incredible. It's one of the Seven Wonders of the World for a reason. You go to these places and see unexpected things and it will be neat to see what Sydney has to offer.
"I just hope we have enough time to sightsee, as well as doing the media and playing baseball. I want to pet some kangaroos and see some of their poisonous animals. That would be cool."
Ellis, having already made the trip, said the travel issue will be balanced by Australia's natural attractions.
"I know there's a lot of concern, and even dread, over the long, hard travel," he said. "But I hope my teammates will be just how I was when we pulled into Sydney Harbor in the morning with its iconic features and you feel the excitement you feel when you know you're in for a great time."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less