NEW YORK (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will bring their thunder Down Under.
Major League Baseball will open the 2014 regular season in Australia, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks playing a two-game series at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The matchups March 22-23 mark baseball’s first games in Australia that count.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” Aussie-born Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan said Wednesday. “I’ve been trying to preach the game back in Australia for years.”
MLB and the players’ union announced the international opening day just one day after Los Angeles and Arizona mixed it up in a big brawl at Dodger Stadium. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers already had a testy relationship before this scrape that resulted in six ejections.
“I always wanted to go to Australia,” Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. “Now I got a real reason to go and I get to play baseball.”
Baseball opened its season at Tokyo in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. The 1999 opener was held at Monterrey, Mexico, and the 2001 season began in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The rest of the big league season next year is slated to resume on March 30.
The Dodgers-Diamondbacks opener will come 100 years after the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played exhibition games at the same cricket venue. On Jan. 2, 1914, the White Sox beat the Giants 5-4 before an estimated 10,000 fans.
There also was an exhibition baseball game at the same site in December 1888 featuring Spalding’s World Tourists.
“It’s cool. It’s great the sport is going to get a big game like that down there,” said Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour, who is from Australia. “We had the Sydney Olympics there and Intercontinental Cup games, but we haven’t had that kind of level of baseball there in a long, long time. It’ll be fun to see.”
The Sydney Cricket Ground will be configured to MLB standards for the opening series.
“I’m sure people are going to fly from all over the country to see the game,” Moylan said. “The presentation of the grounds is going to be fantastic.”
Moylan makes the grueling trip home to Melbourne in the offseason, and he expects the travel will take a toll on the players.
“Coming back is going to be the worst,” he said.
Union head Michael Weiner said “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.”
Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement, “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.”
Dodgers President Stan Kasten said the team was eager to begin the season “in one of the most exciting and rapidly developing baseball markets on earth.” Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said “being at the forefront of spreading international goodwill on this prominent stage is a feat that we enthusiastically embrace and accept.”
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will play spring training games in Arizona on March 16, then leave for Australia and arrive on March 18. The teams will open the regular season on Saturday night, the 22nd, and meet again the next afternoon. Arizona will be the home team for both games.
“It should be a little tiring, but a lot of fun, too,” Kemp said.
There have been 28 major leaguers born in Australia. The Dodgers have had five natives on their roster.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif., and AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum in New York and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.