SYDNEY — If we were to focus just on the baseball, Opening Day followed a very predictable script. Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in the ballpark. The Dodgers’ bullpen followed a predictable order of Chris Perez (⅓ of an inning), Brian Wilson (1 inning) and Kenley Jansen (1 inning) in closing out the game without allowing a run. Paul Goldschmidt didn’t waste a single at-bat but the Dodgers have a deeper lineup, and found a way to score more runs than their opponent. The final score was 3-1 and you can read about the game here.
Also, if we were to focus just on the baseball, we would completely miss the point of staging Opening Day on another continent 12,000 kilometers — about 7,500 miles, if this conversion app is working right — away from Los Angeles.
“No, it didn’t feel like Opening Day,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “It felt like a game that we’re playing here trying to bring baseball to Australia. We knew this game counted, and this game could be a difference between us making and not making the playoffs. We had that passion and that energy behind the game. There was a different attitude today in the clubhouse, a different attitude in batting practice. As far as feeling like Opening Day, I can’t honestly say in my experience it totally was like Opening Day.”
Ellis is unique among the Dodger players. He came to Sydney in November of last year, along with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin, on a goodwill tour to drum up interest in the two season-opening games in Sydney. It’s fair to say he was more personally invested in the non-baseball aspects of the game than his teammates. Attendance fell short of a sellout by little more than 4,000 fans.
About those fans. As I warned, they weren’t the savviest bunch. They cheered loudly at the sight of the game’s first foul ball, a rare souvenir that means something completely different in baseball than cricket. Thrice a batter fouled a ball atop the roof overhanging the seats behind home plate. On one occasion, the ball remained lodged on the roof; the other two times it fell back toward the waiting hands of the crowd.
When Scott Van Slyke hit the first and only home run of the game — of the season, no less — it landed into a near-empty section of seats just beyond the right-field fence. There were two empty swaths of seats in the outfield, a virtual impossibility in the U.S.
Here, the home run elicited less a reaction than the first foul ball.
“Toronto was like that when we first started going there,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, “but it didn’t take long.”
A few more notes and observations: