The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks were given the most Australian welcome possible when they touched down in Sydney on Tuesday morning.
“There was really nobody there,” observed Dodgers first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Just a couple of autograph hunters and a handful of photographers on hand for a reception that was anything but Major League, but very authentic.
The MLB’s previous overseas ventures have been to Japan and Central America, where players are mobbed like rockstars from the moment they step off the plane.
America’s favourite past-time is being embraced with near sell-out crowds for the weekend’s opening season matches, but in Sydney, there’s no need for sunglasses or caps pulled low.
At their first work-out on Tuesday, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks discovered that not even 250 tonnes of San Diego clay can take cricket out of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Curator Tom Parker might have agreed to dig up his outfield.
But the SCG Trust won’t dig up its sacred pitch for anyone, not even some of the world’s highest-paid sporting stars.
Cricket tragics who have lamented NSW’s Sheffield Shield final being moved to Canberra to accommodate a bunch of Yanks, can at least rejoice in the fact that the SCG wicket will play exactly like it did for Mitchell Johnson during the Ashes summer.
Hard and fast.
Situated between second base and centre-field, that famous 22-yard strip will remain as a constant reminder that this is baseball on Australia’s terms.
Special training drills have been organised for outfielders, in anticipation that if batters find the wicket, the ball will fly off like a rocket.
But instead of complaining, the Diamondbacks are embracing.
“We were going to walk out there with a (cricket) bat and have a hit. But at the same time I didn’t want to be disrespectful and walk all over the pitch,” said the Diamondbacks’ resident Australian, Ryan Rowland-Smith.
The Sydney-raised relief pitcher spent the entire flight over educating his teammates that no, US currency won’t be accepted, and no, koalas don’t like being called koala bears.
So he was as surprised as anyone to see teammates up in the Members Pavilion reading old scorecards, and to hear manager Kirk Gibson give his players a stern warning about respecting the nuances of the field.
“He said that’s sacred turf out there,” said Rowland-Smith.
“They’re all talking about it, they’re all mentioning Don Bradman.”
It seems America is enjoying baseball on Australia’s terms.