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Soup of This Day #365: Went Down To Santa Fe

March 21, 2014

From any point on the moon, Major League Baseball (MLB) games are best watched on TV, especially when it’s cloudy – Photo, Bill Anders, 1968. Neither Bill Anders or NASA are affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This Saturday the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks will be opening the 2014 MLB season at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). To clarify – That is Sydney in Australia, rather than Sydney in, say Canada.

The latter is a port community that was founded in 1785 and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It currently has a population of just over 31,000 but no apparent cricket stadium.

Sydney in Australia is also a port community, and it was founded in 1788 and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. It currently has a population of just over 4,627,000 and is replete with a rather wonderful cricket stadium that is capable of housing the entire population of Canadian Sydney with some room to spare.

I needed to clarify the difference as Australia is not the most intuitive place to launch the predominantly American MLB season. Canada is a more likely location as it is conveniently situated immediately adjacent to the United States of America, home to 29 of the 30 MLB teams. Even more appropriately, the 30th team is actually Canadian, being the Blue Jays, who can be found in Toronto.

To clarify – That is Toronto in Canada, a scant 2,000km along the Trans-Canada Highway from Sydney in Canada, rather than Toronto in, say Australia, which is a scant 137km up the Pacific Motorway from Sydney in Australia. The Australian Toronto has no apparent baseball stadium.

True, the SCG isn’t a baseball stadium either, although it has featured the sport previously – The Chicago White Sox played an exhibition there in 1914, which is barely 100 years and 2 World Wars ago. As per it’s name though, the stadium is largely host to cricket and so a fair amount of work was required to prepare it for baseball. Most notably, 200 tons of Californian clay needed to be shipped in and then laid out in the pattern familiar to MLB fans everywhere.

The SCG curator though drew the line at harming his beloved wicket. That hardened strip of turf needed to remain ever-present just behind 2nd. All around though was a chaotic re-imagining of a classic MLB ground.

I hope the games aren’t rained out.

We are however an industrious lot down here, particularly in respect of sport, and so the task was completed in under 3 weeks. The SCG then is ready for baseball and everyone is excited about the opening contests of the MLB season. And why wouldn’t they be? The players will be visiting a lovely country, showcasing their skills for hospitable people and having the chance to get up close and personal with some of our wonderful wildlife. The excitement must be overflowing.

Or not.

The Dodgers’ Zack Greinke announced back in February that:

‘I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it. There just isn’t any excitement to it. I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.’

Generally, it’s fair to say that Zack probably won’t be hired by the Tourism Australia people any time soon.

More immediately, this could be seen as a public relations problem, a potential slur on the country of Australia. Australian baseball fans, such as me, could get upset that players like Zack could not get excited about visiting our home turf. In particular, Zack’s Dodgers have the largest payroll in the MLB – A staggering $231m. Surely that kind of money buys a little professional outreach. But no, Zac Greinke has taken his 2014 salary of $26m and announced that he’s got no enthusiasm for taking MLB on a trip most ordinary Americans would surely appreciate.

Fair enough I reckon.

The players are entitled to not be excited by coming all the way down here – They’ve had their regular pre-season routines heavily disrupted and then they’ve got onto a plane for the 17 hour flight to a timezone that is 18 hours ahead of what their body-clocks are used to. When they’ve got off the plane and gotten over the jet lag, then they’ll be meeting the wildlife.

Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Here’s the thing – It’s not personal but animals in Australia want to harm you. Take kangaroos for instance – These bounding marsupials can sometimes be chased by dogs. A defencive method that some kangaroos have adopted against an attacking canine is to lure it into a water source, like a backyard swimming pool, and then use those powerful hind legs to hold the offending dog down until it drowns.

That’s just not nice.

The platypus is another well-known symbol of this country. On paper it’s patchwork physiology is endearingly cute. In reality though it has cute little hind otter-feet that conceal spurs that deliver a venom capable of causing what Wikipedia says is:

‘…severe pain to humans.’

Which does not read like a cute kind of thing because it isn’t a cute kind of thing. It’s not cute at all.

Then there is every tourist’s Australian animal dream moment – Cuddling a koala. Which is not a bear and you’d probably think on face value that the lack of bear-liness is a positive. The thing is though that koalas sleep a lot. Like almost all of the day. And if you wake them up then you will get, a. Urinated on, and b. Flayed. Imagine a baby Edward Scissorhands getting dragged out of a deeply satisfying nap and in some ways you might end up preferring an actual bear, like a Kodiak for example.

And just to really put the ‘wild’ into wildlife – All 3 of those examples are vegetarians. They’re the ‘nice’ animals. Don’t let’s look at the fact that 10 out of the world’s 10 most venomous snakes are Australian. Or crocodiles – An animal that has evolved over the past 100m years to kill and eat stuff, with occasional breaks to digest the stuff that it killed and ate.

Just a quick Australian crocodile primer: Freshwater crocodiles are dangerous. Saltwater crocodiles use freshwater crocodiles as toothpicks. Saltwater crocodiles can be found in fresh water too. Just don’t go swimming.

Yep it’s tough down here, mostly I think because it’s a tough environment to live in. This then flows through to the sport that we embrace – Our cricketers play for 5 straight days under the scorching Australian sun and will still amiably accept a draw at the end of that.

Baseball then, has got some impressing to do in hostile surrounds.

And if it succeeds, what then? The 2 baseball teams that are visiting us represent the Greater Los Angeles Area (18.1m) and Arizona (6.6m). The last time MLB entrusted it’s opening weekend to an overseas locale, it went to Tokyo in Japan (Greater Tokyo Area, >35m). We’re talking big markets.

Australia is not a big market – The population is around 23.4m and some of us live a distance from our Sydney – Over here in Perth, we’re around 4,000km away from the SCG. The diameter of the moon is only around 3,470km. So I and a good number of my fellow Australians will be watching the game on TV.

Where we would have watched it if it had been in Tokyo again. Or Sydney in Canada. Or maybe Dodger Stadium. The latter would make more sense – Baseball is a bit like the Australian wildlife – Sure, you can see it in a zoo but the best experience is to hop on a plane and fly to it’s home to see it in the real wild. You might get bitten but that’s pretty much what MLB baseball is hoping – That enough Australians will be bitten and smitten by the MLB that we adopt the game as 1 of our own.

You can’t do the adoption thing if a koala bites you. We have laws about that.

So I figure then that MLB has got this wrong – Instead of flying 2 teams across the world to bring baseball to a few Australians, what they should do is fly a few Australians across the world to see baseball in it’s natural habitat. I volunteer me for this – Don’t worry, my hind spurs are not venomous.

Went Down To Santa Fe

  1. Great, great post. I knew with MLB headed your way you would craft a welcoming address. Indeed, I believe the players will be happy to get these games behind them and return to their respective routines but I hear the stadium looks great and the ball is carrying well. The batters may enjoy their stay in Australia more than the pitchers.

    • Thanks for the kind review – The stadium did look pretty good on the broadcast and the crowds, while not sold out, were pretty decent. For all that, the real start of the season is yet to arrive for me – This opening seems too distant, geographically and in terms of time, to the rest of the season proper. If I had my way it would start with the reigning champs unfurling their pennants at home and playing the 1st game. Then, within a day, maybe even hours, the rest of the MLB kicks in and away we go.

      Of course, if the Red Sox ever want to play in Perth, my opinion may get revised.

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