Sydney shines as host of MLB stars

Sam Goodwin, Yahoo7

Sydney played host to some of America’s Major League Baseball superstars over the weekend for a historic two-game series featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The official start to the 2014 MLB season marked just the fourth time in the history of the game that ‘opening day’ had been held outside the United States.

And with the world’s media focused squarely on Australia, Sydney certainly sparkled for its esteemed guests.

From Monday through to the weekend, a host of events and activities were set up around the city as baseball fever took hold.

The iconic Sydney Cricket Ground was transformed into a state-of-the art baseball venue, which Arizona’s Australian pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith said stacked up with the impressive stadiums of North America.

“The field looks great,” he said. “There are lots of little things that they’ve got just right and it looks as good as all the big league fields in the States.”

Earlier in the week, the Dodgers checked out the golden sands of Bondi Beach, where they played ball with a group of junior players from Illawong and St John Bosco Baseball Clubs.

LA Dodgers players meet some local little leaguers. Photo: James Horan/Destination NSW

Sports Minister Gabrielle Upton presented Dodgers players Mike Baxter, Tim Federowicz, Drew Butera and Chris Withrow with beach towels and Bondi baseball caps as a memento of their visit and introduced them to some local volunteer lifesavers.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and wife Ellen were lucky enough to meet a nine-month-old Australian joey courtesy of Featherdale Wildlife Park.

“My wife Ellen is really big on birthdays so yesterday, for mine, she pulled some strings and I got to pet a baby kangaroo.” He said. “That was really fun.”

LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw meets a baby kangaroo. Photo: Brett Hemmings/Destination NSW

As for the Diamondbacks, they couldn’t wait to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and check out the city from the best viewpoint imaginable.

Pitcher Will Harris described the experience as ‘amazing’, saying: “We couldn’t have asked for much more. I’d recommend the Bridge Climb to anybody.”

As for the view, infielder Cliff Pennington said: “It’s just awesome. Sydney is definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”

The sports bar at The Star set up a makeshift baseball field on the bar and staff donned baseball uniforms as hundreds crowded around the massive screens to watch the televised matches.

Darling Harbour was turned into a batting range as fans hit balls into the water at inflatable targets.

And Driver Avenue outside the SCG became baseball central, with inflatable pitching cages, merchandise shops and American-style food outlets lining the footpath.

Over 100,000 fans packed the SCG on Saturday and Sunday – 25,000 of which were overseas visitors - resulting in a $13 million home run for Sydney’s economy.

Premier Barry O’Farrell was pleased with the result. “My Government came to office with a commitment to grow the State’s economy by bringing major events to NSW and there is no surer sign we are delivering on our commitment than the MLB Opening Series.”

As for the results on the field, the Dodgers won 3-1 on Saturday night and 7-5 on Sunday afternoon, making the 15-hour flight home a little easier.

Check out Destination NSW for more