SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will host Major League Baseball’s 2014 season opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks next March, organizers said on Thursday.
The matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) will take place in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox playing the New York Giants on a world tour just before the First World War.
“These are not exhibition matches,” said New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Barry O‘Farrell.
“These are two serious matches in the most impressive sports outfit in the biggest franchise in the world. It’s a great opportunity for Sydney.”
The games will also be broadcast on ESPN and state tourism officials have forecast a global audience of 168 million viewers.
Major league teams have previously played regular season games outside the United States, most recently when the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners split their opening series in Japan in 2012.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will play games on March 22 and 23 at the SCG, which contains some of Australia’s deepest sporting history from cricket to rugby and hosted a local baseball game as long ago as 1878.
The 150-year-old venue is undergoing refurbishment and its transformation from a cricket venue to baseball field will take 10 days.
Baseball was brought to Australia by American miners in the Victorian gold rushes of the mid 19th century and, although far outstripped in popularity by cricket, has retained a hard core of adherents since.
The country has produced more than 30 Major League players dating back to 1884, when Joe Quinn played second base for St. Louis.
Australian relief pitcher Peter Moylan, a veteran of more than 300 MLB games, joined the Dodgers this season and could play in Sydney.
“What a thirst (Australia) has for compelling and meaningful competition - we know the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will bring it next year,” said James Pearce, MLB’s vice president of international events.
“The vibrancy and energy in Sydney will provide the perfect backdrop to these games.”
Tim Slavin, chief of business affairs and senior counsel of the MLB Players Association, said the players were excited to play in Sydney.
“They planned to bring their family and friends,” added Slavin. “They asked if they could come early and report back late.”
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury