What in the World Do Australians Know About Baseball?

MLB’s season opener in Sydney this weekend provides a clue.

March 19, 2014— -- Major League Baseball is quick to seize a marketing opportunity, and this year is no different, picking a prime location for Saturday’s season opener – Sydney.

Not Sydney, Fla. That would be Sydney, Australia.

The two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks is a 100-year tribute to the January 1914 Chicago White Sox-New York Giants exhibition games at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The venue's the same for this weekend's games but the folks Down Under have come a long way since that early 20th century event at which the "majority of them [Australians] went home wondering whatever the people of the United States could see in the pastime to rave about," The Argus newspaper reported on Jan. 8, 1914.

Baseball may never be a major sport in Australia but a lot fewer spectators are likely to be disappointed a century later.

Here are a few more details to help bring the upcoming weekend into focus.

Who plays professional baseball in Australia?

Six teams played in the Australian Baseball League that concluded its 45-game season last month. (They play from October to February, which is the summer in the Southern Hemisphere). The teams include the Perth Heat, Adelaide Bite and Sydney Blue Sox. Their elite Australian athletes play alongside Americans, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese.

Are there any Australians playing professionally in the United States?

Of course, although not many beyond the minor-league level right now. Grant Balfour, a relief pitcher for Tampa Bay Rays, is the "only player widely projected to be on an Opening Day roster this year," Craig Shipley, who was the first Australian-born player in the modern era to compete in the U.S. major leagues, told ESPN.

"Travis Blackley spent some time with Texas and Houston last year. Ryan Rowland-Smith is trying to make our roster," added Shipley, now 51 and an Arizona Diamondbacks special assistant after playing for six U.S. teams from 1986 to 1998.

Other recognizable names from the past include Graeme Lloyd, a relief pitcher who helped the Yankees win two MLB championships in the late '90s, and David Nilsson, a Milwaukee Brewers catcher who became the first Australian MLB All-Star in 1999.

Anything different about Australian players?

Baseball is baseball, but Balfour believes that the rough-and-tumble national sport of Australian rules football seeps into their baseball play.

"Australians play hard," Balfour told a Major League Baseball reporter. "It's something that's built in the Aussies. We play tough, we play hard. It's just kind of that football mentality.

"I think it's just that kind of country - a bunch of roughnecks."

What about off the field? What can spectators expect in the way of concessions.

Americans in attendance will recognize the Dominos logo right off the bat, although those "meatosaurus, Hawaiian & margarita" versions might give them pause. And then there are the less-familiar Four 'n' Twenty pies, Barramundi and chips and otropo burgers. Not to worry, though, because hot dogs and cheeseburgers complement the Aussie favorites.

But peanuts might be a different matter.