MINNEAPOLIS -- Major League Baseball on Tuesday announced its plans to begin the 2014 season with two games in Sydney, Australia, giving one member of the A's a chance to offer his unique insight on the growth of the sport Down Under.
Reliever Grant Balfour is one of 48 Australians to have played in the Major Leagues, according to baseball-reference.com, and he said that he's thrilled that his home country will get to see the game played at its highest level for the first time.
"It's awesome -- they've been trying to get baseball down there for a while," Balfour said. "Obviously in Japan it's big and they get some games there in Japan, Puerto Rico and a few other countries that have had it. They love baseball down there. It's not nationally known down there like it is here, but there's a whole group of people who love baseball down there."
Balfour noted that demand for the two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks on March 22-23, 2014, was off the charts.
"The tickets sold out in no time -- they were gone before you knew it," Balfour said.
The A's opened last season with a series in Tokyo, the fourth time MLB had scheduled its Opening Series in Japan. The 1999 season opened in Monterrey, Mexico, and Puerto Rico hosted the Opening Series in 2001.
Now, Australia joins the list with a series that Balfour hopes will provide a boost to a sport that's increased in popularity since he was a rugby fan growing up in Sydney, but still hasn't caught fire the way it has throughout Latin America and the Far East.
"Hopefully it gets the media on a national basis, just seeing that baseball's coming down there, and it'll open up some eyes so people can see that they play baseball down there as well," Balfour said.
"That's the tough part -- my dad's been involved in baseball the whole time down there, for a long time, and the money's not there. It's hard when they don't spend any money in marketing, so they really don't get to market the game as well as they probably should. I just think having this is going to be huge."
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.