MLB Down Under: Audio Offers Special Challenges in Oz

Opening day for MLB’s two Big D teams will be in the Big A. Translation: On March 22 and 23, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will play Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney, Australia. The teams will square off at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which will be fully reconfigured to MLB standards into a baseball diamond, as part of MLB’s ambitious 2014 Opening Series. (The Diamondbacks will be considered the home club in both games.)

A day before departing for Sydney, A1 and baseball-audio-mixing veteran Joe Carpenter was wondering how sound Down Under would be different. “Do the curve balls spin the opposite way down there?” he mused, not at all rhetorically.

One major difference he already knew about is the considerably larger distance from home plate to the backstop and from the field to the stands, which have a spatial relationship more like that of a soccer pitch. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks arrived in Sydney on separate charters on Tuesday and held workouts at the cricket ground during the following two days before each team plays an exhibition games against Team Australia. That will give Carpenter some time to develop strategies to address the novel configuration of the venue.

One tool he will deploy for that is parabolic dishes from Klover Products of Janesville, WI. Slightly shallower than the typical parabolics used on sports shows to catch highly targeted audio over a long distance, the 16-in. Klover dishes, introduced in 2012 on Fox Sports NFL broadcasts, are not yet available for rental in Australia. According to Carpenter, Klover President Paul Terpstra shipped them to Sydney expressly for their use in the series Down Under. Carpenter says he will load them with the usual DPA omnidirectional lavaliere microphones he uses in the dishes at domestic baseball games.

“What’s going to be hard to get clearly and distinctly are the glove pops and bat cracks that you want to hear around home plate,” he says. “The space between the plate and the backstop is really wide open. It’ll be a challenge to keep the effects clear and present in that kind of space.”

That wide-open area behind the plate may have another effect on the game, Carpenter speculates. “The catcher’s going to have a hard time playing a passed ball off the backstop. If the ball gets past the catcher, it’s gone.”

Reconfiguring the venue to meet MLB standards was a significant undertaking. According to published sources, an entire outfield fence had to be constructed around the 38,500-seat stadium, and more than 35,000 sq. ft. of cricket-pitch turf were temporarily removed to construct a clay infield, with the red earth imported from the U.S. in 14 shipping containers.

Carpenter plans to deploy Sennheiser MKH 418S stereo shotgun microphones to cover the sound at first and third bases. The rest of the distance-miking complement will be made up of whatever shotguns he finds aboard Global Television, a partner in NEP’s worldwide network of affiliates and the truck set to work the series, which will be broadcast on the MLB Network.

Overall, the sound won’t be as comprehensive as it often is in the States. For instance, none of the bases will be miked, and neither will any players or coaches. The home-plate umpire will wear a wireless lavaliere and bodypack, but his audio will be recorded for delayed use. Several handheld microphones will be available for dugout interviews before and during the games.

“Microphone sources will be limited, compared to what we usually can put out there for a weekend game here,” says Carpenter. “But it’s still going to sound great, and there’s a different kind of excitement that comes with playing baseball so far away.”

Baseball has a small but avid following in Australia. According to one recent survey, it comes in well behind the most popular sports there: Australian Rules Football, rugby league, rugby union, and cricket. In fact, it doesn’t even place in the top 15 sports followed, behind tennis, golf, basketball, women’s netball, and even recreational skiing.

However, the Dodgers-Diamondbacks matchup comes on the centennial anniversary of an exhibition game between the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox in this same venue — won 5-4 by the White Sox — played before 10,000 fans on Jan. 3, 1914, during the height of the Australian summer. This weekend’s series marks the first regular-season games ever played in Australia, though not the first overseas openers. Previous MLB season openers were held in Monterrey, Mexico (1999); San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001); and Tokyo (2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012).

The Series Down Under may help spark new interest in Australian baseball. Its six-team professional league, the ABL, is small but does have some financial backing from MLB. According to published sources, about 60 Australian players are under contract this season with various MLB teams, and some of them might be in the majors when the season starts, including Grant Balfour (Tampa Bay Rays), Peter Moylan (Houston Astros), and Ryan Rowland-Smith (Diamondbacks).

But the big question remains: Will playing baseball in Australia, where the water famously swirls down drains counterclockwise, produce that most elusive of baseball creatures: a left-handed shortstop?

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