Baseball may have a budding rivalry on its hands

Baseball may have a budding rivalry on its hands

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Next month, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers will play two games in Sydney. It was either that or MLB was going to put both teams into a jar, cap it and shake it.

The international trip probably was the better choice. This way, we'll get the answer to the scientific query: If Yasiel Puig is spun by a high-and-tight fastball in the Southern Hemisphere, on his way to the dirt does he rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise?

Speaking of the Coriolis force (the first I ever have), should a Diamondbacks coach be heaved into an Australian photo well, there would be a very slight displacement to the left. Conversely, in the Northern Hemisphere, if one were to fall from, say, 9 ½ games up to 9 ½ games down over two months, the gravitational deflection would be considerably to the right.

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Also, as the Dodgers are so partial to water, might the Diamondbacks consider erecting a shark net in their pool?

Yes, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are going to Sydney. Together. Separate planes, of course. So they'll probably race. Last one to Papua New Guinea rooms with D. Baxter the Bobcat.

These are the teams that in a single night last June gave us two bench-clearing incidents, one extended brawl, six ejections, eight suspensions and 12 fines.

"Nothing personal," Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero said. "Just like a healthy rivalry."

(Not two years before, Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo came a little close to Gerardo Parra with a pitch, Parra homered and pimped that, and Clayton Kershaw settled it the next night. You know, allegedly.)

These also are the teams that shared a field in downtown Phoenix the evening the Dodgers clinched the NL West, a foregone conclusion that nevertheless ended with an over-the-top party in the Diamondbacks' pool and a lot of unhappy Diamondbacks.

Deemed "classless" by the Diamondbacks president, "arrogant" by a U.S. senator and "disrespectful" by a team utility player, the Dodgers toweled off, drained their protective cups and moved on.

Since, Arizona GM Kevin Towers has been critical of his own team for not punishing the Dodgers for their – the Dodgers' – dugout antics, and manager Kirk Gibson has jumped the Dodgers for sending – in his mind – a lightweight contingent to Australia to sell the opening series.

"Hey," Towers said this week, "they're them and we're us."

He meant nothing necessarily derogatory by it, and nobody tends toward light-heartedness more than Towers, but it's true. The teams are different, from their cultures to their personalities to their payrolls. Also, they don't seem to like each other very much, judging by all the baseballs and punches they've thrown at each other.

A bit of anger is good for the game. A villain is good for the game. Rivalries play, even if they're personal, even if they're temporary, even if they occasionally have to roll around in the dirt to settle up.

It's too early to declare anything between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks a genuine rivalry. Maybe a flash rivalry. A kind of boys-will-be-boys thing rather than a bone-deep hatred. And, really, it's the San Francisco Giants who've had the most glittery recent history. Still, once you've had a fistful of another man's collar, the game might never be a game again.

For the moment, because their seasons will start a week before everyone else's, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are the only teams in town, separated by a soothing 35 miles. Not for long.

The teams that fought and flung objects and cursed each other, that called each other names, the trespassers and the trespassees, the team that rushed from last place to first and the team that dolefully watched it happen, all in a dynamic that seemed one misplaced pitch or comment from detonation, will play again soon.

They meet Feb. 26 in their first spring exhibition game. And the next day. And two weeks later. Then they'll spend six days together in Australia. They'll play six games, home-and-home, in the first three weeks of April. They'll play again in mid-May.

Open jar. Insert combatants. Shake thoroughly. "It's fun," Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler said. "It brings a certain something to the game. You play hard every night. If it heats up in the middle of the game, then you handle it."

For the record, the Diamondbacks granted that the Dodgers beat them (though the Diamondbacks won 10 of the 19 games), and it is on them a season later to respond. The Dodgers said they respect Gibson, and the way the Diamondbacks get after the game, and the fight in them.

"Is it personal?" said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, whose eighth-inning home run on Sept. 19 eventually beat the Diamondbacks and led to the mid-September pool party. "I think it's good, hard baseball. I don't think it's anything in particular that's personal. The circumstances of games have always caught up with them. And us."

So they'll play. They'll play a lot. And of course they'll remember, because ballplayers don't ever forget.

"Maybe the way they went about things wasn't the way we'd go about things," Towers said.

And, yet, he said, what are you going to do? Move on. Play better. Win the games that turn a season, whether that be clockwise or counter-clockwise.