SYDNEY, Australia — Even on the other side of the world, the Dodgers have been cast as the villains.
The buildup to their season opener Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks is reminiscent of the scenario the Dodgers faced when they played the St. Louis Cardinals last year during the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers' wealth and perceived arrogance have made them the bad guys here.
Catcher A.J. Ellis wasn't surprised.
"We're the bad guys back in the States," Ellis said. "We're a polarizing team. We're beloved by our fans. We have a target on our backs. Because of our payroll and our superstar talent, opposing teams tend to dislike us."
The narrative was set last month, when the often-blunt Zack Greinke voiced the opinion of many of the players and said he had "zero excitement" about traveling to Australia. The Australian media picked up the story, but failed to recognize that Greinke's problems were with the logistics of the trip, not the country. (As it turned out, Greinke injured his calf in spring training and remained behind in Arizona.)
The Dodgers haven't been able to change the impression they don't want to be here.
Andre Ethier didn't help matters this week by sarcastically reciting the company line. Without a trace of a smile, he said in a hostile tone, "Glad to be here. Fun trip. This is a good time. Great for baseball. Good for Australia. Happy to be here, guys." The implication was obvious: Ethier felt the exact opposite of what he said.
Ethier has been in damage control mode since, telling Australian reporters his sentiment was misinterpreted. He conveniently hasn't mentioned that shortly before feigning his enthusiasm, he was telling people he couldn't wait for the end of what he described as "the longest week of my life."
Diamondbacks officials have privately rejoiced in the Dodgers' media misadventures, thinking this could help their team gain some overseas followers. Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall went as far as to say he wanted his team to revisit the country on a regular basis.
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said he and his teammates weren't concerned with how they have been portrayed, but acknowledged it was unfortunate.
"If people got to know us and hang out with us in the clubhouse, their perception would change," Gonzalez said.
Manager Don Mattingly said the public reaction is something to be expected when a team has a $250-million payroll, as the Dodgers do this year.
"When you get a lot of big names and you get a big payroll, you end up being the bad guy no matter what," Mattingly said. "In general, people would rather see the underdog kind of do better than the team that is spoiled or whatever.
"No matter how good guys these guys are and how much they do in the community and everything they do, all the charity stuff, you're still going to get the guy in the stands who's got something to say about your team. I don't think there's anything we can do about that other than to just play baseball."
Promoter Jason Moore, who partnered with Major League Baseball to make the trip possible, considers the negative publicity toward the Dodgers a positive. For example, Greinke's sentiments generated significant media attention a month in advance of the games. And now the games, which will be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday and Sunday locally, are sold out. (The games are scheduled to start at 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. PDT on Saturday.)
"It's a big shame because Zack Greinke didn't come down," Moore said, smiling. "Had Zack Greinke had come, he would have felt the grunt of an SCG crowd."
Moore continued, "Those comments were blown out of proportion. I know that wasn't how he really meant. The media here grabbed it and ran with it."
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks could probably create even more headlines if they engaged in a rematch of their brawl last season, but the possibility of that appears unlikely.
"I don't know about them, but for us it's a new season," said Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' opening-game starter.
The feud between the division rivals dates to at least 2011, when then-Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo threw a pitch by the head of Gerardo Parra. Unaware that Kuo was battling severe control problems, Parra showboated when he homered later in the at-bat.
Kershaw warned Parra he would be hit when Kershaw took the mound the next day — and he carried out the threat.
The next season, Kershaw exchanged brushback pitches with then-Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy.
Kennedy was a central figure in the violent brawl between the teams last June.
Kennedy hit Yasiel Puig in the face with a pitch, prompting Greinke to strike catcher Miguel Montero in the back the next inning. The situation escalated further when Kennedy hit Greinke on his left shoulder. Benches cleared, punches were thrown, an Arizona coach nearly got dumped into a camera well by Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell and even Mattingly tussled with Diamondbacks coach Alan Trammell.
The Dodgers delivered the final blow of the season, when they clinched the division title at the Diamondbacks' home stadium and celebrated in the pool behind the center field wall.
Both sides say what happened last year is behind them.
Gonzalez noted the teams have different rosters this year. Kennedy now pitches for the San Diego Padres.
"It's not like it used to be, where you had the same team come into the same year and you still had those grudges," Gonzalez said. "They got new guys over there."
The teams are staying at the same hotel, and based on his conversations with Diamondbacks players, Gonzalez doesn't anticipate any violence.
Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill agreed.
"As far as I know, I don't think anybody on our team is talking about that," Hill said. "As far as bad blood, I don't feel it."