SYDNEY (AP) — Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith is being pulled in two directions this week as Major League Baseball prepares for its season-opening series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Make that two different teams.
The Sydney-born 31-year-old left-hander will suit up for Team Australia in Thursday night's exhibition game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then pitch against his national team on Friday night when the Diamondbacks play the Australians.
Hanging in the balance is a spot on the Diamondbacks' opening-day 25-man roster, where manager Kirk Gibson says Rowland-Smith is "in the mix" for one of the bullpen spots. "I feel like the 'Australian Ryan' meets the 'U.S. Ryan' right now," Rowland Smith said.
Rowland-Smith spent the entire season last year with Triple-A Pawtucket, going 7-0 with one save and a 1.55 ERA. He's also had a stellar spring training, not giving up an earned run. Craig Shipley, an Australian and former major leaguer who is special assistant to Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, says Rowland-Smith's double duty "might confuse some people."
"One night he's wearing an Australian uniform, the next night he's playing for the Diamondbacks," Shipley said. "But it's a unique angle. Ryan is excited about it." "I think we can squeeze out an inning each night, he'll definitely pitch for Australia. I've been talking to Gibby (Gibson) and they're OK with him pitching one inning and an inning the next night."
Rowland-Smith says he never would have imagined 10 years ago that a Major League Baseball season would open a season in his hometown. "I grew up in a place where baseball wasn't recognized, and went to the U.S. and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sport," Rowland-Smith said.
"I've been living with that for 13 years as a professional at different levels. So to have it come back now where baseball was never recognized, it's come full circle." National pride aside, Rowland-Smith says he's focused on one thing.
"On a personal level, it's important for me to get back to the big leagues," he said. "I came in here with a purpose, and just want to make this team."