What's it like to play baseball down under - as an American?
Well, Joe Connor went to Australia and asked two "ex-Pats" to find out of course, mate!
NORTH SYDNEY - - Walt Disney has told us Americans that
"it's a small world after all." I only had to take in a baseball game with a bunch of mates to realize how true indeed. It's a lazy summer Saturday morning in Sydney - and my life is tough.
Sailboats, ferries and other vessels of every variety chug by
along Sydney Harbour as I soak in some rays - and some of the sights. But my itinerary for today won't be found in any freaking
tourist brochure: take the train, mate, from the city's central business district (or "CBD" as the Aussies like to abbreviate
everything), toward North Sydney and the suburban community of Willoughby.
I "disembark" the train ("disembark" is a preferred term for
flight "attendies" in Oz) and make the 20-minute walk on foot to the ballpark through this welcoming suburban community, as
birds native to this part of the world mightily chirp all around me. Upon arrival, I exchange greetings with Thomas Day, who
I had been communicating with via e-mail before flying down under. Day is President of the North Sydney Bears baseball club,
and unbeknowest to me, Americans are on Day's team. Well, G’Day mate to me!
Jayson Azua and Tony Padewski are a long, long way from their
birthplaces in the U.S., New Mexico and Rocky Hill, Conn., respectively. We can’t tell you where they work or they might
come back to the States and stick a fork in me, but I can say in their spare time, they play America's pasttime - down under
- for the Sydney Bears, in a league for those simply looking for a little recreation.
You want small world? Padewski grew up a half-hour from where
I grew up in Connecticut, outside the booming metropolis of Hartford, Conn.
As part of their job, I can tell you that Azua and Padewski
get around and have traveled all over the world, including Japan and Korea, where fans are totally nut-so over baseball. Along
the way, they've also played baseball in most stops. But arriving in Australia?
"I didn't even know they had baseball when I got here," Azua,
the Bears catcher, admitted. "But England is not as organized as it is in Australia."
But Aussies do have baseball - and plenty of it. The American
mates fork over $230 (Australian currency) to play over 24 weekends from September through March (when it's spring and summer
here). They also must buy a uniform. Players age in range from 19 to some in their early 50's, but most folks are in their
mid-20's to 40's, and aluminum bats are used.
The Bears are one of 10 teams in the North Sydney "2nd grade"
baseball league. "2nd grade" teams are comprised of players, to be frank, not as talented as players that comprise "A grade"
teams. "2nd grade" teams play for a two-hour time limit and most everybody on the team gets playing time, while
"1st grade" teams play the full nine innings in a little more competitive affair.
The 2nd grade contest I'm witnessing is a competitive
affair too, but also - well - quite different. Consider that the opposing first baseman apparently can't complete any
recognizable dialogue because he "just mumbles."
"He's pissed, mate," I'm informed by one of the Aussie Bears.
"Pissed" down under means the first baseman is drunk as a skunk.
A member on the Bears wears the uniform No. 104 - not sure if
this is more Aussie humor like when they say "two dead" to connote two outs. Inside the run-down dugout, Bear players tease
a teammate, asking if he's "smokin' the wacky tabacky again." Other times a few players cheers on their teammates to keep
a rally going, "Keep it goin', mate! Keep it goin'!"
Azua, and Padewski, a third baseman, both enjoy playing with
the Aussies. After all, Aussies like to keep things simple.
"Aussies like to abbreviate," Azua quickly explained. "Like
Macker is a Big Mac, breakfast is breaki, mosquies are mosquitoes, Christmas is Chrisy, and presents are presies."
And play to home plate is 4.
Play to first? Simple. Play to one, mate.
Day is the Joe Connor of Australia, a self-proclaimed "ballpark
rat." During a visit to the U.S. for example, he witnessed 29 games over 35 days! And people thought I was nuts!
"All of Australia is multi-cultural and baseball is multi-cultural,"
Day explained. "We get a lot of cricketers who come across. The people who play baseball in Australia are very passionate
Day, an accountant, didn’t begin to play baseball until
he was in his mid-20s. But in the late 1980s that changed when he watched some games on television featuring the Atlanta Braves
as part of his "morning cup of tea." The few Major League Baseball games that are broadcast in Australia come on at either
3 a.m. or 6 a.m.
Day decided to step in the batters box. But forgive us if his
lingo is a little wacky tabacky.
"They (pitchers) had cranked it up a bit (thrown a fastball),"
Day explained. "I was able to pull the trigger on it (swing) fairly well (as in hit the damn ball pretty good, mate)."
When the Bears ballgame was over, the players raked the field
down. I then shared a few Toothey's with the Bears, the Aussies version of the American Miller Lite beer. All in all, Azua
and Padewski have enjoyed their time in Australia. It appears their biggest complaints are miniscule.
"Everything closes at 5 (p.m.) except for the pubs and clubs,"
Padewski quipped. "And those (intersections with) roundabouts will screw you up!"
Yeah, those roundabouts, will screw up, mate. But then again,
there's something to be said when there's not red lights on every street corner and hideous traffic jams every bleeping quarter
mile like in SoCal.
Roundabouts keep it simple. And in Australia, simple is king.
Baseball down under? Just like in the states, only with a little
Aussie flavor, mate.