Baseball Down Under

australianleague6Many countries have a great and storied baseball history – Japan, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic are but three in a long line of powerhouse nations who have played this glorious game – but the baseball lineage of Australia is unique.

It started way back in the nineteenth century, with the first Australian to play in the major leagues, Joe Quinn. According to his insightful SABR biography, Quinn came to America from Australia when he was about 10 years old, relocating to the river town of Dubuque, Iowa. Quinn found a way to fit into American life by playing the All American game, and cut his teeth playing with such legends of Old Hoss Radbourn. Quinn eventually became a much loved and respected player for teams like the St. Louis Browns, the old Baltimore Orioles, and the infamous Cleveland Spiders.

It would be nearly 100 years before another Aussie made his debut in the major leagues. The first Australian to lace up cleats in the modern era was Craig Shipley, playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986. Shipley, a shortstop, played a respectable 11 years in MLB and is currently a special assistant for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arguably one of the most popular Aussie baseball players is Peter Moylan. The relief pitcher who has spent a decade in the majors is currently with the Kansas City Royals, but spent the majority of his career with the Atlanta Braves and is still beloved by Braves faithful. Grant Balfour, Dave Nilsson, and Ryan Rowland-Smith are other well known Aussie players in the majors.

A new generation of Australian players are making their presence known in MLB. Recently, James Beresford made his debut with the Minnesota Twins. His family surprised him at his major league debut, making the trip all the way from his home base near Melbourne.

Not all “Aussie ball” is focused here in the Northern Hemisphere, though. Baseball has been played in Australia since the late 1800’s, when American expatriates introduced the game to native miners.

Currently, there are six teams that play full time competitive ball in Australia. I myself loosely follow the Adelaide Bite, but there are teams in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and other major cities within the continent. The season down under is shorter than our American season. Think of it on par with Venezuela Winter Ball.

While baseball is still very much a niche sport Down Under, they do have a healthy appreciation for the sport. As I mentioned above, there are plenty of Aussie natives who play the game professionally now. After Craig Shipley made his debut in the mid-80’s, over 25 native Australians have played major league baseball at the highest level, and many more are currently in the minor leagues or playing college baseball.

When the Diamondbacks and Dodgers played Opening Day in Sydney in 2014, nearly 40,000 local fans swarmed the Sydney Cricket Grounds to see major league baseball being played at the highest level. One Aussie Giants fan traveled nearly 1,000 miles just to root against the Dodgers!

It’s always cool to see the sport we love being appreciated in a country that’s not known for being a baseball place.

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