Pro Ball Going Global: Part One

I have had an interest in the existence and development of baseball in various nations ’round the globe for quite some time. Obviously baseball has long been thriving in places like Japan and the Dominican Republic. What many folks may not realize is that it has begun to spread a lot further than that, to Europe, China, India, and beyond. I want to start taking glimpses at baseball in these places. How does it work? How has it been received? What’s different? What’s the same? I will try to dig up answers to such questions and present you with whatever I find.

I can’t think of a better place to start than a magical land of cool accents, dingo dogs, and an animated poacher voiced by George C. Scott. Yup, that’s right…. Australia!

Baseball was introduced Down Under as early as 1850, when American gold-miners played for fun in their spare time. Since then, baseball has been played off and on in Australia, often by traveling American teams. In more recent history, the Australian Baseball League (consisting of between six and nine teams) was formed in 1989. This was Australia’s first professional league. It was forced to fold in 1999 due to financial strife. In November of 2010, however, a new Australian Baseball League was born. The league plays a 40-game schedule, and consists of six teams (The Sydney Blue Sox, Perth Heat, Melbourne Aces, Canberra Cavalry, Brisbane Bandits and Adelaide Bite). Rosters are made up of both local and foreign talent, and include some imported Major League prospects.

It may not be a hotbed of talent yet, but Australia has produced a total of 27 major league players. This includes guys like Grant Balfour and Peter Moylan. According to the ABL website, there are above 80 Australian “baseballers” playing in the minor leagues in the U.S., and over 60 attending college here on scholarships.

Judging from the existence of THIS page on the ABL’s website, I surmise that America’s National past-time hasn’t quite taken off Down Under just yet. All signs, though, would indicate that baseball is on the up and up in Australia. Several players from the ABL have already signed with teams from the prominent Japanese and Korean major leagues this season. Two have even signed with American Major League teams.

It seems to me that the ABL is doing all the right things and has the makings for a winner. What remains to be seen is how well the Aussies will continue to receive and support the sport. Baseball without fans is nothing. The ABL’s website suggests that there have been successful pushes in getting youth interested in baseball at early ages with school programs, etc., I think that this is fantastic, and I hope it will continue. It’s a kid’s game, after all.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the ABL, and I hope that baseball in Australia will really start to flourish. I know I’m pullin’ for ’em.

A few links:

ABL website

Photo gallery: A day with the Adelaide Bite

Murray Cook’s Field Blog: Australian baseball on the move

MiLB.com: Australia putting new spin on baseball

The Sydney Morning Herald: New ABL hitting big home runs with Asia

You can follow the ABL on Twitter, or be a fan on Facebook.

Some fun facts:

-In 2004, Australia’s baseball team took home the silver medal at the Athens Olympics.

-The 2009 Aussie World Baseball Classic squad set a WBC record for most hits in a single game.

-Government statistics list tee-ball as one of the top participatory sports in Australia’s primary schools.

-Cubs prospect/Aussie native Ryan Searle is playing in the ABL for the Brisbane Bandits. Former New Market Rebel pitcher Cole McCurry is playing for the Perth Heat!

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