John and Cait…Plus Mick! A Guest Post on the Australian Baseball League
As we get ready to close out 2010, I wanted to reflect on a post from earlier this year.
Some of you may remember that I wrote a
post about one of our readers, Mick Floyd, a loyal Brewers fan from Melbourne,
who made his first trek to the United States
to visit Miller Park last July.
Thanks to e-mail and Facebook, Mick and I have kept in touch
over the last couple of months and when I heard that he was attending
Australian Baseball League games, my first thought was, “Maybe I should fly
there and go to the games with him so that I can report back to you guys!” But
then I realized that while John might have gotten the okay to cover the Arizona
Fall League, this vacation, er, I mean, work trip, might be a little harder to
pull off, so I decided to make Mick a guest blogger!
Mick attended the Melbourne Aces-Brisbane Bandits doubleheader
on December 22. His account–including an interview with his boyhood hero (and
former Brewers catcher) Dave Nilsson–is below. Thanks for covering this for
Enjoy, everyone and Happy New Year-here’s to a great 2011!
Baseball in Australia
by: Mick Floyd
As Milwaukeeans shiver through a long, cold offseason,
Australian baseball fans are celebrating the return of professional baseball
with the launch of the Australian Baseball League.
Kicking off in October, the ABL consists of six teams (one
from each mainland state capital, as well as Canberra) in a 40-game season and culminating
in the grand finale to be played in early February.
wettest spring since 1993 has played havoc with my hometown Melbourne Aces
early schedule, but the games they have played weren’t pretty. The Aces dropped
their first five matches before a remarkable 15-inning, 6-4 win against the
Sydney Blue Sox sparked the team into life.
Since that classic match, the Aces have gone 6-2 and have
outscored their opponents 84-36. All of those games were played at home, the
Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, and it is there I headed for a double header
against the Brisbane Bandits.
Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, December 22, 2010
It was also a great chance to catch up with a name most
Brewers fans will be familiar with, “The Thunder From Down Under,”
former All-Star David Nilsson.
The most famous of the 28 Australians to reach ‘The Show’,
Nilsson blasted 105 home runs and 470 RBI while batting .284 over eight seasons
as a Milwaukee Brewer. Nilsson also holds the all-time batting average (.353)
in the original ABL, which ran from 1989-1999, played in two championships and
was involved as an owner and coach. He is better placed than anyone to judge
the new league as it approaches its midpoint.
“It’s pretty competitive,” said the man known as
“It’s great, all the Australians playing overseas now
have somewhere in the offseason where they can get into the professional
routine of playing to the American standard, so it’s been all positive so
Mick, with David Nilsson at Royal Melbourne Showgrounds (nice Brewers gear, Mick!)
While this is the third incarnation of a professional
Australian League, there is a key reason why this version will work where
others have failed – the support of Major League Baseball.
MLB will underwrite the league for at least five years with
the aim of producing a vibrant, self sufficient league.
“It’s a long-time commitment for a new league and so
much can happen in five years,” continued Nilsson.
“With the experiences learned from past leagues and
understanding of where baseball sits in the Australian sporting culture,
there’s no reason we can’t make it work and hopefully the next 5 to 10 years
can reflect that.”
Now the manager of the visiting Bandits, Nilsson had a
bigger, more immediate concern – how to shut down the red-hot Aces bats.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the
Showgrounds is the seven meter high blue fence in right field, just 300 feet
from home. At just 310 feet to left field and 370 feet to center, the
Showgrounds is certainly a hitter’s park, a factor compounded by the prevailing
breeze out to center field.
Things get tougher again when the pitching staff struggles
with command. Despite trailing by just three runs in the middle of the 8th of the series opener the night
earlier, the Bandits bullpen allowed six walks in the bottom of the frame as
the Aces scored seven runs to take the win on the mercy rule. The bottom of the
eighth capped off a poor night for the Bandits’ pitching staff.
“They’re a pretty decent team,” said Nilsson of
the Aces, “But we walked 15 last night so basically they’re starting with
two on base each inning.”
Nilsson would have been happy early on in the night’s
opening game as Ryan Searle, a 21-year-old in the Chicago Cubs organization,
swept through the Aces in order in the first before finding trouble in the
Justin Huber, who has 45 games of Major League experience
and is now with the Minnesota Twins, singled and was brought home by Josh
Davies’ fifth home run of the year. Paul Rutgers then drove in the first of
five RBIs for the night for a 3-0 Aces lead.
Josh Roberts answered for the Bandits with a three-run jack
in the 3rd to tie the game
before the Aces showed they could also play small ball, adding five more in the
home half of the inning.
The two teams traded blows over the ensuing innings, but
when Huber, who entered the game hitting just .149, hit a two-shot blast in the
sixth to extend the Aces lead to 12-5, it appeared the game was all but over.
Huber’s two-run home run in the 6th held extend the Aces lead to 12-5.
However the Bandits made it interesting in the top of an
action packed 7th and final
Aces Pitcher David Miller retired the first two batters
faced before giving up Robert’s second home run of the night. A pair of
singles, an injury replacement, two errors on the one play and a second home
run to Brad Dutton suddenly saw the Bandits reduce the margin to 12-10.
David Miller came to the mound and promptly struck out pinch
hitter Rory Rhodes to secure the Aces the win.
On a bright note for Nilsson’s men, the three pitchers used
combined for just one intentional walk, a marked improvement on the previous
In the second game, former Boston Red Sox farmhand Adam
Blackley put on an exhibition.
The 25-year-old southpaw gave up just two hits (one each in
the first and second innings) and two walks while striking out 10, retiring the
last 11 Bandits he faced.
Meanwhile, the Aces bats continued to heat up.
The Bandits’ Japanese pitcher Reo Chikada escaped a jam in
the first, stranding runners at second and third after the first two batters
He was not so fortunate in the second. With runners on first
and second with none out, Matthew Lawman reached safely on a well-placed bunt
to load the bases. Aces catcher Tristan McDonald then hit a double-play ball to
third baseman Brad Dutton who threw it away at first, allowing one run to score
and reload the bases, still with none out.
Chikada battled hard, inducing a pop out and strike out
before leaving a pitch up in the zone that compatriot Yoshiyuki
Kamei happily dispatched over the center field wall. Before the crowd
had a chance to retake their seats, Huber launched his second home run of the
night to give the Aces a 6-0 lead.
The home side added two more in the third, one in the six
and when McDonald grounded out for his third RBI in the seventh, the Aces had
their second mercy rule win of the series.
Mick and Ace Maverick, celebrating the Aces victory.
(Again, Mick, way to represent the Crew!)
The Aces capped a pivotal series by completing a sweep the
following night – again by mercy rule – and jumped to second place on the table
while the Bandits slipped to last.
While Nilsson may not have many fond memories of this trip
to Melbourne, one memory he will always remain
fond of was his time in Milwaukee.
“Sometimes when you’re at a place, you don’t realize
how much you like it and that’s how it is for my wife and I. It was just
wonderful, the people are great, the lifestyle is great, the city itself, we
loved it, just loved it.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to the people of Milwaukee. When my wife
and I think about our time there, and think about how we were treated by the
whole town, we have nothing but good thoughts.”
And 2011 should provide all Brewers fans many more good
memories as the Brewers embark of one of its most anticipated campaigns in its
“I always look through the box scores to see how
they’re doing,” said Nilsson. “They’re still my team!”
FOOTNOTE ON BASEBALL IN AUSTRALIA
The first Australian Baseball League was formed in 1989 and
disbanded under mounting debts in 1999. Despite surviving just 10 seasons, the
league was an excellent proving ground for young ball players with over 90
players going on to play Major League baseball, including notables Shea
Hillenbrand, Paul Lo Duca, Gary Matthews Jr, Kevin Millwood, Vernon Wells and
Tim Worrell. A number of former Brewers have also spent time playing in
Australia, including Mike Coolbaugh, Jared Fernandez, Gary Glover, Ben Ford,
Charlie Green, John Jaha, Troy O’Leary, Duane Singleton and Everett Stull.
Four of the 28 Australians to have played Major League
Baseball have played for the Brewers- Nilsson, Graeme Lloyd, Trent Durrington
and Grant Balfour, and former Australian Brewer farmhands to play major leagues
include Trent Oeltjen, Chris Oxspring and David Welch.