By Nina Zimmerman, TheABL.com.au
Across all sports around the globe, baseball hats have become the norm for showing team spirit. In Australia, those logos typically belong to rugby, Australian rules football, and soccer clubs. But how often do you see a baseball cap featuring the logo of an Australian baseball team? More often than you might think. Yes, Australians play baseball. In fact, they have for nearly as long as Americans. Baseball first appeared Down Under in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush. Americans, displaced miner-forty-niners seeking their fortunes in a new and strange land, turned to an old and familiar friend to occupy their downtime: baseball. Aussies liked it, and the game stuck.
What is the Australian Baseball League? It’s baseball, Australian-style. It’s the Bite. It’s the Cavalry. It’s the Bandits, the Aces, the Blue Sox, the Heat. These teams, united since 2010 with the help of Major League Baseball, call the six major cities across the continent home. They play 48 games from October to February, forced into weeks of four-game series by the travel constraints of Australia’s unforgiving geography and a deserted outback that sprawls from coast to coast.
NARRABUNDAH BALLPARK, CANBERRA
When it’s winter time for MLB, the ABL redefines Hot Stove to mean Hot Summer. When snowdrifts and slush piles cover New York City’s and Yankee Stadium, fans Down Under bask in the summer twilight at ballparks with names like Barbagallo and Narrabundah. The ABL attracts a diverse cast of global characters, from Japanese veterans and Korean newcomers to American prospects trying to work their way up the Major League ladder.
Then there are the Aussies. Homegrown talent is on the rise in Australia, which has produced 31 Major Leaguers dating back to Joe Quinn in 1884. But that’s ancient history, in baseball terms at least. Recent strides continue to raise the profile of baseball in Australia. Remember the Summer Olympics, six years ago in Athens, when Team Australia shut down the Japanese national team en route to appearing in the gold medal game against Cuba? The silver medal they brought back proved that Australians can compete against the world’s top teams on the global stage. And look back to last March, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers touched downin Sydney for the first MLB Opening Series. Both teams took on Team Australia in a pair of exhibition games at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the days leading up to the official start of the MLB season. After losing a close game to the Dodgers, the Aussies shut out the Diamondbacks 5-0, a shocking defeat for the Major Leaguers and a euphoric victory for Team Australia.
Anticipation for next year mounts higher and higher as ABL Opening Day approaches. The season officially kicks off October 30, when the Brisbane Bandits host the Adelaide Bite, two teams who found themselves at the bottom of last year’s final standings; each looking to start anew in 2014/15. Meanwhile, the 2013/14 ABL Champion Perth Heat will begin their quest to defend their title in a series against the Sydney Blue Sox. The Blue Sox reached the playoffs last season, but were eliminated in the preliminary final series for the fourth year in a row.
PERTH HEAT WINNING 2013/14 TITLE
The league’s other two teams, the Canberra Cavalry and the Melbourne Aces, begin their seasons the following week. The Cavalry host the Blue Sox in a rematch of last year’s preliminary final, while the Aces open at home against the Bandits. The Cavalry lost the championship series to Perth last season, but have built a winning tradition after finishing dead last in the first two ABL seasons. In 2013, Canberra won the ABL championship and went on to beat a team from Taiwan and capture the Asia Series title, becoming the only Australian team to do so. Melbourne, meanwhile, looks to produce its first winning season in four years of ABL play.
So, don’t forget, when the MLB season shuts down for 2014 after the World Series, remember to look Down—Under, that is. There’s baseball there, and it’s a pretty amazing sight to see.
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