Lars Anderson Discovers Australia, Part 1

If you read this past Sunday’s notes column, you know that Lars Anderson has taken his left-handed stroke — and his storytelling skills! — to Australia. After beginning his escapades in the Southern Hemisphere with the club-level Henley and Grange Rams, Anderson is now playing for the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League. More so, just as he did last summer as a member of the Kochi Fighting Dogs, he is chronicling his baseball experiences on the other side of the world.

Once again, the multi-talented former big leaguer has agreed to share some of his stories with FanGraphs readers. Following up on last year’s well-received Lars Anderson Discovers Japan series, here is the first installment of Lars Anderson Discovers Australia.

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Lars Anderson: “I took my first steps in the Southern Hemisphere in my trusted black flip-flops. The rest of my wardrobe consisted of a thin, long-sleeved shirt and shorts (overdressed by Cambodian standards, but hey, airplanes can be cold). Being that it was, in fact, summer Down Under, I thought I’d be overdressed again. I was wrong and I was freezing.

“The research I had done prior to landing said Adelaide, my new home city, boasts two seasons: cold and super hot. Although it was technically summer, the heat wave had yet to come. I had shipped all of my warm clothes back to the states before leaving Japan so I was high, cold, and dry. A Radiohead remix.

  “After a five-week break from baseball, it was time to detonate the rust off and begin anew. This ‘season’ I would be playing for the mighty Rams of the Henley and Grange Baseball Club. 

“A little backstory… Last year, Marcus Greene, a catcher in the San Diego Padres organization, used Birdman Bats in the Australian Baseball League (or ABL), a ‘winter’ league that many affiliated players compete in during their offseason. Marcus’ bats caught the eye of one Russell Hart, a barrel-chested Aussie with a demeanor sweet enough to get eaten by Pooh Bear (unless you cross him between the lines — then he is more akin to the grizzly that tried to dismember Hugh Glass). Russell was an assistant coach for the Adelaide Bite, one of the six teams in the ABL, and subsequently coached Marcus during the 2016-17 season.

“Long story short, Russell liked the bats — who doesn’t?! — and contacted Gary. They proceeded to develop a friendship and business relationship over the ensuing months. As I was hanging on to my sanity by a silk worm’s thread playing for the Fighting Dogs in Kochi, I began entertaining the idea of cleansing my palate with some sun, beach, and baseball down south. Gary put me in contact with Russell and we began working on a way to get Lars a gig in the ABL.

“There are rules for imports. Basically, each team is allowed eight foreign players. The ABL teams, who are uniformly light on cash, have incentive to select MLB-affiliated players because (1) they are good and (2) the organizations pay the entire way for each player, saving said ABL teams a lot of bread. I was unable to snag a spot for the Bite or any of the other five teams. I was, however, offered a contract to play with the Canberra Calvary, but I have a fledgling taste for martyrdom and declined. That, however, is another tale for a future time.

“With no ABL deals solidified, Russell invited me to play for his club team, the aforementioned Henley and Grange Rams. He thought that an ABL spot would open up quickly, as injuries and movement are prevalent in ‘winter ball’ — affiliated players are much less likely to stay overseas should they become injured. They often opt to fly home and prepare for the fast-approaching spring training instead of rehabbing in Australia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican, Venezuela, etc. Other players will have a pre-arranged return date, regardless of health, so they can have time off before yet another grueling season in the states.

“Given my interest in continuing the Traveling Baseball Circus, I accepted Russell’s offer to play for the mighty Rams. I’ve always been interested in Australia as a destination and I was assured that the baseball experience would be more relaxed than it was in Japan. Then again, that’s like being the world’s tallest gnome.

“The baseball is most certainly different. You might even be surprised that baseball is played in the land Down Under. Many of its own residents certainly are. ‘We have a baseball team?!’ is a common response when someone asks me what I am doing in Australia. If the person is aware that baseball is played, they’ll usually go with the obligatory, ‘Yeah, baseball’s not very big here.’  Australian rules football, cricket, rugby league, rugby union, soccer (which they surprisingly refer to as ‘soccer’), golf, netball, basketball, tennis, swimming, [and] horse racing all garner far more attention and interest.

“But there is baseball, and in Australia, ‘club’ baseball is it as far as amateur baseball is concerned. High school and college ball are virtually non-existent. Club ball fills the void for each, and provides an opportunity for men, women, and the youth to get their baseball on. Henley and Grange boasts 13 different baseball teams in all. (Ironically, there are 13 different clubs that compete throughout the Adelaide area.)

“The level of play and player varies significantly. Some games look like a professional contest, whereas others look like a collection of deleted scenes from Bad News Bears. I’d estimate that each club’s ‘A-grade’ team (the best) boasts three to five players that could hang at some professional level. Many of the Bite players play for their respective club teams, as well.

“True to their moniker, the clubs are, well, clubs! They even have proper clubhouses behind each field, where after every game, both teams retreat to enjoy a pint together. In fact, it’s considered disrespectful to not drink a post-game beer with the other team. There, the players rehash and joke about the just-finished match, even if the entire game felt on the brink of all out war. While visiting, best homie Ryan Kalish (more on his trip later) commented after one such contest, ‘I felt like there was going to be a massive brawl the entire game.’ It gets chippy. Coaches yell at umpires, players yell at umpires, fans yell at umpires, coaches goad the other team’s players, players goad the opposing coaches, players goad each other, and coaches and fans yell at each other.

“After an argument between an opposing team’s pitching coach and the second-base umpire finished, I heard the umpire tell the coach something that would’ve made George Carlin blush as he walked off the field. But afterwards, everyone has a beer and laughs about it. What could be more Australian?  I’ll say this: they weren’t lying about it being looser than Japan! The rugby and Australian rules football mentality seems to be influencing my delicate sport.”

We hoped you liked reading Lars Anderson Discovers Australia, Part 1 by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth

Yes!

Fantastic, as always, from Lars.

Not surprised about Aussies calling soccer, soccer. The Irish do the same – “football” refers to Gaelic Football there.