I was standing outside the Charlotte Sports Complex before the first spring training game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, hoping that someone would have an extra ticket and would just give it to me, it happens, I have see it happen a few times the last couple of days, on this day it wasn’t happening, I was fretting as always that I need to find a story, I saw some guys at the gate; one with an Australian flag tied around his neck, who is using it in a cape like fashion, another had a flag tied in the same fashion but I did’t recognize what it was except it had a kangaroo on it, they were talking “funny”, of course they were Australian, I didn’t have to ask but I think I overheard an older couple say to one another that they were English… I talked to them and took a picture and told them I will find them inside, they mention they are there to support their countryman Grant Balfour, one jokes it is not a good name for a pitcher. I still need to get a ticket, I don’t want to spend any money, it will be costly if I buy a ticket for every game, I get my courage up and go into the Media Relations office, I ask and I am rejected, I am told to call a couple days in advance so they can check me out, I spend the $10 and go find the Aussies!
I find them on the 1st base side in the grassy area of the stadium, the beer concession is close and all of them have beers in hand, there is 10, they are loud and rowdy, they are not taking themselves to seriously, they see me and I am welcomed with open arms, I explain to them what I am doing and they all love the idea and are more than willing to share with me. Grant Balfour is a relief pitcher for the Rays and has been in the league for quite awhile, I am told by Andrew Griffith that I should know him because he played for the Milwaukee Brewers, I don’t remember him. Andrew, who has been in the states for awhile and is from Sydney, explains this an outing of the “Cricket Club” of Sarasota, when he is explaining, a foul ball is hit in our direction and he takes after it, him and a boy about 10 scramble down a hill, Andrew slides and comes up with the ball, notices it is was just him and the kid chasing after it and not his “Blokes” (“Bloke” means good guy and “Sheila” means good gal), he flips the ball to the kid and comes back to me. I tell him that was classy, he laughs and drinks his beer, a few of his buddies laugh at him.
James Steele, 39, born and raised in Scotland has been in the US for the past 9 years is at the game for the beer and peanuts and to hang out with the guys from Australia, he says he doesn’t really understand the game to much, all the averages and strategy of the game confuses him. He was called the token “Kiwi” by Keith (we will get to him in a minute), a “Kiwi” is a New Zelander, I pointed out that James was from Scotland and Keith looked at me and laughed and said same difference mate…
Jerred Fegan, 35, housemate with James Steele, originally came to the states on a J1 work visa, been here for 14 years, is from Melbourne, he currently works for the North Port Police Department as the Animal Control Officer, he says he got married in 2006 at 24, then divorced in 2009, currently engaged to another beautiful American girl, says he loves to be out at the ball park to heckle the players and the umpires and to drink beer with his “Blokes”, as I finish with Jerred; Claudio Flamini asks me where my beer is, but doesn’t offer to buy me one. Claudio was born and raised in Perth, has been in the states for the past 10 years, explained to me that Cricket is strategic like baseball but a game can last 5 days, he likes being outside and drinking beer with his “Blokes” also and a baseball game is ideal, his American wife loves the game but thinks cricket is boring, I didn’t catch everything Claudio was saying to me because he had this goofy hat on, he said it was genius, it keeps the flies away.
All the guys keep mentioning to me that baseball was derived from cricket, but then they were quick to point out that it was actually rounders, the woman’s version of cricket. Rick Reiss, from Sydney here since 11am he jokes as I ask how long he has been here, 35 years actually, he married an American girl that he met in Dover, England, he says he loves it here, he has just recently embraced the game of baseball when the Rays acquired an Aussie player. He grew up playing cricket and rugby. He says South Florida is ideal for him since he likes the idea of playing golf 12 months out of the year.
I need more clarification of what Claudio said about the 5 day Cricket match, Clint Goodchild, 32, explained to me that there is different versions of the game and different strategies and yes he said in one version you could in theory play for 5 days. Clint has been in the states for 4 years, originally came for a women he met at the Eiffel Tower, he dated her for 9 years married her and then divorced 18 months later. Clint was a professional cricket player, he played for 6 years, but played 12 seasons… Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere and England in the Northern Hemisphere, he spent summers in each playing, he was lucky he said to have a UK contract since each team can only have a few foreign players. He enjoys baseball and has been a huge Boston Red Sox fan since 1986, he lived in the Australian Outback where TV reception was spotty, his brother would record different sporting events and send him 3 or 4 tapes of 7-8 hours in length for him to watch and baseball was one of the sports and it was Boston Red Sox games. He retired in 2009 when he came to the US and runs the Florida International Cricket Academy.
Mick Beard, 24, studied for 2 semesters at the University of Florida, is from Brisbane, currently he trades currencies and is married to an “American Female” named Julie he met at UF. He pointed out a few times that he was pretty normal and then would laugh. Then there is Keith Narracott, 40, if that is truly is his name, he says this is his 2nd stint in the US, 7 years total. He told me that he was in the plastics business and business was thriving since he made products that would spice up a couples intimate life ( I don’t mean to offend, just trying to give you a clear picture of this guy) , he is married and has 3 young kids.
David Dore-Smith, 40, from Melbourne, been here for 17 years, is a Golf Course Superintendent came to work on a course, he studied turf management in school and is called an “agronomist”. He married a girl from South Florida, he played Australian Rules Football and has gone to baseball games in the past but doesn’t understand how it is played and jokingly complains with his brother in law that this game sucks, he likes being at the ball park but only to have some beer and to socialize. Mike Smith, Melbourne, has been here since 1977, received a tennis scholarship to play at University of Florida, played professionally for awhile and was ranked as high as 250th in the world, currently he is the Director of Tennis at Herron Creek Golf & Tennis. Married a “Texas Girl” he met at school, loves baseball and being out in the crowd. He was also the original commentator for Australian Rules Football on ESPN in the early days, Bob Lea called him up when he was living in Connecticut and inquired if would be interested.
Rob Davies, 46, of Melbourne has been in the states on a 20 year adventure and is the patriarch of this motley crew, he is a big baseball fan, an Oriole fan but was wearing a Rays jersey when we talked. He runs a dry cleaning business with his American wife, he is the President of the Australian Rules Football club that most of the guys also belong too. He says he is also makes extra money on the side as a Frank Sinatra impersonator.
At one point all of the guys went over to the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen and had a conversation with Grant Balfour, who I think was surprised to see all his countrymen there to support him, the beer had been flowing and Grant was gracious enough to sit and talk with them and I think really appreciated the gesture. Unfortunately Grant wasn’t scheduled to pitch until Sunday, that was okay with the guys, they will just come out on Sunday then, they said. They were a curiosity to a lot of fans; a lot of them would come and talk to the guys with the “funny accents”. I could write a lot more but I try to limit the blog size and I am already over the word count. I am grateful I got to spend a little time with each of them through out the game. I enjoyed listening to their back and forth with each other and also with the other fans they talked too. I was invited to attend other games with a couple of them and I might just take them up on that. I didn’t do these guys justice but you will know immediately who they are if you come across them at a game!
If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help http://www.baseballbuddha.com/sponsor.html . Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!