By Pierre LaBossiere
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — They come from all corners of the globe and the one thing that ties them together is their love of baseball — in some cases their love of the game coming in parts of the world where baseball is pretty far down the totem pole in popularity.
They’re the three Australian traveling teams that have been playing on the North Olympic Peninsula all week. They’re bunking out in the homes of Wilder families, sometimes six to a home if there’s enough beds. They may come from wildly different backgrounds than their American counterparts, but they certainly have one thing in common with American kids — when the takeout pizza arrives at the dugout between games, they scarf it down like vacuum cleaners.
The Australian White and Red teams feature players from all over Oceania and Africa. Unlike the White and Red teams, the Australia Black team is exclusively Australian.
The Australian players come from all over the continent — Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide, said Steve Fish, coach of the team.
Fish put together the world-traveling teams. He is also an international scout for the Boston Red Sox and coaches an Australian U19 World Cup team. There’s a total 56 players traveling through the U.S., and 42 of them have spent the past week on the North Olympic Peninsula.
But there aren’t just Australians. Kids from all around the world are on the teams.
“We have kids from Manila, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Spain, Doha,” Fish said.
Australia Black, the all-Australian team, might be the toughest squad at the tournament.
“Our Black team has a couple of guys who are on the under 18 national World Cup team,” Fish said.
These teams are showing that they do know how to play. Australia White played Wilder Jr. on Wednesday and won 3-2 over a team that is 11-7 overall. So far at the Firecracker Tournament, Australia Black is 2-0 and Australia Red is 2-1.
The Port Angeles games are the second stop of their American tour. They play about 25 to 30 games during the summer in the U.S. They first played some games in Eureka, Calif., and after the Firecracker Tournament, will be going on to Oregon and to Bakersfield, Calif.
Wilder coach Karl Myers said the Australians got the invite to come to Port Angeles when the Wilder team attended the Clackamas Tournament in the Portland area last summer. Wilder’s Mike Politika meet with Fish and invited them to come to the Firecracker Tournament this year. It was going to be just one Australian team, but then it turned into two teams, then three.
“These are the types of tournament they want to come to, this type of community tournament because they rely on host families. And it’s been great for the community to have them up here,” Myers said.
The international kids said they love the scenery of the area and the nice cool, summer weather, which they aren’t used to coming from some pretty warm parts of the world.
Bradley Fraser from Perth is a member of the Australia White Colts. He said one of the biggest differences between baseball in Australia and baseball in the U.S. is “they play every day here.” He also said the players in the U.S. as a whole know the game well.
“They have a really high baseball IQ here,” Fraser said.
Many of the kids know all about the Yankees and Red Sox, generally the most popular teams overseas. Fraser’s favorite team is the up and coming Milwaukee Brewers. “I like their players. I like [manager] Craig Counsell. It’s not the bandwagon, it’s the bandwagon and the player,” he said.
“They play a lot here,” Fraser’s teammate, Geordan Jackson-Murphy of Fiji, agreed. “The hitting here is a lot better.”
Jackson-Murphy’s favorite team is the L.A. Dodgers. “That’s the first team I knew of,” he said. His teammate Etienne Thomas, from Tunis, Tunisia, follows the Philadelphia Phillies.
“You like those big contracts,” Jackson-Murphy said to Thomas.
Fraser said baseball is considerably down the list of popularity in Australia. Cricket, Australian rules football and rugby are all more popular.
Donovan Worrall is from Johannesburg, South Africa, but took up baseball while living in Bahrain. “Baseball was the closest thing in Bahrain to cricket,” he said.
And he agreed that baseball isn’t quite as big as other sports.
“We’re lucky if we can get two or three teams together,” he said.
Jackson-Murphy got recruited into baseball, “because I could always throw hard.” He is hoping the experience of playing for the travel teams gets him attention from scouts and possibly a professional contract some day.
“I want to see how they play the game and adapt to it,” he said.