I have (very) recently been delving lightly into the world of Australian baseball.
The Australian Baseball League has been around in one form or another since the early 1990s, but its current incarnation started in 2010. It is a professional baseball organization, with professional players, a four-month season, real baseball stadiums, and set teams. MLB minor leaguers also join in the fun, so Aussie baseball counts as a winter league with multiple skill levels and six teams; The Brisbane Bandits, Sydney Blue Sox, Canberra Cavalry, Melbourne Aces, Adelaide Bite, and these teams’ west coast rival, the Perth Heat. Perth, by the way, is very similar to the city of Seattle in atmosphere and layout of the general area, and I think if I wind up taking this on, they might be “my” team. Expansion is being discussed to reach the Gold Coast, the Central Coast, and perhaps New Zealand (I gladly welcome the combination of baseball and the Haka), with some possibility of traveling to Japan, but nothing has been ironed out yet. The league is indeed partnered with MLB, New Era, and a lot of the other usual suspects you’d expect to find in baseball.
I’d been following the teams on Twitter for at least a year or two now, and seeing baseball plays being talked about in the middle of winter has always been fun. The games have been broadcast, but generally only in Australia, or on UStream, which I have not been able to use well with any regularity; the feed can get really janky and it often goes out on me for whatever reason. But this season, the games have been broadcasting on a streaming YouTube channel, and not only can I watch YouTube, but we have a smart TV, so conceivably, I could watch these games on a larger screen. The YouTube channel is called ABL.TV, and is located here. They archive their games as well, so if there are no live games on (and there won’t be during the day here), you can always watch an old one in its entirety. The fun for us here in the US comes later in the evening or rather early in the morning, so it’s not terribly optimal unless you’re up very early on accident, or home during a weekend. The next game that will be aired is a 6PM PST game that features the Bandits at the Aces. The channel cues up the games and there is a countdown timer on the site to let you know how long you have, in the event that you don’t feel like calculating the time difference every time you’d like to watch a game.
As for what I’ve been able to watch so far (the last few innings of a game early yesterday because I got up before the alarm, and a few innings last night before I fell asleep after a dinner out), these games are very much like attending a minor league game; think Tacoma Rainiers but with better weather. Cricket and tennis are sort of more Australia’s gig, but they have the same kinds of fields and stadiums you’d find here, and the crowd seems just as enthusiastic as they are here. The Heat have a Mr Mets-style mascot who yesterday morning led a group of children in a run across the field during an inning break. You won’t find flashy LED screens or loud ads at an ABL game; just the PA announcer, music between innings, sound effects at the appropriate times, and the crack of the bat and cheers of the crowd. There are a handful of commercials that play during play action lulls; notably a baseball supply store and a local car dealership (I had a moment when that particular ad featured a driver getting into the opposite side of the car), but nothing obnoxious like what we have here, during either a broadcast or live game.
The 2015-16 ABL season ends soon here in February, so there is not too much time left to watch games until this October, and evening plans for me mean that I may be able to start that game at 6PM, but may not be able to finish it. But this is a great way to releive some of the boredom I’ve felt during the winter. I have tried for the past few years to interest myself in hockey or football, but it’s just not the same. It’s like having your heart set on buying a 2014 Scion, and someone saying “Well, this 1989 Toyota pickup is available…” Football and hockey are fun to watch once in a while, but neither of them is the game I love.
If possible, I may be using this space to write about the ABL during the offseason; during the months of winter, when there isn’t much to write about for a non-analysis person (and Lookout Landing and USS Mariner and others have so much of that covered already anyway, I don’t need to add my voice to the pile), it is difficult to maintain a space that already needs help enough as it is. The sights and sounds of Australian baseball are very welcome, when I am surrounded by football, rain, and what feels like never-ending cold. If you miss baseball during the winter, it’s out there, you just have to know where to look for it. I’m glad I finally found it and decided to follow through.