Let’s start with some terminology. ‘Oz’ in this context isn’t a mysterious, mythological place, although that’s debatable. It’s an Aussie term for Australia. And it’s a clue to an important pronunciation tip. To say ‘Australia’ correctly, swap the ‘S’ out for a ‘Z’, pronounce the second ‘A’ as a short vowel rather than a long one, say it kinda fast and run the syllables together, and mumble. That’s your first lesson in learning ‘Strine, the language DownUnder. Now you should be able to properly pronounce their nickname – don’t call them ‘Aussssies’ with a hissing ‘S’ sound, but rather say ‘Ozzies’ with a well-mumbled ‘Z’, then you’ll be right, mate!
How do I know this? I spent an enlightening 3+ years living there, and have been back often to visit. So I’m almost a native. But I really missed baseball and good hot dogs while there, so here are my impressions of baseball and sports in Australia in honor of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opening their season in Sydney.
I lived and worked in Melbourne in the early 90’s, before the Internet and email. Remember those days? Every week I got a package from home with 7 days worth of the SF Chronicle Sporting Green and the Sunday comics. That helped me follow the team and league standings. The box scores were often in the local weekend paper, but there were no game details. It was hard to keep up.
I had a passing interest in Australian sports – somewhat for cricket and more for Aussie Rules Football, or Footy. I thought cricket was a difficult game to ‘get’ even though many countries play it, but if you’re raised on baseball, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. They have what are called test matches that last up to 5 days. And you thought 9 innings was long? The young women in my office loved these matches, but they were there for the sun, the beer and the guys. When they returned to work, sunburned and hung over, I never heard about good plays or who won, just what happened off the field. Definitely not Gamer Babes.
Footy is more interesting. I describe it as a combination of soccer, rugby, and the Christians vs. the lions. There’s lots of running up and down the oval field, kicking each other, shoving, bumping, and resultant injuries that were listed every Monday on the front page of the newspaper. Heaven for an orthopedic surgeon!
But neither of these sports can compare to baseball, so I started following the Melbourne Monarchs, the local team named after butterflies. Pretty intimidating. They were eventually kicked out of the league for some infraction and were replaced by the Melbourne Bushrangers, a much more menacing image.
An Aussie baseball game is very much like a minor league game in the States, with activities for the kids between innings to keep them occupied and engaged. The announcers keep up a patter as if they’re describing the game on radio even though up to 3500 fans are there, watching in person.
One of my favorite calls came one evening while sitting with Tom, an American friend (Mets fan) who was living there, and some ex-pats from the mid-west that I’d recently become friends with. They moved to Melbourne as teachers in the 80’s and decided to stay. The Australian Baseball League was the only way they could satisfy their yearning for the game. The pitch hit the bat with a loud CRACK and sailed high in the air towards the outfield. “And it’s a HIT!” the announcer exclaimed, but then said “Oh, but it’s caught by the right fielder. And that’s out number one.”
My friends and I rolled our eyes. That wasn’t a hit, it was a fly ball out to the right fielder. But why quibble? At least we were watching live baseball.
This weekend, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will square off for a 2-game series at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). The stadium holds 80,000 people and they hope to fill it. It will be interesting to see if the fans get a running commentary throughout the game, or if they’ve become more knowledgeable over the years.
Will this series have any lasting effect on Australian baseball? After all, there’s stiff competition with cricket, footy, rugby and horse racing. But the Land DownUnder has produced 31 major league players over the years, including catcher David Nilsson of the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay All Star pitcher Grant Balfour. So who knows – if MLB likes what it sees, there may be more games in Sydney or Melbourne in upcoming years. That would be quite the fan road trip! And you can count me in – after all, I already speak the language.