Life's a beach for Dodgers, Little Leaguers
Four players share love of baseball with Australian children
SYDNEY -- The waves of the Tasman Sea were breaking in glassy blue and green tubes on another perfect Bondi Beach morning. Joggers were checking their watches while running up the promenade. Sunbathers flipped pages of books while wiggling their toes in the sand. Graffiti artists put another coat on the colorful boardwalk wall.
Not many of these Australian weekday revelers noticed when four members of the Los Angeles Dodgers descended stairs onto the beach, but the kids in the Little League uniforms sure did.
Wednesday morning at one of the Sydney area's most iconic strips of shoreline was all about baseball, even right in front of the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club.
Dodgers catchers Drew Butera and Tim Federowicz, reliever Chris Withrow and outfielder Mike Baxter got down onto Bondi and met the junior members of the Bosco Braves and Illawong Marlins, clubs from the South Sydney suburbs who are giving America's game a go.
While waiting for the big leaguers to arrive, Keegan Darby, a 9-year-old Illawong first baseman/second baseman who will next year receive his five-year award, explained why he prefers to play baseball.
"I've just never been a fan of cricket," he said.
Nearby, a baseball mom who didn't want to reveal her name because she had called in sick to work to accompany her two boys to the beach meet-and-greet, said her sons, 6 and 9, learned the game from their dad, who's been playing club ball on the Sydney outskirts his whole life.
She said her boys, one of whom was wearing a D-backs cap while the other wore a Dodgers cap, were excited to attend Thursday night's exhibition between the Dodgers and the Australian national team.
They also weren't aware of the intense National League West rivalry until they saw footage of an incident between the clubs last June on a local news program hyping Opening Series 2014, which begins Saturday night at Sydney Cricket Ground.
"They watched it on TV last night," she said. "They turned to me and said, 'Wow! Is that going to happen this weekend?'"
The players signed autographs, played a little catch with the young "baseballers," and Butera even took off his shirt and ran into the surf with a few of the North Bondi lifeguards.
While coming up with the Minnesota Twins, Butera had roomed with native Australian Luke Hughes, so he had heard plenty of stories about how kids turn to baseball Down Under, even when there are so many other athletic temptations.
"It might not be huge here yet, but it's growing," Butera said. "And this series is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm really happy that I'm getting to be a part of it."
The sentiment was shared by the kids and their coaches.
Ben Targett, 37, began playing baseball for a club team five years ago, and he still straps it on. He coaches the Bosco team, for which his 7-year-old son, Mikah, is the shortstop.
"It's a good position for him," Targett said. "He loves to get in on the action."
Federowicz had noticed on the bus ride from the airport there were a few rugby pitches and fields with Australian rules football goalposts, but not many baseball diamonds. But he admitted that a few minutes of talking to the bright young stars of Australian baseball by the crashing waves of Bondi Beach had him encouraged for the future of the sport here.
"They told me that they like it a lot better than cricket," Federowicz said.
"That's a good sign."