22 January 2006

Australia's Crickety Baseball

Today cricket is stronger than ever, yet baseball has made its own respectable path since switching to summer play in the 1970s. Despite Australia's small population it is clear that there is room for both sports....

Baseball will never replace cricket in Australia, but the sport has a loyal and respectable following that cannot be ignored. The late Roy Page, South Australian night baseball pioneer, explained why he eventually preferred baseball over cricket: "[In baseball] at least you'd see a game decided. You'd go to cricket and you'd go for five days--which I used to do. You'd go five days, one after the other and at the end of the fifth day, it's a draw! An inglorious draw!"...

Still, ignorance of the game in Australia is hard to overcome. While zealous early entrepreneurs of baseball in Australia took great pains to explain the rules at every opportunity, the majority of the population never had the chance to learn because they never attended or played in a game. Accordingly, when Australians start to play the game, they usually bring a cricket style with them, such as throwing the ball underarm to other fielders and swinging at pitches near the ground. Many see this as a major hurdle that will continue to plague Australian baseball in the future.

Lismore Baseball Club founder Reg Baxter, though a stalwart cricket player as well, had nothing but praise for the attributes of baseball: "It lasts only two hours, while cricket is over two weeks, so you're tied down for two weeks, whereas in baseball you can say you're not available next Saturday and somebody else can take your place. To me there's something in baseball that's not in any other sport. I believe baseball is the greatest thinking game there is." Roy Page even credited baseball for helping bring innovations to cricket: "One-day cricket-who started that up? Ian Chappell. A cricket-baseballer. It was his idea that people wanted to see something on that specific day. They didn't want to go two and three days.... They wanted to see something settled on the night.... This was Chappell's idea. And I think that's going to be more pronounced in the years to come, I really do. One-day cricket. More so than this five-day business. It's not good enough." Australian team cricketers consulted Dave Nilsson and the Institute of Sport for batting and throwing tips. Baseball fans listen to cricket on radios at the IBLA [International Baseball League of Australia] games [emphasis added]. Cricketers still play winter baseball to keep in shape for the summer. Many Australian baseballers still field and bat like cricketers. Cricket or baseball? In Australia you can comfortably play and support either or both.
SOURCE: A History of Australian Baseball: Time and Game, by Joe Clark (U. Nebraska Press, 2003), pp. 136-137

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