Lamigo fans go bananas over Searly
22 April 2016
One of the inspiring stories of Australian baseball over the past twelve months has been the progression of Queenslander Ryan Searle, a seven-year pitching professional with Chicago Cubs who enjoyed a stellar season with Brisbane Bandits in its 2015/16 ABL Championship win before being an integral part of Australian success at the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in February.
With his heroics commanding notice across the baseball world, Searle was signed by Lamigo Monkeys in the Chinese Professional League, where he has already developed a huge fan base in just a few short weeks.
Being used both as starter and from the bullpen, Searle on Wednesday this week posted his first win for the Monkeys – an achievement that prompted him to share some of his experiences with Australian Baseball Alumni.
Released after a Chicago Cubs career that carded a respectable ERA of 3.95 for 36 wins and 36 losses over in excess of 500 innings, Searle has been a regular in Australian national sides and he spent the 2015 southern winter with Ishikawa All-Stars in the Japan Challenge League.
More recently – as a long-time Brisbane Bandits player – Searle was a key factor in that club’s Claxton Shield success of 2015/16, demolishing ABL saves and closing records along the way.
While baseball is a team game - with the good of the group rightly ranked above individual statistics - the disparate personal successes of team members are vital to the whole. Such was the case during a barnstorming ABL Season by the Bandits, an organisation that was blessed with outstanding talent in all facets of the game.
Ryan Searle’s contribution to the Bandits’ success was crucial – and his pitching numbers were staggering as he made the transition from being predominantly a starter in the Australian Baseball League to assuming the specialist closing role.
Over thirty-one games and forty-five innings pitched for the Bandits, Searle clocked a miniscule ERA of 0.40 and posted a record seventeen saves from eighteen opportunities for the 2015/16 season. He struck out fifty-four and allowed just two earned runs largely through virtue of his excellent control and his command of an explosive fastball and lethal slider.
Little wonder that Searle was one of the very first selections by Australian National Coach Jon Deeble for the All-Star game in December. Little wonder that he was so dominant throughout the ABL season and into the WBC Qualifier, where he slammed the gate against South Africa in a deciding final game that propelled our national team into its fourth World Baseball Classic.
And little wonder that the Lamigo Monkeys came knocking.
Ryan Searle in action for the Monkeys
“The entire summer was a complete whirlwind for me both on and off the field,” Ryan Searle told Australian Baseball Alumni. “So many wonderful things happened I don't even know where to begin.
“Personal achievements aside, the Bandits were the best squad I've ever had the privilege of being a part of. Day in and day out the guys came happy and ready to play for one another. These guys really set the tone for me. Switching to the closer role, in order to get saves you have to be winning.”
“These guys just kept rolling and it was so much fun to be a part of,” he said.
“I knew fairly early on in the season that I was signing with Lamigo, so it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders for the remainder of the season and it allowed me to focus on playing for the Bandits and ultimately getting in the position to break the ERA and saves record and win the championship all at once.”
“Sometimes it doesn't seem like it's real. Everything culminated rather quickly,” Searle said.
“Since my tenure with the Cubs ended in 2014 everything had been kind of up in the air for a while. But thankfully my agent got me a job in Japan last year and I really just focused on embracing the culture and the lifestyle and the Asian way of playing baseball. It really is eye opening and I love every single minute of it. I'm very thankful for the opportunity.”
Notwithstanding his previous playing experience in Asia, Ryan Searle was well aware that there would be some adjustments and some acclimatisation required – on and off field - as he joined the reigning champion in the relatively new Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Fellow Queenslander and Baltimore Orioles scout Brett Ward has followed Searle’s progress for years and never doubted his capacity to impress.
“Ryan will do really well with the Monkeys,” Ward remarked on learning of the signing with Lamigo.
“He has the pitching arsenal to throw at an even higher level than the ABL and he has certainly benefited from his time in professional baseball – especially the several years he spent with the Cubs.”
“He commands a consistent 89-90 MPH fastball that runs on hitters,” Ward said, “and he has outstanding command of an 86-87 MPH slider, which breaks late, with tilt.”
“He is a tough proposition for any hitter.”
In three early starts with the Monkeys, Searle was not at his dominant best before a couple of effective relief spots prior to the start on Wednesday, where he tossed six innings for six hits, six strike outs, a walk and a solitary earned run in his side’s 4-2 win over EDA Rhinos.
“I am certainly happy I landed that first win,” Searle said. “All onwards and upwards from here.”
“The CPBL really is a world class league. They treat us phenomenally, the players accept imports with open arms and they provide literally everything you could ever need to prepare for a baseball season,” he said.
“Coming into another championship team, these guys really know what they are doing and everything is first class. We had some struggles early on, mainly to do with many rainouts and injuries, but lately we've really turned it around. We will get a few key players back in the middle of the year and I expect we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“As for me, I'm primarily a starter, but I'll always do whatever the team needs of me. I've pitched four starts and three relief appearances so far. We have a great closer, so there's no need for that role here, I just have to focus on pitching when I've got the ball.”
“There are only four teams in this league, so all of the best players in this baseball-crazy country are all stacked very tightly,” he said. “People have asked me to compare Asian baseball with American baseball, but it is very hard to do because the game play is so different.”
“There are a lot of talented players here that I think would have success in AA/AAA and some I think would be good players in the MLB. A lot of the players have spent time in the United States system - including some I have played with and against throughout the years.”
Already a crowd favourite, Searle is relishing his engagement with the local baseball community.
“They absolutely love baseball and they love this team,” he said. “We don't sell out every game just yet, but on the weekends we usually draw about 15-20 thousand. It's a great atmosphere. The fans are great and really embrace us. I love being involved.”
It is a sentiment that appears to be mutual, gauging by many comments posted on a Ryan Searle Facebook Fan Page that has sprung up recently:
“Searle, u pith well today….wish u love Taiwan, and help Lamigo get championship” (sic)
“Nice pitcher…good…congratulations…you are another MVP”
“Nice pitch today…”
“Thank you for giving us a wonderful night. Go! Searle!”
And this, the piece de resistance……
“Hi, mate. How are you today? You are very awesome. Many people love you. Good man!”
While Ryan Searle is just the second Australian to suit up for Lamigo Monkeys - after South Australian Adrian Burnside back in 2011 - increasingly more of our players are taking up contracts in Asia, probably reflective of an increasing awareness on the part of Asian organisations of the quality of Australian ball players.
“Absolutely that is the case,” Ryan Searle said. “Australian baseball players are spanning the globe currently, with a lot of our guys in the leagues in Japan, Europe and the United States. Last year Ryan Rowland-Smith played over here and before that there was Brad Thomas. Every day I remind myself that I'm not just representing myself here. I want to do my friends, family and country proud. The more of us that have success, the more opportunities will arise for Aussie baseballers in the future.”
While there are clear language, cultural and social differences at play, Searle believes that Australian baseballers are overwhelmingly adaptable and outgoing people who thrive on making the adjustments – even when related to somewhat different food offerings.
“We have team chefs who cook all kinds of Chinese cuisine, and even if I don't get a huge bowl of it, I'll always try a bit,” he said.
“We also have a translator for all of our needs within the team and a lot of the guys speak basic English anyhow. They make it easy on us. I try to get out into the city when I can. Explore a bit. See the temples, go to the night markets, try new restaurants and just generally be involved in the lifestyle. You don't want to isolate yourself.”
Running from March through to the end of October, the Chinese Professional Baseball League is a challenging commitment for any player, although Ryan Searle – who is still only 26 years of age – has plenty of the sport still ahead of him both internationally and back home, where he can certainly be expected back in Brisbane Bandits and Australian national team colours.
Now in an exciting phase of club development, the Bandits were powerful right across the board - in pitching, defence and offensive power – to dominate the Australian Baseball League last summer and to set new benchmarks for rival states.
On the hill for Brisbane Bandits
“I believe our main key to success was the will and desire to play for the guy beside you,” Ryan Searle reflected. “No-one was above anyone else and we just had fun.”
“Mark Ready gave us all the pieces we needed to succeed and all of us fitted together perfectly - from David Nilsson all the way down to Bobbie Jo our wonderful trainer. I'm not quite sure who's going to return yet, but if I had it my way I would have the exact same team back again. Whilst I know that's not possible as people move on to bigger and better things, I truly look forward to the next bunch of guys we get in to defend our title."
“No matter what happens, I'm looking forward to what comes next, watching our league grow and doing my part to contribute.”
After our success at the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, Australia will be well-placed to compete at the 2017 WBC and then to make a bid for the 2018 Premier 12 and 2020 Olympics. Still a young man, Searle played a key role in the qualifier and he has developed insights into Australian baseball from long-standing involvement with many of the players and coaches.
“I’ve said in interviews previously that there really is nothing like strapping on the green and gold and representing Australia. It truly is an honor, and if I can I'll always make myself available for representation and give everything I've got for my country.”
“Having gotten through the qualifying stage, now we need to set our sights on getting through the first round and beyond in the WBC,” he said.
“From my perspective Australian baseball is travelling pretty well at the moment. The young talent coming through is astounding, with so many players only just now hitting stride in their mid-twenties.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of the players we have got coming through who are doing very well for themselves and can only get better through playing in the Australian Baseball League – which has a vital role in the success of Aussie baseball now and into the future,” he said.
“We are getting younger as a whole at the higher level and the international experience isn’t quite what it used to be, but thankfully we’ve still got guys like Hughesy, Oeltjen, RRS, Moylan and Travis Blackley around who can lead the charge.”
“As for me, I’ll be there as long as I possibly can – in any capacity.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its thanks to Ryan Searle for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish him, and the Lamigo Monkeys, all the very best for the remainder of the CPBL season.