Roomies team up as Pirates Down Under
27 December 2014
Australia has attracted players from the home of baseball to its domestic competitions since as far back as the seventies, with many or even most of those persons making invaluable contributions at grassroots level.
While travelling Down Under to play baseball has become commonplace these days, it is a rarity for any suburban club to be in the fortunate position of having two high-quality players who also happen to be long-standing friends from United States.
Such is the case at Preston Baseball Club in Melbourne, where a couple of former college roommates have teamed up to help strengthen their adopted club and give it a real chance at a long-overdue divisional title.
Roommates at Eastern Connecticut State College for two years, Travis Bass and Andrew Smiley – both 27 years of age - took somewhat different routes in baseball before this season finding themselves on the same squad at the delightful Preston ground half way around the world from where they started playing the game.
A versatile right-armed pitcher who hits and who can hold down shortstop, third and second base – or any other defensive spot as required – Travis Bass was the 2010 All New England short stop who spent time with Solingen Alligators in Germany before some limited game with Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League.
The rangy Andrew Smiley is a left-armed pitcher and first-sacker who is currently putting up hitting numbers to complement a string of impressive outings on the hill that have helped the Preston Pirates to a strong Summer League position at the Christmas break.
Both men are formidable competitors who landed in Australia through a set of circumstances that involved local contacts in the sport.
“I was playing in Western Australia and was invited to a tryout with Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League back in 2011/12,” Bass told Australian Baseball Alumni. “I did pretty well and was lucky enough to get a spot on the team under Brooke Knight and Graeme Lloyd, although my game time was very limited because my local Perth club wouldn’t release me.”
Transferring across to Victoria in the 2013/14 Summer League season, Bass (pictured below) was a dominant player with the Newport Rams summer club and with the Forest Hill winter club in the Melbourne Winter League. When the relationship with Newport did not work out as hoped, Bass was cleared on appeal to the Pirates, a long-established Victorian club that has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence over the past decade.
Staying in touch with his former roomie through the wonders of modern technology, Travis had plenty of good things to report about Australia – and Australian baseball – and his lefty buddy was immediately interested in the challenge.
“I was playing in club competition in the states earlier this year,” Smiley said. “I had spoken to Travis back in March – and also to Mike Deeble, who almost encouraged me to come out and play with Westgarth during the Melbourne winter.”
“In the end I chose to stay at home and come out here for the Baseball Victoria summer season that Travis had told me so much about.”
With the Pirates sitting second in their group of Division One clubs – and looking a real chance of playoff action – both players have had ample opportunity to assess the standard of Melbourne club baseball.
“It is right up there, competition-wise,” Smiley said. “What I’ve noticed is that there is a wide range of abilities between the stronger clubs and the weaker clubs, and even between the players themselves on any given club.”
“You have to gauge it on the field against any club, though I would say the overall standard is approaching senior college level from where I came from.”
“There are some serious players over here,” Bass offered. “Some big league players, like Harman and Matt Kent, who I have the greatest admiration for as a catcher and a hitter.”
“Plenty of quality pitching arms – including Hayden Godbold with us at Preston. He is just so even-keeled and is a pleasure to watch.”
“There is real rivalry between many of the clubs, and a real effort to get better at what they do,” Bass said. “In my time here I’ve been so impressed with (triple reigning premier) Essendon. They are just so strong, so resilient, and can come from behind in any situation.”
“Their Manager (Peter Giles) is such an honest and stand-up guy.”
“All of the Division One clubs are dangerous,” he said. “Even though they are not winning too many games, Sandringham is doing a great job under Matt Sheldon-Collins. He and Mitch Glasser are just so enthusiastic and so positive in the way they go about their jobs.”
While both players understand that the experience cannot continue forever, they are living a baseball lifestyle of which many others might dream. And they are loving it, even though there is the occasional serious moment of reflection on what the future might hold.
“Melbourne is just an awesome city,” Smiley said. “The night life is great, the people are great and the sports venues are just outstanding – not just some of the baseball grounds, but the MCG and everywhere else.”
“Melbourne is so laid-back and there are so many things to do in the city. And what I really like is that it is so close to the country – to the bush and to beach and the Ocean Road. There are so many things that I want to see while I’m here.”
A self-employed excavation consultant specialising in the installation of waste water systems at home, Andrew Smiley (pictured in debonair off-field mode below) is planning to “play baseball until my body fails and maybe do some coaching at home over our summer.”
Earlier trained as a guidance counsellor, Travis Bass is presently assessing his aspirations.
“I definitely want to stay involved in baseball and I would like to be able to stay in Australia,” said Bass, whose current sporting visa has exempted him from import status and cleared the way for Smiley to join him at Preston.
“I’m battling with the decision whether to keep playing or not. I love playing the game, but at some time would like to get involved in coaching or managing. It might be tough trying to do both.”
While both young men have a balanced perspective that guarantees that they will make the appropriate calls on their own futures in baseball, the effect on their adopted club has already been considerable.
“Our club is always happy to play host to our international baseball cousins,” said long-standing Preston President Alex Djorgonoski. “For us it has been a win win situation.”
“Both boys are high quality individuals who have a great work ethic around the club and always conduct themselves in a respectful manner.”
“For us, it is not just about onfield performance,” Djorgonoski said. “It is their willingness to help improve our club that has impressed us about Andrew and Travis. They coach our Under 18 side, they assist our catering staff and they are always keen to help out with anything that we ask.”
“As was the case with our last international player (Bubbie Buzachero), nothing is ever too hard for these boys and it is an absolute pleasure to have them around the club.”
“It takes some time and effort to research the players properly,” Djorgonoski said, “but we are building our list of baseball friends from overseas, which can only be good for our club and for the game as they spread the word about their great baseball experiences Down Under.”
“While we take very seriously our responsibility to develop the game and to strengthen our connections with the local community, we recognise that baseball is a rapidly expanding world sport, with more and more players and coaches being attracted to opportunities in Australia,” he said.
“We have been blessed with some quality international players who have left a real mark on our club.”
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Image: Josie Hayden
Preston Baseball Ground at night