Part Two of Aussie in America has arrived! Luke is off to a good start this season with the Wild Things. In 3 starts, he has a 3.93 ERA with a 1-0 record.
Since Part One was published, readers have been sending in questions for Luke, and we have picked the best ones for our newest post. Check out the Q & A with Luke Wilkins below.
1. Are there any big differences between professional baseball in Australia and in America? Are any rules different?
There aren’t any rule differences. In the ABL (Australian Baseball League), we play by the full MLB rule book. I assume no rules are different here in the Frontier league apart from the new international tie breaker rules being enforced after the 11th inning. Style of play is slightly different – I think we play a little more aggressively at home and tend to talk a bit more trash and start a bit more tension with the other team which seems to create a few good fights that are well coveted on YouTube.
2. What is the ABL schedule like compared to your schedule in the Frontier League?
The ABL schedule is really different – We play Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and a Sunday day game, then fly home Sunday night…Yes, we fly everywhere. It’s great!
3. How does the level of competition compare to American baseball? What level would you consider it to be at based on our professional baseball rankings?
It’s a funny comparison between levels here and the ABL. Most consider the ABL to be a High-A to AA standard depending on the team. Here I think the consistency of talent is solid throughout a team’s roster but lacks the few players of top quality that we face in the ABL. An ABL line up will be a little more top heavy with probably at least 1 or 2 ex big leaguers, probably a AA high round draft pick that can really play, as well as a few other really good experienced players that are AA or AAA, but then it may also include a few Rookie Ball kids who are a little out of their depth. Sydney’s starting rotation (that I was unsuccessful in breaking into) a few years ago consisted of 1. ex-big leaguer, 2. ex-big leaguer, 3. Career AAA guy, 4. Current AAA guy. Yeah, I didn’t manage to be a starter that year…
4. Was there any big adjustment you had to make when transitioning to professional baseball in America?
Not really. Everything is pretty similar. The only minor adjustment is probably pitching to more lineups without a scouting report. Most local players in the ABL I have watched hit for at least 5 years and know them back to front, and the prospects that get sent in, we get extremely detailed scouting reports from our resources in the minor leagues. So I’m used to pitching to a lineup and knowing exactly how I want to attack each guy in the lineup. Here it is mostly – get outs and adjust as you go.
5. Is there a system of minor league teams in Australia as there are here in America?
There isn’t exactly a minor league system in Australia. We have local ‘club’ baseball which would be considered men’s league here although it is taken far more seriously. ‘1st grade’ in club baseball is the highest level you can play at before playing in the ABL, and you basically pay to play. Registration for your local club is around $400 for the season.
6. Is it hard to play in the ABL where you have a mixture of guys who are playing full time and others who are only there for some of the season for “winter ball”?
It doesn’t make any difference. Everyone turns up ready to play. The guys that work through the week turn up just as eager to win as the prospects that get sent to play with us. I have yet to be on a team that had any sort of divide because of different lifestyles.
7. How is the fan support in Australia compared to that in America?
I would call the support very similar to minor league baseball here.
8. How has the popularity of baseball changed in Australia in the five years you played in the ABL?
That is really hard to measure and give a concise and tangible response. I spoke to a MLB executive who said that right now AUS is the only country in the world where junior participation in baseball is growing and not declining – That’s awesome. But right now, I don’t think we are producing the quality of pro players we have in the last 20 years. I think we need to do a better job converting the junior participation into high quality players and gain more public interest and involvement.
9. What is it like to be considered a “rookie” here even though you have played professionally in the ABL for many years?
It’s a funny feeling. I feel like I’ve payed my dues and played enough ball to at least understand a few things around the game, but at the same time I have to respect that I haven’t played in this league before and take my place as it comes to me. It’s definitely an advantage in terms of roster stuff at least.
10. Did you feel as if you had to come to America to get a fair shot to further your career professionally?
Loads and loads of kids sign pro contracts out of Australia, but not many “older guys” sign out of AUS because the statistics aren’t as widely respected. I think my specific skill set and situation will be taken more seriously here, but that’s just for me.
11. If you could integrate one part of Australian culture into every day American culture, what would it be?
The fresh food! Get rid of every fast food and “chain restaurant” (which isn’t a real restaurant) and get real food made by real people that you can’t customize the hell out of so that you can eat the same thing no matter where you go! Try something new guys! Also, the really good cafe culture and amazing coffee.
12. What is the oddest thing you have ever seen on a baseball field in Australia and in America?
In a club game at home we had two 10 year old kids ride onto the outfield in dirt bikes and ride around for 5 minutes while we stopped the game, that was odd. I know it’s not in the question, but in China I played on a turf field that had a huge tree in the middle! Apparently the Chinese said “the tree of here first so it keeps its place” (obviously not in English). So yes, they just played around it.
13. Finally… the most important question that was asked…. have you ever hung out with a kangaroo?
I mean, I haven’t hung out and played PlayStation and gone to get ice cream with one…. But yes I’ve sat around in grasslands with lots of Kangaroos about.
Follow along all season to the “Aussie in America” series to find out how Wilkins is doing, to hear stories about baseball in Australia and America, and more!!