(2013-14 Adelaide Bite Ben Lodge card front – © 2014 Adam East)
For the fourth installment of Aussie in America, I decided to put Frontier Grey’s outfielder, Ben Lodge, on the hot seat with a Q&A similar to the one with Luke Wilkins.
1. What are the biggest differences you have noticed between professional baseball here in America and in Australia (rules, schedule, competition level etc.)?
The leagues are very similar apart from the age of the players. The ABL does not have age or rookie/experienced limitations so on our team last year we had a 19 year old and a 37 year old. It’s cool to play with guys who have been around professional for up to 20 years. I would have to say that the ABL is a slightly better competition as you are playing against current AA and AAA players and some ex big leaguers. That’s not to say that players in the Frontier League would not be able to compete in the league. They definitely could.
2. Was there any big adjustment you had to make when transitioning to professional baseball in America?
I think the schedule is more demanding, especially being on the travel team. In the ABL we fly everywhere, so travel time is limited.
3. Personally, do you find 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”?
Not really. Players buy into the Australian culture pretty quickly and learn how to play hard baseball. Those who do not buy into the culture are sent home pretty quickly no matter how good they are.
4. How do you view the fan support in America compared to that in Australia?
Obviously the fan support in America is far stronger with it being a major sport. Some Frontier League games pull some great crowds which makes it fun to play. That being said, I was impressed to play infront of almost 10,000 people in the ABL championship game in my hometown Adelaide last summer. Baseball is still a minority sport, but it is growing rapidly.
5. How has the popularity of baseball changed in Australia over the years that you have been playing?
It is growing steadily with larger amounts of people playing and more sponsors for the ABL. I think the best thing for baseball in Australia has been the introduction of Little League. Youth numbers are increasing so much, that hopefully the trend will increase each year.
6. What is it like to be considered a “rookie” here even though you have played professionally in the ABL for many years and have already won Rookie of the Year honors in Australia?
I don’t really take any of the titles to heart. At the end of the day everybody is trying to play hard and win, so if you are a rookie or experienced it does not matter.
7. When you were a rookie with the Bite, was it difficult being the only player without college or pro experience outside of Australia?
It was great for me actually. I was able to pick the brains of my team mates which lead to a quick development of my game to get me up to speed.
8. What was it like representing Team Australia during MLB Opening Week in Sydney?
It was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I was treated like a big leaguer and got to play infront of 20,000 Aussies going crazy in a historic Australian stadium. The highlight was beating the Diamondbacks and getting to be in centrefield for the final out. All of my family was there and 10 of my best mates flew up from Adelaide. It was unreal.
9. Did you feel as if you had to come to America to get a fair shot to further your career professionally?
I don’t really consider baseball as my career. I just play and enjoy the challenge. Coming over to play a season in America was something I always wanted to experience. If it enhances me as a player then that is a bonus. My real career is in Education. I’m a High School teacher in Health, Physical Education and English. I actually worked right up until I came over here.
10. If you could integrate one part of Australian culture into every day American culture, what would it be?
I enjoy the fact that the two countries are quite similar yet so different. The only thing I would like to see change in American culture is the food. Some of the food here is ridiculous, but I definitely have tried some of it. We are lucky that our host mum Aimee makes us beautiful and healthy home cooked meals every day.
11. What is the oddest thing you have ever seen on a baseball field while playing?
I have played in Taiwan, and that place was crazy. The fans sing chants the whole game and clap these big sticks. It feels like you are at a big European soccer game. It was awesome.
12. Finally… the most important question that was asked…. have you ever hung out with a kangaroo?
Yes, I have hung out with Kangaroos. You can play with them in Wildlife parks, but they are very timid out in the wild. You see them all the time driving out of the cities and along the coast on the golf courses.