Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day!  This was my first year spending the holidays away from my family.  Normally Im pretty good about being away from home but there is definitely something weird about being on the other side of the world and missing Thanksgiving then not being home for Christmas.  I think the worst part about this Christmas was that Brady, my oldest son, finally understands opening presents and getting gifts.  When he was 1 it wasn’t that big a deal because he didn’t quite understand, but now hes all about ripping the paper off.  I definitely miss his smile and laugh and the goofy things he does.  Hudson, my youngest son, is at that age where he doesn’t know whats going on.  All he really needs to know is when his next meal is coming and whos going to change his diaper when its dirty.  But since being down here in Australia he’s managed to sit up on his own, start crawling and stand himself up all before hes six months old!  Thankfully there is Skype and FaceTime to help ease the longing Ive had for family.  Ive been able to see his crawl and stand up and I got to see Brady light up when he opened his new cars that I got him for Christmas.  Unfortunately watching on video and being there in real life are two different things.  Such is the life of a baseball player.

Opening Presents
Thankfully this Christmas season Ive been able to spend it with my amazing host family.  They have taken Nic and I under their wings and incorporated us into all their family activities.  Since Elizabeth had nothing planned for Christmas morning, I decided to bring to Melbourne my families tradition.  We always have a huge breakfast Christmas morning.  My mother slaves tirelessly in the kitchen the night before and the morning of preparing the most delicious breakfast treats.  My favorite bit is stuffed French toast.  This dish is similar to a bread pudding less like what most would consider French toast.  It starts with a layer of cubed bread on the bottom, preferably Challah but any other good soft bread will do.  Next you layer in 2 packages of cream cheese and a good helping of strawberries.  Finally you top it off with more bread then pour over an egg, milk, syrup mixture.  The bread soaks up all the eggy goodness and when it bakes up it’s the most heavenly tasting dish.  Next my mom prepares a mushroom and spinach quiche which I think is better served cold but pretty good fresh from the oven.  Then she hand grates potatoes and onion and makes potato latkes (a tradition jewish potato pancake).  Finally we boil up some cheese sausages until they are crisp and ready for eating.   I didn’t want to make all these dishes for our meal so I picked the stuffed French toast since I knew how make that the best.

Essendon Bombers!
Christmas morning I woke up bright and early and removed the dish from the fridge to let it come to room temperature before popping it in the oven.  The rest of the family began to stir right about the time it was about to come out.  Before we ate we opened presents in front of the tree.  The kids got things like clothes and headphones while the adults got things like golf gear and perfume.  Nic and I also received some gifts.  We both got official Essendon AFL jerseys.  I got a black home jersey while Nic got the grey away jersey.  We both also got a sample box of some Australian beers including Fat Yak and 5 other brews.  In return Nic and I both gave Tony and Elizabeth a giant black and white canvas of New York City to hang in the man cave since they had just redone it.  The breakfast must have been great because the entire dish disappeared in moments.

Stuffed French Toast
After breakfast everyone sat around recovering from the morning, drinking coffee and watching NFL Football (Perk of being a day ahead I guess).  Traditionally at Tony’s house his family comes over for a big lunch.  I met Tony’s Dad and his wife Pam and conversed a bit about Australia and how much fun we had been having.  Elizabeth prepared a generous meal of lamb, beef, chicken, pasta salad and potatoes.  Everything was delicious as usual.  After lunch while we were sitting around talking we heard some loud banging outside.  Being from Denver I was not expecting any sort of white Christmas in Australia considering it was 80 degrees outside.  However the big man upstairs must have known I was a bit home sick and ordered up the most impressive hail storm I think Ive ever seen.  The ice balls were about the size of cherries and they pelted the earth for about 15 minutes in the most impressive fashion.

White Aussie Christmas
Next we were off to see Elizabeth’s family in Geelong.  We packed our bags and the cars and began our drive down south.  We encountered some more impressive rain on the way down but that soon passed and opened up into clear blue sunny skies.  It took us a good hour to get there and after many twists, turns and roundabouts we arrived.  Elizabeth’s family is very reminiscent of my wife Pam’s family.  We pulled up to find about 15 people or so gathered around talking, drinking, and eating while 6 or 7 kids jumped and swam in the pool.  Everyone was super friendly and the food was amazing.  We had a Greek style lamb, sausages, pasta and potato salad and some garlicky flat bread.  Nic and I excused ourselves to a back room to watch the Christmas classic “National Lampoon Presents: Christmas Vacation” while the family did their Christmas presents.  The night was winding down and we made the decision to continue our journey and drive 30 minutes further to Anglesea where Tony has a holiday house.
We pulled in to the driveway about 12 midnight, fixed our beds and hit the hay.  It was quite an eventful day.  Tony and Elizabeth made both Nic and I feel like family and fill that void we had for the holidays.  We cannot express enough our thankfulness and gratitude these people have shown us in our time here in Australia.

Merry Christmas: Elizabeth, Tony, William, Jason
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Australia!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Yarra Gonna Have A Good Time

Sorry its been a while since I last wrote.  There are more pictures in my Flickr Account so if you want to access those follow this link: Flickr Stream

Every team in this league has a “bye” week or a week off.  This past week was some much needed R&R for the Aces.  During this extra week off I had a visitor come to town, my wife Pam.  For those who don’t know me, Ive been married for 4 years now and together we have 2 amazing children; Brady (2 Years) and Hudson (5 Months).  Our wedding anniversary is November 17th which happened to be two weeks after I left Colorado for Australia.  I had originally planned on taking my wife out for a nice dinner and then to go see the “Lion King” at the Denver Performing Arts Center.  We ended up selling the tickets to the show and planned that at some point she would come out to visit.  As the day approached for her to come out, I began searching the web for places to take her while she was visiting.  I ran across several tours involving penguins and beach visits and other various landmarks around Melbourne.  I eventually asked my teammates where I should go and a suggestion came from Justin Huber.  He had taken his girlfriend wine tasting the Yarra Valley and said he had a great time.  I knew my wife loves wine and wine tasting so I thought it was the perfect match.  I quickly grabbed a computer and did a quick search on the Yarra Valley and found that its only about 45 minutes from Melbourne and they have tons of wineries and heaps more tours that drive you from tasting to tasting.  I booked us a spa room at the Balgownie Estate Winery, also at the suggestion of Huber.  I also booked a tour with Yarra Valley Wine Tours, which picked us up from our hotel and took us to 5 different wineries and returned us safely that evening.

Balgownie Estate
The day started early.  We woke up at 7:30am and were on the road by 8:30am.  The morning was pretty glum, even by Melbourne standards.  It was overcast and drizzling but fortunately it was not a sign of things to come.  It rained pretty much the whole way up the Yarra Valley with some slight breaks here and there.  We pulled into the Balgownie Estate Winery about 9:30am and I thought, just for gits and shiggles I would try and check in to our room early.  Luckily the night before they had a no show for a corporate meeting and a room was ready for our arrival.   We went back to the car to grab our luggage and walked down the tiles walkway to the end of the building and up a quick flight of stairs to our room.  As we entered the room our first impression was that it was definitely modern, clean and perfect for our stay.  To our immediate left was the bedroom and slightly down the hall from that the bathroom with built in hot tub.  To our right was a counter with sink, microwave, refrigerator and a basket of instant coffee and tea.  As you enter all the way into the room you enter the living room complete with large 42” flat screen TV, couch, dining table and patio with a small table and chairs.  There was also a large curved window that gave you a glimpse into the hot tub and bathroom.  Our view was equally as impressive as the room.  We were looking out onto rolling hills dotted with rows of grape vines, slightly cloudy skies and lots of green vegetation.  We took a moment to unpack our bags and settle in a bit before heading down to the front office to wait for our chariot to arrive.
As we approached the front office, the van had just pulled up.  Perfect timing.  Pam and I hopped into our seats and we were off to the first tasting of the day.  My wife is a social butterfly, so she tried to strike up conversation immediately upon setting out.  Everyone was either shy or still waking up because you could hear crickets chirping inside the van.  Our driver, Bill, started explaining a bit of history behind our first stop at Sticks.  We spilled out of the van, still under drippy skies, and walked down to the cellar door.  Inside we were greeted by two winery representatives who would be serving us their tasty selections.  We both went down the menu and tasted everything they had to offer.  The Yarra Valley is known for its white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc because of its climate and growing conditions.  After sampling all the creations the group piled back into the van and headed off to the second tasting. 

View From Our Room
Once on the van my wife again tried to stimulate some conversation with the groups on board and again she didn’t get much in return.  One couple, sitting next to us, was a bit more chatty and offered up some conversation but not much.  Our next stop was Oakridge.  Once inside our server was much more outgoing and humorous.  As he cracked jokes and poked fun at people he explained about their wines and a bit of history of the winery.  At this point people began to loosen up a bit.  Maybe it was the humor maybe it was the wine, either way the trip was about to be infinitely more fun.  We went through the whole menu there as well and back into the van and off to the next cellar we went. 

Rochford Wine Barrels
Once back on the van, sleeves were rolled up and hair was let down and it was a party van.  Everyone was talking, laughing and having a great time.  We began asking and answering questions about where we were from and what other parts of Australia were like.  The third winery was Rochford, which ended up being our favorite of the trip.  The skies and weather were now both cooperating as well, as the sun began to peak through the clouds and the rain ceased.  Rochford was also where we were going to be eating lunch for the day.  The wine expert at this winery was definitely the most informative of the trip.  He explained the different bottle types, how certain wine varieties came about and why twist tops were now replacing corks to seal bottles.  We tried a variety of whites, and reds and we eventually came to my favorite wine of the trip, a fortified cabernet.  The wine maker explained to us that a batch of Cab Sav had inexplicably stopped half way through its maturation period.  The wine was still good, but it was no longer going to age any further so they decided to blend the Cab Sav with Brandy.  I don’t want to sound ignorant or misinformed but Im pretty sure he said the reason they chose brandy was because it was either brewed in a similar fashion to wine or its made from the same style of grapes…I don’t quite remember.  What I do remember is drinking an absolutely delightful wine.  It was sweet like a port but had similar flavors to the Cab Sav’s im used to.  A side bonus to the brandy mix was that it also increased the alcohol percentage to about 14.  Needless to say I bought a couple bottles to bring back to Melbourne and stash away for a special occasion.  After going though the whole menu of wines, the group entered the dining room and we had lunch.  I ordered the parma and Pam ordered a pasta.  Both dishes were tasty and disappeared from our plates along with a glass of our favorite wine.  With our bellies full and our BAC through the roof, we got back on the booze bus and off to our fourth winery of the day.

Coombe Winery
Our next stop was Coombe, home of what they claimed was the best Chardonnay in the Yarra Valley.  The two ladies here were a riot.  The smaller of the two seemed like she had been drinking all day.  She was very loose and goofy and kind of rambled on about this and that.  The taller lady seemed more collected and professional.  Regardless, together they were a good match of knowledge of wine and practical uses for them with food.  We started with their sparkling wine which Pam and I both agreed was pretty good.  We are not much of sparkling wine fans but this one was quite tasty.  Next was the crown jewel of the Coombe winery, the Chardonnay.  It was sweet, lemony, buttery and smooth.  These ladies were not kidding.  Im not a white wine fan by any means but this Chardonnay definitely won a fan in me.  We finished the rest of menu and once again piled into the van and off to our fifth and final destination of the evening.

Group Lunch at Rochford
Punt Road Winery was the final stop on our small tour of the Yarra Valley.  This winery was not so much known for their wines but for their ciders.  Ciders have become increasingly popular in Australia over the last few years and its easy to see why after tasting the delights of Punt Road.  We started with Pear Cider.  Made with several varieties of pears this cider was easy drinking and smooth on the tongue.  Although there was an alcohol level to the drink you would be hard pressed to taste it.  Same thing applied to our second offering the apple cider.  We were lucky they day we showed up because it happened to be the first day they were offering a special blend of their apple cider that usually sells out in a matter of weeks.  Of course we bought into the sales pitch and purchased a bottle of cider to keep for later consumption.  After the ciders we ran through the rest of the menu which included some whites and some delicious reds, some of which we thought were the best of the trip.

Dinner is Served
After the final winery we poured ourselves back into the van and our driver Bill managed to safely drop us all off at our respective hotels around the valley.  We bid farewell to each couple as they exited the van and I think in the end we all had heaps of fun and all made some new friends.  Bill dropped Pam and I off at Balgownie and fortunately we had just enough time to taste the wines our hotel had to offer.  That brought our total to 6 wineries for the day and by the end our taste buds and our bodies were tired yet satisfied.  We capped off our night with a delicious meal served at the hotel restaurant.  Our waitress asked during the meal if we would both like a glass of wine to accompany our entrees and we both looked at each other, smiled and politely declined.  Not because we didn’t like their wine but because  we had simply drunk enough during the day. 

What a great way to spend an anniversary.  It was nice to finally have some alone time with my wife, without kids and outside distractions.  We retired to our room for the evening with more adventures to await us the next day.  The Yarra Valley was a beautiful place and definitely left a lasting impression on us both.  We were both extremely happy the weather cooperated with us and made for a beautiful day.

No Worries, Its My Left Arm!
The next morning we tried sleeping in a bit but to much futility we were up about 8am.  Between kids and time zones and travel there really was not much hope for sleeping in.  We both arose and ate some breakfast at the hotel then quickly packed our bags and headed home.  Before getting back on the road we stopped at a zoo called the Healesville Sanctuary.  The sanctuary was not large by any means but had a good representation of Australian wildlife.  Pam has always wanted to feed a kangaroo and pet or hold a koala and fortunately the sanctuary affords the opportunity to do both….to an extent.  We had to buy tickets for our “magic moments” with the animals of our choosing so due to time constraints Pam choose hang out with a koala.  She wasn’t allowed to feed or pet him but she could stand right next to him and practically whisper in his ear.  
Pam and Benny

Benny was the star for the day and luckily for us he was awake, which is a rarity during daylight hours.  Koalas, we found, sleep nearly 18 hours a day and are most active in the night hours.  Pam met up with the zoo keeper and she escorted her into Benny’s pen.  He was lounging in the stump of a eucalyptus tree about as relaxed as one could possibly be.  All he need was a fruity drink with a little umbrella in it and some shades on.  The zoo keeper gave us a small lesson in koalas and their habits and the history of Benny.  Pam was able to stand right next to his perch but like I said wasn’t able to pet him.  He was a lot bigger than both of us had expected but very docile and charming.  Pam had a great time hanging out with him and it was definitely worth the extra money for her “magic moment”.  After Pam was done admiring Benny, we took a short cut through the park and took our seats for the wild bird show.  We got to see a bunch of the native birds of Australia flying around, performing tricks and buzzing our tower.  It was a great mix of parrots, hawks and owls.  As with most things there was a message behind the whole performance and oddly enough this one was to use recycled toilet paper to help save the trees and preserve the homes of these wild birds.  We walked around the rest of the sanctuary looking at emus, dingoes, and even caught a glimpse of a platypus.  
Saving Nature One Wipe At A Time

We walked through the kangaroo reserve where they lazy bums just laid sunning themselves and staring back at us as awkwardly as we were staring at them.  Near the end of the trip we toured the animal hospital and got see the nurses helping a few animals, including a baby wallaby.  We completed the day by getting lost on the way home because Google maps wanted us to take a toll road and I didn’t have a toll pass.  So instead of a nice 45 minute drive down the highway we took a 2 hour tour of east Melbourne.  Overall a great two days seeing the sights, tasting wine and spending some quality time with my wife.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Church of Baseball

On our way Adelaide

My second road trip of the year, and off to Adelaide we go!  Adelaide is known as the City of Churches….because, well….it has lots of Churches.  Unfortunately the only church I got to see was the Church of Baseball.  After our afternoon flight arrived we piled into our EuropCar vans departed for the Arkaba Hotel.  Upon arrival at the Arkaba the first thing you notice when walking inside is the mini casino filled with “Pokies” or slot machines.  Stuff is expensive enough here in Australia so I stayed away from the pokies for the trip.  Our rooms were pleasant, two queen beds, nice bathroom, 42 inch flat screen TV and plenty of entertaining channels.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat then hopped on the vans and off to the field we went.  The home of the Adelaide Bite is also the home of the Norwood Red Legs, a sort of minor league AFL team.  From what I was told they have been playing baseball on this field since the 50’s.  Norwood’s  stadium is definitely an older place.  The grandstands are mostly comprised of old brick construction with built in seats, benches and boxes.  Half the field has stands built in while the other half is a tiered, paved seating area where you would have to bring your chairs or blankets to sit on.  The main field is like your typical footy field, a large grass oval with goal posts positioned at both ends (Side note: If you havnt seen a footy game please find a way to view one, its like a non-stop NFL game with no pads, very entertaining).

Tunnel to the Field
We pulled into the back side of the stadium and made our way to the clubhouse.  It was a small room with a few benches to sit on, a toilet and two showers.  Small by most standards but not terrible.  I quickly put on some sunscreen and tied my cleats and off to the field I went.  To get to the field you have to walk the length of the field down a small brick corridor.  Every 20 feet or so was a cutout window with chain-link fence covering, giving you a sneak peak at the field.  At the end of the tunnel was a small ramp, then a door leading to the field.  As I came out of the tunnel my eyes immediately scanned the stadium and the field.  You could tell right away that this place was unique in its own right.  The field was placed in the corner of the footy stadium.  Homeplate was slightly off-centered to the main grandstand.  Right field was very short, with a 60 foot tall net guarding the houses that lay just beyond the stadium.  Center and left field were boxed in with a temporary metal wall, setup about three quarters the way down the footy field.  Centerfield was fairly deep but left was almost as short as right.  With all that room to work with on the footy field, why would they short the fences so much? 
View From The Dugout
The infield was all grass with dirt cutouts for the bases, mound and homeplate area.  There was a thick layer of sand distributed over the field to help even out the lumps in the field left over from footy.  The dugouts, or what they called dugouts, were small covered areas cut back into the stands.  There was also plenty of plastic patio chairs for everyone to sit on.  The bullpens were as temporary as temporary gets.  Our pen had two portable mounds, a heavy rubber plate and the back net was the cage used for batting practice.  We had to measure out each day the length of the mounds in the bullpen to make sure we were throwing at the correct distance.  It was funny to watch myself and several others, marching back and forth trying to figure out who’s distance was more correct.  The field had two foul areas as well.  The first was your typical foul ball area between the first and third baselines and what should be the stadium or dugouts.  The second area was just beyond that and considered out of bounds.  This second area is where the bullpens, dugouts and equipment were kept during the game and any ball caught in this area was considered a dead ball and not counted as an out.  Several times during the series we had first basemen trying to drag their feet into the “dead zone” ala NFL wideouts.  I jokingly told one of the umpires that he kept both feet in, it should be a catch and he gave me a blank look like he didn’t understand what I was saying.  Overall the field was definitely unique and fun to play on.  It definitely adds to the flavor of the game when you have a unique surface and stadium to play in.

View From The Stands
The aces came away from the first game with a 4-0 shutout.  Our two Japanese pitchers were phenomenal and carried us the whole night.  The next day we had a very strange day/night double header.  The first game started early in the morning so that several local schools could attend.  Fellow American, Nic Ungs started the game and pitched well.  He made one mistake pitch to the Bite’s best hitter and he hit a grand slam, which ended up being the game winner.  The final of the morning game was 9-6 Adelaide.  After that game we packed our bags and headed back to the hotel for 4 hours before returning later for the night game which was scheduled for 7pm.  I started the second game and had revenge on my mind.  I didn’t particularly care for the way several of the Bite’s players carried themselves on the field and I was going to make it my mission to silence their bats and their attitudes.   There have been several players throughout this league sofar that seem to have an air about them.  A holier than thou kind of way they carry themselves.  Maybe it’s the fact that Im older now or that Ive been humbled by this game, but there is no place for showboating and cockiness, especially here in winterball.  Guys are here to get work in and have fun and I feel like several people need to understand that the game is not here for them, they are here for the game.  Sorry about that little rant but it really peeves me when people carry themselves like they are bigger than the game.  Okay, back to the game. 
Visiting Dugout
Warming up in the bullpen before the game I didn’t feel like I was particularly sharp but my arm felt good and I felt like I had pretty good command of my fastball.  Our pregame strategy was to pitch in to everyone and bury breaking balls in the dirt late.  I started the game with a strikeout of the lead off hitter on a 2-2 fastball in at the knees.  That strikeout set the tone for the rest of the game.  I kept their hitters off balance by pitching in and changing speeds with curveballs, sliders and changeups.  I cruised through 5 innings with only one blemish, a homerun to left on  a fastball up and in.  Ive given up homeruns in every game Ive pitched so far down here and I have yet to give up that I felt was a true legitimate homerun.  I went back out for the 6th inning and got the first batter to ground out to third base.  I walked the next batter on a 3-2 changeup, my first walk of the game.  The next hitter was their best bat and I managed to strike him out on a fastball high and in.  I felt like things were going my way now.  The next batter was the 4 hole hitter.  I quickly fell behind him 2-0 on fastballs.  I got a strike on the next pitch then followed that was a hard fastball in.  He fisted it out to right field and now I had runners on second and first with two outs.  Our manager Phil Dale made his way out to the mound and I knew I was probably coming out.  He said I was at 80 pitches for the night and had 2 left handers coming up and he wanted to go with our lefty from the pen.  I came out of the game after going 5 and 2/3 giving up 4 hits, 1 run, while walking 1 and striking out 4.  By far my best game of the year and the best I have felt yet.  Danny McGrath (pronounced McGraw) came in and got the next hitter out to preserve the 3-1 lead and end the 6th inning.  We went on to win the game and silence their bats and their attitudes.  It was an uplifting win for the team and the pitching staff who once again came up big. 

Home Dugout and Stands
The final day in Adelaide we had a chance to take 3 out of 4 games and continue our hot streak as a team.  We started the game off well and held a lead late into the 7th inning.  However we ran into some trouble with a couple of baserunners and only 1 out.  Their best hitter came to the plate and we went to the pen.  Again we went to McGrath and turned hitter to the right side of the plate (he was a switch hitter).  The first pitch from Danny was a fastball and it was quickly turned around and blasted over the left center wall for a 3 run homerun and an eventual win.  A heartbreaker to end our trip for sure, after such strong outings from everyone.  We played with a bunch of young first time players on this trip and they all contributed in their own ways during our four game stint.  They say a split on the road is a win, but we could have had 3 games on this trip.  We’ll take it as a building block for the future and fly home with our heads held high.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Month Thoughts/Impressions/Observances

Movember Day 1

It’s the end of Movember and the end of my first month in Australia.  I thought I would take some time and go over some of my first impressions and observances from my time so far in the land down under.

Movember:  While training at SportXcel in Denver one morning, my trainer, Rob, reminded me that Movember was approaching.  I thought it would be a good idea to alter Movember and change it to No-Shave-November.  For the entire month of November my face would not touch a razor.  I ran the idea past my wife and she said “Its your face.”  Little did I know that my future winter league team was doing the same exact thing.  When I first arrived in Melbourne and met my teammates I noticed some pretty sweet moustaches.   
Movember Day 30

However Ive come to know all these guys by their facial hair, so come December 1st I may have to reintroduce myself to my teammates.  I documented my beard’s growth from clean-shaven to Grizzly Adams through pictures taken and posted to my Facebook.  At first the beard didn’t bother me.  Around the two week marker the beard definitely started to itch and annoy.  After I got use the to animal growing on my neck I was fine with the facial hair.  Other than looking homeless I didn’t mind it and I knew all along it was for a good cause.  The last week however, the a hairs on my upper lip have started curling over my top lip and annoying me and the hairs on my neck started to catch and various shirts and jacket zippers.  I was extremely relieved on December first to finally have my face back and have a lot less hair growing on my body. 

Aces "Locker Room"
Baseball:  Baseball for the most part is played exactly the same way.  The rules are the same and the strategies don’t differ at all.  However there are several subtle nuances that are different.  First and foremost before each and every game (at least at home) the entire team is announced and has to run out onto the field and lineup on the the 3rd base line.  Usually in the States this is reserved for opening day and the playoffs.  The second difference is hearing the Australian National Anthem instead of the one penned by Francis Scott Key.  Everyone still rises and removes their caps to salute the flag.  So far Ive only heard 2 live performances of the lyrics and I would love for someone to teach them to me so at least I know what they are saying.  Thirdly, its definitely noticeable that baseball is still very foreign to this country and its people.  The 7th inning stretch is widely known and sung in the USA without much coaxing from the announcers.  Here, I feel like the announcers/on-field personnel have to pull teeth to get people here to stand and sing along.  They also flash the lyrics on the video boards so fans can learn the song and sing along.  Off the field Ive observed that the team trainer is much much more than just a person who tapes ankles and wrists.  The “Physio” as they are known here is a combination trainer, doctor and massage therapist all rolled into one.  They are allowed to tape, heat, ice and treat.  They can order tests such as blood, MRI, CT Scans or anything else they need.  They also do a lot of deep tissue massage to relieve inflammation and tightness.  In the states when we ice our shoulders or knees we use plastic bags with ice in them, wrapped using ace bandages or towels.  Here they use bladders that are wrapped on with specially designed neoprene wraps.  They also use their version of a “GameReady” called a “Kodiak”.  Physio’s are also allowed to hand out anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Tylenol, and over the counter Voltaren.  Another popular drug here is called Panadol, which is like Advil but has Codeine mixed in with it.   They are very loose here with their drugs, unlike in the States where everything is kept under lock and key or prescription.  As far as this league goes, Ive noticed a propensity for players to ambush first pitch fastballs and back leg everything.  They are enamored with homeruns just as much here as in the States.  Especially when the Aces play at home, visiting teams try and hit every pitch out of the ballpark.  Our ballpark in Melbourne is a homer-dome.  It’s 280 feet to left, 400 to center and 260 feet to right.  The wind blows straight out to all fields at all times of the day and at times its gale force.  It doesn’t take much to get a ball up and out of our park.  I don’t feel so bad when I give up homeruns; I actually smile and laugh sometimes because it can be comical.    

Aces Field
Our field is at the Melbourne Show Grounds, which is used primarily for horses and livestock.  Our field is normally a horse arena where riders rope and wrangle and show off for judges.  At the end of their season the transformation begins and our field takes shape.  We have a luxury box (a converted shipping container) in right field for VIP’s and major sponsors, a Pressbox behind homeplate for the radio broadcasters and our dugouts are several rows of seats with a temporary roof built over top.  The warning track is composed mostly of white sand and is about 15 feet wide.  The outfield grass is similar to that you would find in a city park while the infield grass is shorter but thick like crab grass.  We have dirt cutouts for the base areas and a portable video screen out in left just past the wall.  We definitely make due with what we have even though sometimes it feels like we don’t have a lot.  Our locker room is usually reserved for a horse stable.  They laid down carpet in the whole area, brought in some steel standup lockers and green plastic patio chairs.  Our training room is also in the same room and it consists mainly of a folding massage table and another folding plastic table that houses all the tape and other training supplies.  For food we have a Coke fridge filled with water, Coke, and Mother (An energy drink like Monster) and a table with cold cuts, peanut butter, jelly and vegemite.  For those who desire a postgame shower we have 2 portable bathrooms out behind the clubhouse.  Each bathroom has 2 toilets a urinal and shower inside.  For portable units the water pressure is surprisingly good and the water gets hot instantly which is refreshing.  It is what it is and the Aces definitely make due with the little amount of stuff they have.  You have to have an open mind and a relaxed attitude and realize this isn’t the big leagues, you have to pay your dues all over again.

Chicken Parma
Food:  Food here to say the least has been amazing.  From chicken parm to burgers to fish everything here has tasted amazing.  Both Nic and I have been really impressed by the quality of the food here as well.  Nothing tastes fake or processed like some foods do back in the States.  Everything tastes like it was made fresh, whether it was or it wasn’t.  The food that our host family provides for us is also incredibly prepared by our host mom Elizabeth.  We’ve had spaghetti, steaks, fish, sausages and salads.  Here are a few of the differences Ive noticed.  They call ketchup tomato (pronounced toe-mah-toe) sauce, French fries are known as chips, they drink Cordial which is a fruit drink sold in a super concentrate that you have to water down in a glass, and their bacon is similar to the English rashers and very much unlike what the US considers bacon or pork belly.  The eggs we eat at our house are organic so the yolks are a brilliant shade of orange rather than the dull yellow we are use to in the States.  Breakfast at most every café is usually toast with eggs and bacon.  A “big” breakfast would be the same but also include hash browns, mushrooms and tomatoes.  At the house we have oatmeal as we know it, cereal and breakfast bars similar to Nutri-Grain.  My host family enjoys toast with butter and a very thin layer of vegemite smeared over the top.  Ive tried it this way and I definitely have to say, vegemite must be an acquired taste because it is very sour and bitter at the same time.  I’ve asked several people where this stuff comes from and the best explanation I’ve received is to think of it as the left overs at the bottom of the barrel from brewing beer.  Its labeled as yeast extract and it looks very much like nutella and tastes nothing like it.  I’ve often wondered how such a foul tasting spread has become a national symbol for a country.  Both Nic and I have ventured to the local supermarkets (Coles) and expected to see all the same brands we would find in the States.  Oh how naïve we were.  While some of the major brands are there such as Nabisco almost everything else is nonexistent.  A lot of the time they have equivalent items but sometimes they don’t have anything comparable.  For example, I was looking for scrubbing bubbles so I could clean my cleats at the field (commonly used in a baseball clubhouse).  I went to 4 different markets and could not find any kind of foaming bathroom cleaner, no was there the scrubbing bubbles brand.  On my 5th attempt I found a version of a foaming cleaner made by KaBoom so I naturally grabbed it up quickly.  Lastly, the price of things out here is absurd.  This doesn’t just apply to food, but to everything.  I feel like it’s twice as expensive to buy anything over here.  Eggs go for anywhere between 4-6 dollars a dozen depending on organic or not.  Fresh meats can be up 7 dollars a kilo.  Fruits and veggies such as bananas can be 2-3 dollars a kilo.  For reference a kilo is roughly 2.2 pounds.  For comparison bananas can go for $0.50 a pound in the States.  I would say the average price for eating a lunch at a local café can be 15-20 dollars.  The nice part about eating out though is you don’t tip.  Waiters and waitresses get paid like 15 dollars and hour and that’s just starting pay.  I think that’s why everything is so expensive out here because the base pay is so much higher so the cost of living is also much higher.  Ive only been here for a month and havnt really explored some of the foods that Melbourne is known for so Im excited for the next month to get out and explore the cultures and foods this city has to offer.

Fashion:  This has been a pretty frustrating part of the trip so far for me.  I tried to pack lightly when I came down and brought the basics.  Jeans, collared shirts, a few t-shirts,  shorts, tennis shoes, sandals and a few jackets.  Im not saying Im any kind of fashion guru or even have a good fashion sense myself but I feel like this country is a few decades behind in the fashion world.  Popular get ups include, skinny jeans (I have no idea how or why this popular anywhere in the world), white tube socks, thongs (also known as flip-flops), short shorts, printed singlets (we know them as wife beaters), and printed t-shirts.  Ive gotten some pretty weird looks from people because my shorts went past my knees, my jeans were baggy and my collared shirts weren’t form fitting.  The fashion here seems to be the shorter the shorts the better, the tighter the jeans the better, the tighter the t-shirt the better, and the looser the printed singlet the better.  Often you will see people walking around with their short shorts and white tube socks pulled up high while rocking the Chuck T’s.  Ive seen guys who’s singlets actually hang lower than the bottom of their shorts, rocking thongs and backwards hats and they are the cool ones. It doesn’t make much sense to me but Im confused.  Who is right?  Is my sense of fashion that far off or is it the Aussie’s?  When going out to a bar at night or a club, a t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes will get you in but not if your jeans are loose fitting and you cannot rock New Balance shoes.  When going to the golf course they will ask you to leave if you wearing ankle socks or non-white socks.  Cargo shorts are often a no go for the golf course as well.  So you have to look nice on a golf course but you can be a beach bum at the club?  See my confusion?  Fashion is one of those things I will never quite understand.  I wear what fits and what is comfortable so usually I don’t have too many options however for the Aussie’s it seems that the less it seems to fit the more popular it is.
These are just a few of my observations.  I try to write stuff down when it comes up but I don’t always remember.  When enough stuff finally does come up I will continue this part of the blog and try to describe my experiences in detail the best I can.  I hope you all enjoy this and feel like you are here with me.  I think Ive mentioned it once before but if anyone who is reading this has questions about something down here that you want me to talk about or look into please comment below and let me know what it is.  I don’t bite….hard, I promise =)  Cheers Mates and thanks for reading!