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.    

Showgrounds
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!

Call It A Split



Teammate Jamie Lethborg
Looks Exactly Like
Napoleon Dynaminte
Someone told me a saying about Canberra.  They said the the most beautiful thing about Canberra is the road leading out of town.  While the road was indeed beautiful I thought the city had more to offer than I was able to see.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see Parliament house or the famed War Memorial.  The weather didn’t really cooperate with us during the trip.  It was rainy and really cold for the first three days.  In fact we got rained out of the second game and ended up playing a double header on Sunday.  The rain on Friday was hard, off and on at times but consistent throughout the day.  If I was going to see the sights that Canberra has to offer that would have been the day to do it.  Saturday morning it rained until we left for the field around 3:45pm so Saturday was a wash too.  Oh well maybe next time Ill get to see the sights more up close than this time around. 



Medina Outside
I did enjoy our accommodations however.  The outside of the building wad definitely dumpy looking and I think we all wondered what we were going to get.  The courtyard was over landscaped and over grown and the décor on the building was reminiscent of something from the 70’s.  Boy was I was surprised when I opened the door and walked into your suite.  To my left was our bedroom; two single bed with a  nightstand and a small closet.  To my right was a kitchenette with stove, range, fridge, sink and dishwasher.  The main living area had a couch, love seat, flat screen tv, coffee table and dining table with chairs.  Just beyond my bedroom was the bathroom complete with shower and washer and dryer.  Just past that another bedroom, slightly bigger than my room; also with 2 single beds but a bigger built in closet.  Out the back door was a patio and gate with easy access to the street.  A very modern


Medina Bedrooms
The ballpark was a short drive from the hotel which was accomplished in 3 large vans.  We pulled in through the back gate and unloaded our gear.  The field was a proper baseball field.  All grass, dirt infield, large spacious dugouts and deep fences.  A pitchers park for sure, except when the wind blows out.  From information I gathered from various sources, the Canberra ball club received a massive 3 million dollar grant from the government to redo their park.  That figure dwarfs the alleged 60k the Aces received.  Not sure why there was such a differential but this park definitely felt like a real minor league stadium.  The Canberra Cavalry are orange and black and have a similar color scheme to the Baltimore Orioles.  The team is mainly composed of imports similar to myself from America and Asia.  They do have a small contingent of Australian players however they don’t play a major role with the team.  There is no rule in the ABL that states you must have X amount of player from Australia on your team so I was curious as to why this team had so few.  The answer was simple.  Canberra is part of the ACT or Australian Captial Territory.  A small town with an equally small population and very few club teams to draw players from.  For example Canberra may have 6 club ball teams where a city like Sydney or Melbourne may have 30-40 club teams to draw players from.  The Cavalry matched up well with Aces.  Both teams had good pitching and good hitting.  Both teams lacked power but played station to station and manufactured runs.  We lost the first game of the series on a walk off homerun in the bottom of the ninth.  A heartbreaker to say the least as we had that final hitter in a 1-2 count and just hung a fastball in the wrong spot.  The next day was a washout as I previously stated, it rained all day and night.  Friday was a circus.  We started the game under ominous skies and ended up taking an hour and half rain to delay before continuing the game.  During that rain delay they only covered the mound and home plate because they thought the rain was subside quickly.  As the rain picked up in force they decided it would be a good time to pull the field tarp (A rarity in this league).  Almost as soon as the field tarp was drawn tight over the field the rain ceased.  Then both teams stood outside their dugouts waiting for an hour and half while no rain fell.  No real explanation as to why we continued to wait so we ended up having a little fun with practical jokes and foolish games with the other team.  We stuck gummy worms in the fingers of one of the Japanese players gloves then asked if we could play catch.  When he stuck his hand in his glove his smiling face soon turned to concern and everyone got a good laugh.  We were exchanging stories and trash talking with the other team by writing on baseballs and throwing them across the diamond.  The other team would respond and throw the ball back with their own talk.  Its amazing what baseball players can think of when they are bored.  After the rain delay the field crew pulled the tarp.  Almost immediately after they pulled the tarp and started the game back up it started raining again.  Ironic? Annoying? Yes.  The game was close with both teams scoring runs in the top and bottom half of the first few innings.  The ninth inning came and went and we were tied.  A fitting way for this game to go I guess.  It took until the 12th inning to determine a winner and it was the Melbourne Aces who managed to manufacture  2 runs in the top half of the 12th and hold off a late charge by the Cavalry to win the game by a run.  It was definitely a win we needed to have especially after playing so many close 1 run games and ending up on the losing side.  We ended up leaving the field around twelve midnight and arriving back at our hotel after a short stop for some food.  We had a double header in 10 hours and I was starting game 1.

Aussie Parking Job
The next morning my 7:30am alarm came too soon.  I stirred around before making some breakfast and coffee.  The rest of my roomates dressed as I did, in our uniforms and headed to the ballpark to play 2.  The first game was all Aces.  I pitched 5 strong innings, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits while striking out 4 and walking 1.  I did give up a homerun but in reality it was a flyball to right that was aided by the wind.  I threw 80 pitches in that 5 inning span upping my previous total by 16.  My arm felt strong all day and my command was the best it had been since I arrived.  I left the game with a 5-3 lead.  After I came out the offense turned up the heat and pounded out something like 20 hits and 14 runs.  The second game was a lot closer.  Their starter put up zeros for 7 innings while our starter kept the game close.  We tried to  mount a late inning comeback but fell short 4-1 thus splitting the series.  It was definitely a fun series for us.  We got to play in a true baseball field with true dimensions and we were able to get the offense going with lots of hits.  We played decent defense (don’t get me wrong, we had some issues with simple things like flyballs) and pitched well.  Even though it was a split I think it was a win for the Aces.

After the game everyone showered and changed into their travel clothes.  We had some time to kill so we drove back into town to grab some non-airport food and to wind down from the long day we just endured.  Fellow American Nic Ungs and I ate at a little café in town where we both ordered the wagyu beef burger which came at the recommendation of the staff.  We both enjoyed it immensely and ate every last crumb.   It was the perfect wind down to the long day and the perfect precursor to the short flight we were about to embark on.  Overall I would say Canberra needs a second look, and not just by me.  I think it gets a bad wrap because of where it is, the business that happens there.  I thought the scenery was great, the fans were better and the baseball perfect.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On The Road Again


Gathering at the Airport
We travel the days we play.  So today is Thursday (Wednesday in the States) and we play tonight in Canberra.  Canberra is the capital city of Australia.  It’s a rather small city and according to locals a fairly undesirable place to live unless you are a politician.  The story goes that back in the day Melbourne and Sydney were battling it out for the right to be the capital city and whomever was in charge of the decision said you all can get fucked and picked a spot in the middle of the two cities known as Canberra.  It’s a short flight from Melbourne to Canberra, approximately a 45 minute flight.  I brought my passport to the airport thinking that my US drivers license wouldn’t qualify as proper ID.  Come to find out they didn’t ask for any ID just confirm my name and that’s it.  Our boarding passes were not what most would know.  Instead it looked like a cash register receipt with a bar code on the bottom.  Just scan that and you are on the plane.  Similar TSA rules apply such as no liquids, no flammables, and no knives.  However when we went through security all they asked me to do was remove my computer from the bag.  I didn’t have to remove my belt, take off my shoes or empty my pockets.  I passed through security with a  breeze and waited at my gate to board the plane.  When we arrived at our destination we gathered our bags and headed out to the cars.  The team rented 4 large vans for the equipment and players.  We loaded the equipment in one car and the rest of the vans were reserved for players and coaches.  After loading up it was short drive to our destination, the Medina.  Not a hotel but more of a dorm room the Medina looks old as dirt on the outside and ultra modern on the inside.  Each room has 2 bedrooms with 2 single beds, a living space with coaches and flat screen tv and a kitchenette with fridge, oven, range and sink, and a bathroom with tub/shower, sink and washing machines.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the door.  Not what I had expected upon arrival.  The weather for this trip is suppose to be cold and rainy the whole time.  Drizzle seems to come and go as it
Krispy Kreme: Even in Australia
pleases and never results in much more than a few drops here and there.  Ill write more about this city as I explore it so stay tuned.  Ive asked around and found Im suppose to visit Parliament House and the War Memorial, but other than that Canberra doesn’t have much to offer…Ill be the judge of that. 

First Homestand in the Books!

ABL: Aces vs Perth Heat

We just completed our first homestands of the year.  The first against the defending champion Pert and the second against Brisbane.  I started the last game of the series against Perth.  It was my first time on the mound against real competition in over 14th months.  I was nervous to say the least and unsure as to how many pitches to throw and how it was going to feel.  You can only simulate so much in bullpens or even live batting practice.  Nothing compares to real game speed and real game adrenaline.  Before stepping  up to the mound to throw my first pitch, I closed my eyes and did a quick reflection and thanks to everyone on my journey.  To all the people that played catch with me, to my rehab trainers to my wife and kids, to my family and to anyone else who had a hand in this moment that was about to happen.  I took a deep breath, exhaled, stepped on the mound and looked in to my sign.  A single finger went down pointing to a fastball away.  The wind up, the pitch….ball one.  There it was, my first pitch in competition in over 14 months and it was low and away.  The rest of the first inning was unexciting to say the least.  I walked the first batter, who then stole second.  The next batter got a single to score the run from second.  A few hits and a stolen base later I was already down 3-0.  I settled down to finally record three outs and head back to the dugout.  After high fiving the team and sitting down several guys came over to cheer me up.  Its not how Hollywood would have portrayed it but it was a step in the right direction.  The second inning I ran out there and tried to be a bit looser.  I was quite tight in the first inning.  With a flurry of emotions and expectation I forgot to be loose and have fun.  The 2nd inning was much better than the 1st.  I got three quick ground balls and before I knew it I was walking back to the dugout with a smile on my face and pressure relieved.  I tried the same tactic the 3rd inning and after getting a quick 1st out, struggled to find the elusive 2nd and 3rd outs.  I ended up giving up a hit and a homerun (which is nothing special in our park, but that’s something I can talk about at a later date.) before getting out of the inning.  It was in the books.  My 1st outing in more than 14 motnhs and I was down 5-0 on 6 hits, 1 walk and no strikeouts.  My velocity on the radar gun was very promising.  I sat 84-87mph which I was really stoked about because it had been months since I last knew my readings.  Overall I was glad to get the first one out of the way even though it was not what I was hoping for.  I threw 60 pitches in 3 innings and I felt every single one of them when the game was over.  I had almost forgotten that pitching during the season causes constant aches and pains in the body, such is the life of a baseball player.
            We ended up getting swept by Perth 4-0, they have yet to lose a game in the month of November.  The next team to come in was the Brisbane Bandits and the Aces were hungry for some more wins.  We took 3 out of 4 games including a sweep of a double header on Sunday, spearheaded by fellow American Nic Ungs who took a perfect game into the 7th before surrendering a hit and a run.  I started the second game and felt great for 3 innings.  I was throwing strikes commanding the zone getting ground balls and pitching effectively.  I started to tire late in the 3rd and was missing my spots, flying open and getting winded.  I had a long sit between the 3rd and 4th innings and when I finally went out for the 4th couldn’t get as loose as I was hoping.  I ended up giving up 3 runs before getting out of the inning was with a ground ball double play.  4 innings, 3 runs, 1 strikeout, 1 walk on 64 pitches, another stepping stone in the right direction.  With each outing I feel like my arm is getting stronger and my stuff is getting sharper.  Im remembering the pace of the game and how to do the little things like hold runners, vary my looks, pitch in and out and change speeds.  I recovered much more quickly after my second outing which to me is a sign that my body is adjusting the rigors of the game.
            We ended the homestand on a positive note by taking 3 out of 4 from Brisbane but overall we were 3 and 5 at home.  Not a great start but as a team we are starting to heat up, pitch well and swing the bat.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rags to Riches

Union Hotel
Movin' on up!  My living situation took a turn for the better this past week.  I was originally at the Union Hotel which to say the least was a dump.  Take a look at this picture.  What you are seeing is all there was to the room.  One hanging light, one outlet with 2 plugs, a queen sized bed, a tube tv with 4 channels and a bathroom.  I was lucky to have the bathroom because the other American's room didnt have one.  He had to use the community bathroom similar to what you would find at a major college or university.  After letting the front office and coaching staff know that our accommodations were less than satisfactory they went to work on finding us a new place to hold down for the season.  A few days later a member of the coaching staff informed us that he had a mate who use to play for the Aces back in the day and was a huge baseball fan.  He had a house, no a mansion, with a few extra rooms.  Fellow American Nic Ungs and I were happy to be moving out of the Union and into this new place.  We had to stay the rest of the weekend at the Union until the house was ready for our arrival but on Monday afternoon we gave a ring to Tony Cornish, the owner, and he came to pick us up.  We loaded our bags and headed on a 10 minute car ride to his
Entry Way
house.  We pulled in front of this brick home with a large iron swinging gate in front of the shed (read: garage) and heavily landscaped front yard.  We were home.

We stepped through the entry gate and made our way to the front door.  On the front porch resides Yu Yi (SP? Im not sure its chinese) dragon-like dog looking creature with chinese writing covering its back.  Yu Yi is said to bring luck to those who feed it coins and pet its head.  Tony told us to make sure and give him a pet before leave for games as a sign of good luck and well being.  After petting Yu Yi we entered through the double doors into the home.  The first thing you are struck by is the swinging staircase and chandelier in the entry way.

Next your eyes go directly to the intricate wooden floor.  This is something my dad would definitely be proud of.  All the different pieces of wood were delicately inlayed to form one solid pieces.  Beautiful.  Tony gave a grand tour of the home and where we would be staying.  First we headed straight past the stairs and into the main living area.  To our left was a bar stocked with all different kinds of alcohol from Johnny Black to Jameson.  The main living area had 2 leather couches, 2 recliners and a long dining table where dinners would be eaten.  There was a flat screen tv with Foxtel (Like DirectTV) which got NFL games so I could watch on Monday's (Sunday back in the States).  The kitchen sat directly behind the living room.  It was your standard kitchen; refrigerator, stove, ovens, coffee machine etc.  Elizabeth, Tony's wife, said she would cook us dinner every night unless we weren't going to be home until late.  She said we had full access to all the food in the fridge and pantry to use at our disposal.  That was music to my ears since I love to cook.  I even offered to cook dinner on nights we weren't playing.  Next Tony showed us the backyard.  He had a full sized tennis court, NBA style basketball hoop, swimming pool and bbq.  We had hit the jackpot.  We went back into the living room and then downstairs to the "mancave".
Living Room

Inside Tony's mancave was a bigger flat screen tv with a premium bose sound system hooked up to it.  An oversized pool table, bar and memorabilia decorating the walls.  Through a door to the right we entered into the hot tub room.  A massive hot tub Tony says takes 2 hours to heat up but we had free reign to use it.  Nic and I both looked at each other and smiled because we knew for sure we would put it to good use.  We made our way back up to the main floor then curled our way up the entryway staircase to where all the bedrooms were located.  Nic and I would be in Jack and Jill style rooms.  I got the room on the right and he had the room on the left and we shared a bathroom in the middle.

 Our rooms were decorated for the girls that once lived in them but I didnt mind.  It was 100% better than where I had been at the Union.  The bed was comfortable, the sheets clean and they even had heating pads on them in case it got too cold at night.  Tony and Elizabeth seemed happy to have us as guests in their home and we were eternally grateful.
Kitchen
There are also two children living in the house with us.  William is a pre-teen boy with an absurd amount of energy and Zoey, also pre-teen, is the much more mellow girl who sings like an angel and knows how to play several instruments including the guitar, piano and clarinet.  Willy, as he is affectionately know, and I get along pretty well.  He enjoys playing basketball and baseball as well as xbox and video games.  We have already set a date for some modern warfare action and I plan to show him no mercy.

Needless to say we were both extremely happy to be in the situation we were in.  We are visiting in a foreign country, living in style and playing the game we love.  Now we can just concentrate on what we need to do on the field and not have to worry about what we are going home to.  An enormous weight lifted from our shoulders.

Floor Inlay
Den
Backyard
Spa/

ManCave







Monday, November 14, 2011

Can I just get a coffee please?

Thought Id throw out some commentary on the coffee situation out here.  In the area where Im currently living there are no Starbucks or Coffee Bean or even a Seattle's Best.  Just a bunch of cafes and restaurants, most of which serve coffee.  I dont know if we drink terrible coffee in the States are Aussie's drink complicated coffee here.  All I wanted when I first had breakfast here was a drip with room so I could add cream/milk and sugar or splenda.  Unfortunately there is no such things as a drip with room; and I for sure havnt seen splenda, sweet n low or equal.  Through some interrogation of the local baristas Ive found out that if you want just a straight coffee you order a "flat black".  Its exactly as the name implies.  Its a small cup of coffee, a few ounces, maybe 4-6, and its black.  Not translucent black like some coffee back home but black like black paint in can from Home Depot.  Its quite bitter but not to the point where its undrinkable.  Ive actually come to like it.  Other options are "Flat White" which is a flat black mixed with milk.  You also have your bevy of latte's and machiados.   I would say it definitely has a more European feel and flair.  Dont take for granted next time you go through the drive thru at Starbucks or brew a hot cup of Dunkin Donuts because in some parts of the world you cant do that.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Questions?

If anyone has any questions about what is going on out here or the culture or something they want me to learn more about please either email or post in the comments and let me know what it is.

The Trip So Far...

I just got my internet connection all figured out so here is what you've missed so far: (Sorry for the lack of pictures, once I get into a more permanent situation ill post those)


November 8th 2011
Packing:  I spent most of the day packing, unpacking, repacking and then wondering if I didn’t pack enough  or I packed too much.   I hate packing,  Almost as much as I hate folding laundry.  I don’t have a problem doing the laundry, I have a problem folding the laundry, don’t ask....  The night before I made a 4 page list (post-it notes) of things I needed to bring including clothes, baseball stuff, electronics and other stuff.  Clothes wise I didn’t quite know what to bring since Melbourne seems to have really odd weather patterns.  Similarly to Denver, they can get all 4 seasons in a week.  I ended up packing a little of everything, collared shirts, tshirts, jeans, shorts, running shoes, flip flops and a bathing suit, because I do plan on showing those Aussies what a real athlete looks like at the beach!  After I settled on what clothes to bring I went about gathering all my “I” electronics.  Thanks to my neighbor Matt Schultz I brought and Ipad 2, I packed both my Ipods (workout and casual), My Iphone which I bought specifically to unlock and use down under (long story but I also have a blackberry, Thanks Alex).  I also packed my macbook and all the accessory cables I could find.  I have a virtual rats nest of chargers, data cables and things I brought because they looked like they might work.  Needless to say I am completely teched out and should have no issues communicating with the internet world.  Hence why you are reading this now =)  Finally and most importantly I packed my Xbox, because what would a professional athlete be without his video games.  Hopefully it works down there, Im pretty sure I did the research and all I really need is a step down box to lower the voltage from 220 to 110.  I made sure to go out and get Modern Warfare 3, Batman Arkham City, Dead Island and Gears of War 3…that should keep me busy for awhile.  Other than clothes and electronics I figured Im going to need to get outside once in awhile so I also brought along my golf clubs to test out, what I hear, are some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world.  A full day of packing to say the least, but at last it was done and I could sit down and relax for a minute.  Then it was off to the airport…
Airport:  My beautiful wife and children took me to the airport this evening.  Brady fell asleep in the car as usual and didn’t get to “see” me say goodbye to him.  Hudson was wide eyed and bushy tailed and was able to give me a smile and a coo before I left.  Pam did her usual girl thing and began to well up and I had to say goodbye but it was quick so she didn’t have time to go into full on water works.  American airlines might be the worst airline in the world.  Kind of ironic they are named “American” because everything they do seems to be done to cut corners.  As Ron White would say, I got put on a pack of gum to fly from Denver to LA.  It was one of those Canadian Regional Jets (American airlines?) so it was small.  In typical fashion I got the seat way in the back next to the other biggest dude on the plane.  Luckily for both of use the flight wasn’t full and I switched to the row behind and had it all to myself.  Instead of sitting next to the biggest dude, I sat next to the jet engines which output a lot of heat and most of that heat seemed to penetrate the wall I was sitting next to so needless to say it was a bit toasty.  I think is started to pre-tan.  Upon arrival in Los Angeles, our gate was occupied so we had to sit on the runway for 15 minutes while our gate cleared out.  Since the plane was so small almost everyone had to check their carryon luggage because it was too big for the overhead bin and when I exited the plane finally, half the passengers were waiting on the tarmac for their bags to off load.  I don’t know if you have been to LAX on American on a pack of gum, but you arrive at what can only be described as temporary bungalows, similar to the ones you see at most schools and construction sites.  You exit the plane on the homemade rickety steel ramps, walk down to the tarmac, pick up your bag then walk into the bungalow.  From there you have to take a shuttle to main terminal, from which you can make your connections.  Needless to say Im not a fan of American and I only flew them because I have a boat load of frequent flyer miles saved up from my credit card spending habits (Thanks Citi Bank).  Once I got settled in the terminal I went to try out the wifi on the phone I am taking down with me.  However, LAX still exists in the early 90s because they don’t offer free wifi unless you are a TMobile subscriber.  What crap!  I can goto the Dayz Inn or Starbucks and get free wifi.  The Denver airport offers free wifi to all visitors, yet LAX feels the need for me to buy a day pass?  Hell no!  I may sound snooty or stuck up but hey we live in  the technology age where data gets passed around like a joint at a bob marley concert.  Everywhere, especially massive public hubs like airports should offer free wifi to its patrons.  Yet another reason I love Denver!
Welcome to Auckland:  Let me start by saying I love Qantas.  When I got to LAX I tried to upgrade to business class for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately it was only cash transactions at the gate for matters like that so I was SOL but the two gate agents, Ken and Carl (Who was sporting a wicked mullet) hooked me up with a primo exit row window seat.  Once I boarded the plane, they paraded me past the business class seats I tried to purchase and then back to the cattle pen they call economy.  I found my seat to be extremely roomy yet comfy enough to where I didn’t feel cramped.  My seat had a folding arm attached which housed the in flight TV entertainment unit.  My seatmate was a gentlemen from New York by way of Alabama who happened to the a former head baseball coach at Auburn University.  He made the first several hours of the flight “fly” by.  We of course talked baseball and careers and injuries and world series…the usual.  Qantas then served us dinner, with my choices being Mahi Mahi and Chicken.  I opted for the fish because I wasn’t really in the mood for chicken.  Needless to the say the first was cooked to death and lacked much flavor.  I wasn’t extremely hungry I picked around the fish a bit and ate the accompanying veggies and desert.  After dinner I thought I would check out in the flight entertainment system.  To my surprise everything was free of charge (take note American).  I opted to Captain America as I had wanted to see this movie in theaters and because Im the proud father of a 2 year old, I was unable to.  I ended up passing out about 15 minutes into the movie which was fine by me because I was exhausted from the days travel and packing adventures.   When I finally awoke it was 745am Denver time and we were somewhere over the Pacific.  I cleared my head, stretched out, used the spacious lavatory and when I returned to my seat ordered a coffee from the flight crew.  I opened my window and to my surprise saw a bright full shining moon staring back at me.  It was 745 my time but definitely not wherever we were.  The coffee was refreshing and I resumed the movie where it left off.  At the conclusion of the movie, which was very entertaining, the rest of the cabin had begun to stir with activity.  Cabin light were being switched on and the line at the bathroom was several people deep.  Breakfast service then began and I ordered the asparagus omelet, which again was flavorless but satisfying.  During breakfast I started my second movie of the morning; The Hangover Part II.  Apart from being ridiculous and absurd it was very funny but felt like it was just a rehash of the first movie just set in Asia.  I was entertained and that’s all I ask today of movies.  By the time the movie had finished we didn’t have much time left in our flight.  I buttoned up all my belongings in my bag, filled out my immigration card (which I later found out I didn’t need to) and talked to the friendly flight attendant sitting in front of me who happened to be from New Zealand.    Overall I would have to say that was a pretty easy 12 hour flight all things considered.  The food was decent the service was excellent and the seat was about as comfortable as an airplane seat can be.  Once I deplaned I found the nearest coffee shop, bought some fancy coffee (Plain White) and sat down and relaxed in the beautiful international terminal and enjoyed the views of the ocean just out of the reach of the airport.

Melbourne:  I arrived in Melbourne after a fairly long flight in from New Zealand.  For some reason I thought it was only a 2 hour flight but it ended up being more like 3.5 hour flight.  I did manage to knock out another movie I hadn’t seen in “Bridesmaids”.  I started Pirates of the Caribbean 4 but fell asleep after about 30 minutes, not due to the movie but more due to my confused internal clock.    Once I deplaned I went though customs with nary a hiccup and grabbed my bags from the carousel.  I was happy to see all 3 of my bags arrived safe and sound and unscathed (edit: Just noticed that TSA either cut off or took the “TSA Approved” lock that was on my clothes bag). 
             Once outside of customs I was greeted by a team official.  She drove me to my hotel where I was staying.  Along the way to the hotel I played 21 questions and tried to find out as much as possible about where I was staying, about cell phone plans, the field and anything else that came to mind that I was curious about.    She said that I was staying at the “Union Hotel” which was about a 10 minute walk from the ballpark.  She mentioned it was an older place but I took it in stride because Ive stayed at older places before and be quite happy.  When we finally arrived at the Union Hotel we unloaded my bags and walked inside.  I was immediately greeted by charts representing horse race betting, a bar, several TVs and the customary older gentlemen sitting in the corner chewing the fat.  I was beginning to get concerned that this place was going to suck and suck badly.  Soon after arriving a gentlemen came in and showed us up stairs to where I was staying.  He used the key to unlock the door to room 16.  Upon entering several thoughts ran through my head, the first of which was “Oh Hell No!”.  The room itself was about 12 foot by 8 foot.  There was a queen sized bed with never looking sheets and two pillows.   In the corner was a table with a flat screen tube tv (not a an LCD or Plasma flat screen).  Right then I knew my hopes of playing video games went down here were shot.  To my right was an armoire covered in a thick layer of dust, a crumpled pack of old cigarettes on top and no coat hangers inside.  I did have a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower which wasn’t the case for the other American staying at the same place.  He instead had a community bathroom just down the hall with toilets and showers.  I looked at the man who was showing us the room and asked politely if there was wifi or internet in the room and he politely said no, in fact the people who were staying at this “hotel” probably had no idea what the internet was or even how to use it.  You see the clientele of this place is generally older (read 60’s +) gentlemen who have basic needs, kind of like an old folks home.  I made it sound like it was ok, but deep down inside I knew it wasn’t.  With a wife and 2 kids back in the States I needed internet to be able to Skype and exchange emails with them.  I was very disappointed in the team for providing such awful accommodations. 
                 I dropped my bags off in the room and drove with the team representative to the ballpark to check out where I was going to be playing.  We pulled in the Melbourne Show Grounds and parked in left field.  I met several of the people working behind the scenes to make the ballpark look good for opening day , including the ground crew, scoreboard operator and General manager.  They all seemed excited that I was  there.   After checking out the field which looked pretty good , we went to go check out the clubhouse.  Their idea of the clubhouse was a couple of lockers thrown in a corner of a storage area usually reserved for the horses that occupy the show grounds when baseball is not in season.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I were commuting from home where I could keep most of my wares and just take to the ballpark what I need.  However that isn’t the situation, I’m staying at the Union Hotel and I get to the ballpark on foot or by tram.  The hits keep coming however.  We asked a front office member where the showers were and not surprisingly he didn’t know or seemed to think there were not showers available.  Once again if I was commuting from home this wouldn’t be that big of a deal but for those of us without that luxury its going to suck.  I later found a shower in the portable bathroom that was hitched just outside the clubhouse.  Its just big enough for one person however where it is placed it looks like Ill either have to walk outside in a towel to get to it or it might be accessible to the general public.  Overall the facilities are not that bad, I suppose they could be worse.  The field is in good shape, the locker rooms are passable and the showers are going to be a problem all season.
            I played some catch with fellow American import Nick Ungs.  He is a 32 year old pitcher from eastern Iowa who decided to play some winter ball instead of hanging them up. He has been here a few days longer than I have so he has a good lay of the land, so Ive been bouncing questions off of him.  After our catch we walked back to the hotel which wasn’t that bad of walk.  Along the way we exchanged stories of how we got to where we are today both professionally and personally.  Upon our arrival the hotel I told him I was getting a bit hungry so we decided to grab a drink and a bite to eat at the “The Union” restaurant which was conveniently located next to the Union Hotel.  The first thing I noticed when I looked at the menu was the price of things.  Australia is expensive and since the American Dollar is such crap right now it makes the sting of the Aussie prices that much more.  We started with two pints of Carlton Draft, a light hoppy beer that’s native to Australia.  Nick picked up the first round which came to 24 dollars!  Are you kidding me!  24 dollars for two pints of beer?  That’s absurd!  After the sticker shock wore off we ordered our meals.  I had the chicken burger with chips (read: fries) which came to 17 dollars.  Again sticker shock.   While we waited for our food to arrive we both took in some cricket that was playing on a nearby TV.  I try and understand the rules but I usually just start inventing them to make the game make sense to me.  I kind of understand how the game is played but I also know there are variations to the game and some other nuances that I just don’t notice.  However, Im sure by the time Im done playing down here Ill become a cricket, rugby, Aussie rules football expert.  Our first pints had run dry so I told Nick I would pick up the second round since he got the first.  I walked over to the bar, ordered to two drinks and prepared for the 24 dollar hit I was about to take.  The kind lady behind the bar told me it came to 16 dollars.  I was surprised, was it happy hour now?  16 dollars is still expensive but a lot more tolerable than 24.  I walked back to the table feeling a small sense of victory and told Nick it only came up to 16 dollars.  He thought the same as me, was it happy hour?  Our food arrived shortly after I sat down and to my amaze looked really good. Looks carried over into taste and we were both satisfied with what we had ordered.  Midway through our meal we grabbed a waitress and asked her about the beer price discrepancy.  She said that I had paid the correct price for the beer and Nick had been mischarged.  She then offered us both a pint on the house, which was nice since we both didn’t really feel like paying that much for two more beers.
       After dinner I was tired.  The days travel has taken its toll me and I was ready to wind down for the night.  I headed back to my room and after a quick shower and scrub of the teeth, I fell asleep for the night.