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Trent Oeltjen represents Australia
09/22/2011 8:51 AM ET
 
Although baseball has never had the obsessive following in Australia that can be found in other parts of the world, its national teams have had a surprising level of success. New South Wales' Trent Oeltjen has been as much a part of these triumphs as anyone, having represented the green and gold in five major international competitions.

Growing up in Sydney, Oeltjen developed a love for baseball at an early age. He learned quickly that for any Australian with baseball aspirations the dreams were the same: "... to win a World Series and put on a big league uniform, and to win a medal for your country in the Olympics," he said.

As Oeltjen worked towards these ambitious achievements, he first played for Australia at 17 years old, at the World Junior Baseball Championship. After a strong tournament, where he caught the attention of Major League Baseball scouts, he signed a professional contract with the Minnesota Twins.

Three highly productive years in the American minor leagues followed, and Oeltjen was chosen to play for the Australian national team at the Athens' Olympics in 2004. "The Olympics is big in Australia," he said. "Any time you get to represent your country on the world's stage, it's a dream come true for any Australian kid.

"Coming into the tournament we were definitely the underdogs, with some big Japanese names, Cuba, Chinese Taipei, and some other great teams," recalled Oeltjen. After going 4-3 in preliminary play, including scoring an Olympic record 22 runs against the Netherlands, Australia shocked the baseball world, upsetting heavily favored Japan 1-0 in the semifinals.

Despite losing 6-2 to Cuba in the Gold Medal Game, Australia had won silver and surpassed all expectations. "It was a special feeling to step up their on the podium, with all the mates you've grown up with and everyone back home watching and cheering for us."

The magnitude of the accomplishment and its impact on the growth of baseball still resonates with Oeltjen. "I really think that was the first step in putting Australian baseball on the map," he said. "I think that really turned the tables. People now started to pay attention to us and give notice."

Oeltjen represented Australia again, at the 2005 Baseball World Cup, and then in 2006 at the inaugural World Baseball Classic. In both competitions, Australia struggled to come close to its lofty Olympic standards.

As he continued to progress through the minor league ranks, having made the prestigious 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game for top prospects, Oeltjen found his greatest success to date at the 2007 Baseball World Cup. He led the tournament in three major categories, hitting at an incredible .523 clip, stealing seven bases, and scoring nine runs. Oeltjen became the first Australian in the event's 37 years to make the All-Star team and he also won its Batting Award.

"The World Cup really helped me turn around my career," Oeltjen proclaimed. "It helped me get the confidence to know that I could play against some of the best players in the world. Since then I've found that my careers really turned around." A trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks came soon after and he continued his torrid hitting at the AAA level, batting .317.

More international duty followed, as Oeltjen went 6 for 12 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Not surprisingly his success for Australia coincided with another baseball dream realised. On 6 August 2009, Trent Oeltjen made his Major League debut as the Diamondbacks took on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He's well aware of the correlation between his two baseball worlds. "The Australian team's been nothing but help for me throughout my career," Oeltjen stated. "It allowed me to play in big stadiums, in big games. Playing in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic in front of a lot of people, it really gets you ready for the Major Leagues."

Oeljten, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, looks forward to his next opportunity to represent Australia. "I take pride in playing in the Australian team and will continue to do so in the future," he said.

Looking ahead, he expects continued success, both for the Australian national teams and for the ever growing number of players who could potentially make up those squads. With its biggest stars eager to represent the game and the country they love at every opportunity, expect more baseball dreams to come true.

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.