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League of Dreams
The ABL gives players from all over the globe a chance at fulfilling their baseball dreams
11/28/2011 2:10 PM ET
Jon Durket focuses on the mound
Jon Durket focuses on the mound (Scott Powick / SMP Images)
Living the American dream just seems so much easier from here.

Here of course, is Australia, where America's favourite pastime flourishes during the northern hemisphere's winter months.

The Australian Baseball League gives a unique set of players a chance at experiencing a baseball lifestyle that they never would have known otherwise. For Jon Durket, a Division-I college player and Independent League pitcher, playing down under offers fulfillment, and is pretty close to being a dream come true.

"It's an amazing opportunity," Durket said of playing in the ABL for the Brisbane Bandits. "I mean, you're a big leaguer in another country. And for someone like me who hasn't really been seen in the States and hasn't gotten a chance to be drafted or play affiliated baseball, it's a chance to feel like a big leaguer for a season. And it's a chance to play with big leaguers."

Playing with the big boys can be a double-edged sword however, as being around the best also means facing the best. Coming out of the bullpen for the Bandits, Durket has only made three appearances, going 5 1/3 innings over that span. While the fact that he has allowed only one hit and holds a 1.69 ERA is impressive, his 6:6 walk-to-strikeout ratio is an indication that the southpaw needs to learn to command the zone a little better.

"This is the best competition I've played in," the 24-year-old said. "I've played independent ball in the States but you've got guys here like Alex [Maestri] and you have a lot of guys here who have Double-A experience and even some big-league experience. And we have the Japanese players who play Major League Baseball over there. So the level of competition is definitely the best I've ever experienced."

The lefty started his college baseball career at the University of California San Diego but transferred to Wright State University to face Division-I calibre competition. There he was named a first-team Horizon League pitcher in 2008, earning Pitcher of the Week honours twice.

During his time at college playing ball, Durket also managed to earn himself an undergraduate degree in political science and a master's degree in business administration, his MBA.

After being sidelined for 11 months due to Tommy John surgery in 2009, Durket threw 29 innings in his fifth year at WSU before joining the Lake Erie Crushers and the White Sands Pupfish. When the left-hander signed his contract with the Frontier League in 2010 he became the fifth WSU player to go to professional ball that year, marking a new record for the school.

Now, without a full season yet under his belt since surgery, Durket is trying to string together some innings and make the most of the 33 games the 6-6 Bandits have left to play.

Originally the California native came to Australia to play for a local club team, the Redlands Rays, with hope in the back of his mind that he might be able to make his way into the ABL. With the help of Bandits manager and former Philadelphia Phillies infielder Kevin Jordan, Durket did just that.

"I played independent ball in the States with a guy from Australia named Kieron Bradford and he set me up with Redlands," Durket said. "And I pitched pretty well. KJ came to watch me pitch and he gave me a chance to come out to a couple of training sessions. He gave me a shot to play for the Bandits and now I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Though the Rays are likely missing the presence of one of only two of imports on the mound, Durket is still active within the organization, teaching baseball and pitching fundamentals to Redlands youth on a regular basis.

"Redlands has an academy which is one of the ways they teach their juniors baseball," the lefty said. "And I love coaching. I give pitching lessons when I'm at home just in my free time so I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to help out the club because they helped me out by getting me over here. So I thought it was a good way to give something back."

What is the biggest lesson that Durket passes along to the young baseball players?

"I just want to teach them that the most important thing is to have fun," he said. "We teach them the fundamentals. They range from like eight years old to 16 so there are different levels of development but we just try to make sure they know the fundamentals and that they're having fun all the time."

But fun isn't the only thing on the southpaw's mind when he takes the mound in Brisbane.

"I'm hoping to get some innings and it's a great experience to play somewhere in the winter because there aren't many places to play in the States in the winter. And obviously if I get seen and it progresses to another job it's a bonus. But ultimately it's a chance to win a championship in another country in a pretty serious league, the most serious league here. And that's something that I want to accomplish."

On the way to that championship quest, you can find Durket living the dream down under in the ABL.

"The league is run really professionally and it's the top competition in this country. In the States obviously the major leagues is the highest level you can get to. In Australia, the highest you can get is the ABL. It makes you feel like a big leaguer because there's no step above you."

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