TORONTO, 14 July - Baseball is a long-term commitment.
Players dedicate themselves to the game for long seasons, hopeful that they will be able to maintain that dedication for numerous years. They are committed to the game, but also to the people that they meet within it.
Baseball is a family. It brings people together, keeps them together and gives them memories that last a lifetime, both on the diamond and off.
When Brisbane Bandits second baseman Brad Dutton went to visit his sister in America during this Australian Baseball League off-season, he had to make a stop to visit some baseball family as well.
Dutton’s baseball family is large and widespread, since during his college days he played at both Creighton University and Illinois Valley Community College. Before the ABL rolled back into town, the 30-year-old spent many years playing for Queensland and several of his Aussie winters overseas with the independent Rockford Riverhawks.
Of that family, the Richters will always have a special place in the infielder’s heart. They were Dutton’s host family several years ago, and during his time with them he became just like one of their own.
“I was really happy to catch up with my college ball mates and family, especially the Richters,” Dutton said of his winter trip to America. “The Richters hosted me for years when I was younger. They were like a second family to me; my American family.
“I’m good mates with Colin [Richter] and his sisters. We had lots of barbeque and all of the guys from my junior college got together for a [night] in Wrigleyville after a Cubs game.”
During his time in the States visiting family, friends and various historic ballparks, Dutton’s trip to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, stood out.
“The Cubs game, like the Bandits, was really special for me,” he said. “It’s not about the actual game - [the Cubs] are doing terrible this year - but it was always something that my buddies and I did during college.
“Like back home [at Bandits games] it was a good meeting place for a night out and you always knew you would have a great time. I had a few extra tickets for the game I went to [in Chicago] and it wasn’t hard to find a few friends to skip work and come out.”
Dutton also took in games in Boston and New York, where he was mistaken several times for R.A. Dickey, knuckleballer for the Mets. Though they bear a striking resemblance at first glance, the special treatment often died down when people realised that Dutton wasn’t actually the man who threw two one-hitters this season.
The Aussie enjoyed his time at the American ballparks, but baseball wasn’t the primary focus during his trip.
“It was always my intention to head over and see my sister Jodie,” Dutton said. “I tried to fit it in between seasons and knowing that my parents are going over during Christmas break and Wade probably a bit after made it the perfect timing. [Being] during the MLB season didn’t hurt.
“All I wanted to do was spend time with [my sister] and relax in Connecticut and watch some baseball. We did a few things like go to Boston and do the Freedom Trail, plus eating a lot of American food.”
Now back home in Brisbane after his vacation across the globe, Dutton is continuing to spend his off-season relaxing.
“[Since the end of] the season I have been enjoying my time away from baseball,” the Bandits captain said. "[I’ve been] watching the footy, going to the races, catching up with mates and spending time with the family.”
It’s not all fun and games for Dutton however, as he still has to put in his time at his day job. It just seems a little easier during the ABL off-season when baseball and work aren’t colliding, making for a hectic schedule week after week throughout the summer months.
“Like most players on the Bandits we work in-season as well as off-season,” he said. “It’s a lot easier when you can go home after work and relax and sleep instead of playing a game.”
Brisbane’s everyday second baseman had to battle through numerous injuries to ensure his appearance in each game for the Bandits in their second season. Dutton appeared to win the fight, as he hit .300/.340/.400 with four homers, six doubles and 24 runs driven in.
His season stats are a vast improvement over last year, an indication that the adjustment period to the comeback league is over, and his contributions will only continue. The older Dutton brother on the team also led the Bandits in runs scored with 31.
“Personally I thought I had a good season,” he said. “As a team we played really well. Hopefully the young guys will gain confidence and we can improve to our goal next year [of getting closer to the championship].”
The younger guys on the team will be key to the Bandits success for the coming season. Brisbane had six rookies on the field this year and several other fresh faces were still getting their feet wet after the ABL’s inaugural season. Those young players will look to the veteran leaders like Dutton in order to continue their acclimation and to remain comfortable with the competition.
“Hopefully the young guys will learn from last season and know what they have to do for this upcoming season to improve,” he said. “They all play the right way and will do anything to help the team win.”
The man manning the keystone sack is looking forward to October and getting back into the Bandits uniform. Dutton is just hoping for improvement upon what the team has already been able to accomplish in its first two years.
“Hopefully guys will come back and will have an itch to get the Bandits back to where they need to be because I know it can be a long season,” he said. “If we keep the core guys healthy and playing then it will be a very exciting season.”
At the end of the ABL season in Brisbane, the veteran declared that the Bandits are a team of contenders, and fans have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming months.
“I’ve learnt that we have a team that can make the playoffs,” Dutton said in February. “With another year under our belt, our team will be in contention to get to the end. If everyone still believes in the Bandits and we keep playing the game the right way, anything can happen next season.”