CAMDEN, New Jersey, 27 July - The Camden Riversharks might just be able to consider themselves an honorary seventh Australian Baseball League team.
After all, the Atlantic League squad is host to four ABL players, including the league’s reigning batting champion, Brian Burgamy of the Canberra Cavalry. The team also includes starting pitchers Mike McGuire, also of the Cavalry, Kevin Reese from the Melbourne Aces, and Sean Jarrett of the Brisbane Bandits.
Not only did Burgamy lead the entire Aussie league offensively, hitting .409/.510/.677 with 12 home runs and 34 runs driven in on the season, but he happens to be leading all Riversharks hitters as well. The first baseman credits his time down under for assisting him in achieving success across leagues and seasons.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “[It’s] a lot to do with confidence. It helped me work on a lot of things that I needed to work on to get better, just for this league as well. [It was] just the mindset of saying that I could go out and play the way that I know I can play and keep the momentum going into the season.”
Taking home the Aussie circuit’s batting crown was a source of pride for the 31-year-old native of Oklahoma.
“It means a lot,” Burgamy said. “There are a lot of good players there that had pretty good years. To finish on top, it means a lot. No matter where you are, no matter where you’re playing, if you finish first in anything it always feels pretty good.”
During the most recent ABL season, McGuire set a new top mark for strikeouts in a single game. In November, the right-hander got the win over the Adelaide Bite, fanning 14 batters in just 6 1/3 innings. Despite what he was able to accomplish, exploring the new continent was the highlight of the 26-year-old’s season.
“Just going over there and experiencing Australia,” McGuire said. “It was something I thought I’d never do. And to go over there and play baseball and tour around the country, it was exciting.”
Jarrett shared his teammate’s sentiment in experiencing the game down under.
“The highlight was just getting to know all the guys from Australia and the different cultures and getting to meet the different people,” Brisbane’s right-handed hurler said. “That was a lot of fun...It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had playing baseball since I’ve been professional.”
Though Reese was hesitant at first about heading to Australia, the Aces opening day starter would be the first person to recommend it now.
“I tell [people] if they get the opportunity to go to Australia, go,” the 27-year-old said. “It doesn’t matter what opportunity you get, whether it’s baseball or work, go. [There are] great people and [it’s] just an all-around good time.”
Added Burgamy: “Australia’s a beautiful country. It was awesome. Every city we went to was amazing and it was just enjoyable altogether.”
Each of the Aussie league players-turned-Riversharks had an incredible time in Australia, but how exactly did they end up playing down under?
“I was looking for a place to play winter ball and that was really one of the only [teams] I could get in contact with,” Jarrett said of the Bandits. “It just worked out somehow.”
The Melbourne Aces pitcher was playing for the Somerset Patriots - also of the Atlantic League - last American summer when he first gained interest in the league.
“I was fortunate enough to play with two Australians last year,” Reese said. “They introduced me to the Malvern Baseball Club, who was very generous in bringing me out there. I got to play with them as well as being in the ABL. It was a great time.”
McGuire knew Canberra manager Steve Schrenk from his days in the Philadelphia Phillies organisation, and he assisted the pitcher in getting a spot with the Cavalry. The righty from Pennsylvania was also the catalyst in Burgamy’s trek across the world.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” Burgamy said. “Mike McGuire came to our team here, the Riversharks, [for] the last week of the season last year. He was already heading to Canberra and on the last day in the clubhouse at the end of the year he just threw it out there and said, ‘Does anybody want to play in Australia?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’”
After leaving home and travelling the globe for baseball, the American players found that there were some subtle differences in living south of the equator.
“I’m from the Northeast and Australians are very laid back,” Reese said. “In the Northeast, not so much. So I loved that and I’ve taken that into my game here, and into life.”
Camden’s slugging infielder found much of the same in Canberra.
“The biggest difference is [that] everybody here is always go, go, go, and really tense and uptight,” Burgamy said. “And there everything is, like they say there, no worries.”
Though only time will tell if any of the Riversharks will head to Australia for the upcoming ABL season, the players are having a good time right now in Camden.
“It’s a great clubhouse,” Reese said. “It’s a good group of guys, we’re having fun and we’re winning as of late so it makes it even more fun. We’re having a good summer over here.”