Several years ago at Christmas time, I’ve traveled to Australia. Since I loved their beaches, bohemian attitudes, friendly manner and love of sports, I developed an immediate kinship with Australians.
But cricket, Australia’s national sport, posed major challenges for me even though I made what I considered a serious effort to unravel its mysteries. Since the continent is gripped in cricket mania and the pubs jammed with rabid fans, I was disappointed that I couldn’t join in the fun more enthusiastically. In the end, I concluded that Americans are genetically incapable of understanding cricket.
But I took exception to my traveling partner’s comment: “Cricket is just like baseball—only more boring.”
Luckily for both of us, I could prove her wrong. I took her to see the Sydney Blues play the Perth Heat.
During Christmas in Australia, baseball is in full swing, so to speak. For the decade between 1989 and 1999, the Australian Baseball League played a relatively short season (about 60 games) but with a format similar to Major League Baseball. Regular season winners advanced to the playoffs with an eventual champion crowned.
The ABL used the designated hitter and aluminum bats for non-MLB contracted players whose participation in the league was strictly limited. But the ABL had an innovation that might help add excitement to MLB games as well as move them along faster. Under its rules, once a catcher reached base, a pinch runner could be substituted without having to take the field during the following inning. Having watched Benjie Molina glue up the base paths for years, I’m all for it.
Sadly, the ABL was short lived. Baseball just couldn’t compete with cricket for the fans’ dollar. But after twelve years of wrangling since the ABL folded in 1999, Australians, in partnership with the MLB, launched a new league in November. With baseball more global and with more extensive television and media coverage than existed the last time around, hopes are high. On the other hand, the ABL will have to compete not only with cricket but also soccer and the newly formed iiNet National Basketball League.
A final, non-baseball thought about Christmas in Australia. No matter what you’ve heard about the joys of a white Christmas or how odd it is to be in a warm weather climate during the Yule season, don’t believe a word of it. Relaxing on Bondi Beach on December 25th was fine with me. And the next morning I could read the box scores just summers back home.