ABL roadtrip wrap

Getting to teach these guys every day was worth getting up for.

I really, really loved this class. I’m still in contact with 5 of the kids in this picture.

The season is over and from my perspective it ended far, far too quickly, as I really only got the bit from mid-December through to the Championship Series.*  I watched the first games of ABL season 2014/15 as I was in the process of wrapping up my life as an English teacher in Jecheon-si and getting ready to go for a stint exploring Taiwan**.

My season is really divided into two pieces – the section where I was relying on streaming broadcasts for games and the section where I was actually roadtripping.

Staying Engaged for the first half of the season

My ABL season started like this:

  • iinet streaming issues that were never resolved or even treated as an actual problem by iinet (ongoing, for the entire season);
  • a Perth broadcast that was really just taking the piss (though this did improve substantially and quickly);
  • the knowledge that the Summer of Baseball guys weren’t going to be the friendly voices for the Blue Sox anymore
  • the ABL fantasy league dying a quiet death***
Things I chose to do in New Zealand instead of trying to make the iinet stream work. Family dinners = winning.

Things I chose to do in New Zealand instead of trying to make the iinet stream work. Family dinners = winning.

I had already committed in principle to the ABL roadtrip, pending minor details such as acquiring a car in which to roadtrip, so I knew my enthusiasm would pick up, even if it remained difficult to actually follow the league.  As it happened, the YouTube broadcasts all worked a treat for me and continued to do so all season, so my fear of being entirely reliant on Twitter play-by-play reporting and the stringers was un-necessary.  I abandoned the iinet broadcasts altogether before the end of November. I have no doubt that this decision saved me a lot of angst across the season, but also severely limited the amount of baseball I was able to watch.

The roadtrip

I loved roadtripping the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico and I thoroughly enjoyed my week-long swing through the southern parts of the KBO (despite having to rush because I was way too sick to leave home when I originally intended). But in lots of ways, those were opportunistic. My knowledge of Mexico was incredibly minimal when I flipped a coin and decided to go there instead of Canada. I had a much better knowledge of Korea generally, but very little sense of the geography south of Daejeon.  Roadtripping across Australia has been something that I have wanted to do since I was about 14.

A quiet campsite in the north of Victoria.

A quiet campsite in the north of Victoria. Not luxurious, but it shows I definitely had ‘enough’.

I deliberately kept pretty quiet about my plans. Given that I had about 10 days  between arriving in Perth and the city shutting down for Christmas, it seemed foolish to commit too loudly when I had so much to do to get on the road in time. I didn’t know if I was going to hit Perth and never want to leave again (nieces and nephews and friends, oh my!), or whether I’d be able to pull all the bits I needed together in time – car being the major concern. I didn’t know if after 18 months of no driving that I’d even be able to cope with hours and hours behind the wheel.  Maybe I’d buy a dud and the car would have a terminal incident between Norseman and Ceduna.  I wasn’t really willing to take the risk of saying “It’s ON” until a number of those questions had been answered.  And a lot of them could only be answered AFTER I arrived in Adelaide.

But once I was willing to say that it was on for sure (ie, telling the ABL Fans and Ballpark Chasers Facebook pages that it was happening) people came out of the woodwork to give me all kinds of help. Absolutely amazing.

I’ve watched a friend’s kid hula-hooping in Perth, freaked out a security guard in Adelaide, played on a Slip’n’Slide in Melbourne, chatted live on the stream in Canberra, danced through a rain-delay in Sydney and enjoyed multiple excellent gossip sessions in Brisbane.

Willem, cycling with his wife Ellis (not in pic) - currently 2 years into  their journey. They've cycled across Eurasia, and from Darwin around the west coast of Australia. This picture taken at the Head of the Bight.

Willem, cycling with his wife Ellis (not in pic) – currently 2 years into their journey. They’ve cycled across Eurasia, and from Darwin around the west coast of Australia. This picture taken at the Head of the Bight.

I’ve camped in some amazing places and met some great people by chance on the roadsides, who are undertaking far bigger and bolder adventures than I.

Wrap

Stadiums are like Pokemon for me – I’ve got catch them all. Luckily stadiums are super-accommodating by neither running away, nor fighting against me. Nor requiring me to carry other stadiums around in my pocket and  – well, this has quite gotten away from me, hasn’t it?

So despite adding to my trove of stadiums visited, the best thing about the trip has been the people I’ve met.  Some I have known online for years, some for much shorter periods of time. Some I’ve been aware of, through the wider community, but never personally been in touch with.  I’ve met people from right across the ABL, in every capacity, all of whom love baseball and all of whom have pretty strong (and pretty diverse) opinions about what’s needed to grow the ABL and the game of baseball in Australia.   It’s been fascinating, fun and I loved it.  Though I recommend that the next person who drives to see all the stadiums take 7 or 8 weeks to do so, rather than less-than-4.

I’ve driven 6,500km (including the return to Sydney) in a little 3-door hatchback, camping most of the way. The Eastern States have apparently had more rain than normal for this time of the year. I was certainly hitting the end of my willingness to set-up and take-down camp in the rain by the time I reached Sydney for the second time. If you have the money and the time, definitely kit-up a bit with a van or a 4wd with fold-out sleeping if you can.  There is no way to stealthily dry a tent flysheet in the hand-dryer in a shopping centre toilet.

My collection of ABL memorabilia (as small as I could possibly make-it). Cavs and Aces pins are still on my big floppy hat, but will soon join the MLB and MiLB pins.

My collection of ABL memorabilia (as small as I could possibly make-it). Cavs and Aces pins are still on my big floppy hat, but will soon join the MLB and MiLB pins.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way and so generously given time and effort (and tickets!) to a stranger.  I’ve enjoyed this so much and am so happy to be able to say that some of my best fan-experiences have been at Australian baseball.

I would especially like to thank Brook, Matt, Jack, Steve, Teri, Suz, Josh, Bob, Daniel, Mark, Nicholas, Eric, Grace, David, Jess, Rob, Dawn and Todd, all of whom went out of their way to make me welcome in their ballparks and cities.****

The season ended with my home team taking home the championship again, but every place I’ve been has been deeply love-able and I would somehow like everyone to win.

Thank you ABL, you’re something pretty darn special.

Initimate and welcoming - just like the ABL.

Initimate and welcoming – just like the ABL.

*The KBO season was wrapping up at the same time, so a huge amount of my baseball-watching time was going into the Nexen/Samsung championship series, which ended up being six games over 4-11 November and then the World U21 Baseball Champs, which ran 7-16 November. And then I travelled in Taiwan some more, then went to NZ and spent three weeks hanging out with my parents instead of watching baseball.  So my season was very, very short.

**I was leaving to explore Taiwan and attend the U21 Baseball World Champs, which has left me with a ridiculous level of attachment to baby Blue Sox players. I mostly imagine them as little chicks in cute blue shirts, but am then confronted with the reality of Guy Edmonds, who is supposedly a 20-ish human, but is built like a 70’s era Soviet-apartment block. I mean that in the best possible way.

*** It’s a pity, as ABL fantasy was the primary thing that kept me engaged the previous season, when it would have been much easier to let the ABL season pass me by while I was road-tripping Mexican winter-ball. I wish Tom had gotten the support and promotion he needed to keep it up and running.

**** I would also like to thank the people who have so generously given me space on their floors, couches and spare rooms along with access to their washing machines. This trip would have been (even more) financially unwise without you.

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