Baseball season’s in full swing, here with the 2015-16 Carolina League champion Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and around the world. The Victorian Kookaburras have two traveling teams returning to Myrtle Beach again this July from Australia.
Bringing squads in age groups of younger than 14 and 16 each, the Kookaburras will play in tournaments at The Ripken Experience (www.ripkenbaseball.com/myrtle_beach). That also prompts a call to the bullpen for local families to step up to the plate to house these guests during their Grand Strand tenure. Bobby Holland, senior general manager at The Ripken Experience, outlined how hosts hit their own home run in memories.
Q: What contingent is coming from Down Under, and how many years have such a group of special guests been a tradition at Ripken?
A: It’s two teams from Victorian Kookaburras travel baseball team, in their third consecutive visit, and the complex’s sixth year hosting a team from Australia. The Kookaburras, who include players from the city of Melbourne and the regional town of Mildura, will travel more than 30 hours from the state of Victoria in Australia to reach Myrtle Beach. The tour, conducted by a not-for-profit organization, is focused around baseball participation, friendship and cultural exploration for the players and families traveling with the team (www.victoriankookaburrasbaseball.com.au).
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Q: How many host families are sought to pinch hit for accommodations?
A: We seek 13 host families to accommodate the 26 players participating in the tournament. We prefer to put two players per household to make them comfortable, because they are traveling so far away from home. We need – as of April 5 – three more families to fill the roster.
Q: What kind of households widen their welcome mat?
A: We have a little bit of everything in terms of the matrix of families that have hosted. We have retired couples, we have a single working mother of four and we have a young couple whose husband volunteers to help coach one of their teams. ...
For the Australian players, experiencing the American culture is a key part of the trip. I have found that some of the best memories the players have are sharing meals, learning of the amenities that we have here in the states that maybe we – as Americans, take for granted – but to the Aussies being able to go to Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, and getting whatever kind of the latest and greatest sports equipment and apparel is a premium.
For the hosts, I’d say it’s a feeling of “being a part of a team.” Having the youth as a part of your family, it gives a sense of they are your own children. Many of the families have had kids who have moved on to college, graduated or have played sports growing up, and the families sort of get to relive some of those great childhood sports memories, albeit for one week. In general, the families create “forever” friendships with these kids and their families. All of them stay in touch before and after the tournament via social media.
Q: For free time, might seeing a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game, just around the corner from Ripken, be automatic on the to-do list?
A: Absolutely. In fact I got a message last week that two former Old Dominion University baseball alumni – I was a pitcher for Old Dominion light years ago – are playing for the Pelicans: Connor Myers, a speedy outfielder, and P.J. Higgins, a highly touted catcher. I plan to go visit those guys while they are here and encourage them as they chase their dreams, but also with my hopes to share some wisdom that there is “life after baseball,” and if you love the game, you can find a way to stay in it, like I did. ... I am good friends with Andy Milovich, the team’s president and general manager, and he and his staff do a great job at at TicketReturn.com Field. We actually play about 30 spring training games there.
Q: For families who want more details to step up and help the Kookaburras, whom should they contact?
A: Reach me directly: 843-213-2705 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Who are the most famous native Australians to play Major League Baseball? Maybe they would include Grant Balfour, a relief pitcher who retired recently?
A: Definitely Balfour, and Graeme Lloyd, Travis Blackley and Damian Moss to name a few. Moss actually was a pitcher for the Richmond (Va.) Braves when I started my professional career there as an intern. I remember his Australian roots being a topic of conversation. A lot of these Kookaburras players have the same dreams. I know several years ago, the Kookaburras group caught an Oakland Athletics game on the way to Myrtle Beach. From what I understand, they were able to meet him, and he was great about spending some time to inspire these young athletes. I thought that was really cool.
Q: Predictions on the Major League Baseball postseason?
A: I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, glued to TBS and watching Dale Murphy and the Bravos take it on the chin through the 1980s. I had the chance to visit Chicago’s Wrigley Field for the first time last summer, and I hate to be accused of being a bandwagon fan, but that is a truly magical ballpark and city. Therefore, for the Pelicans’ parent club, and reigning World Series winners, “Go Cubs Go! Go Cubs Go! Hey Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are going to win today!”
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.