***The following article was written by Adam Engel, a Chicago White Sox outfield prospect, as a guest of FutureSox. This is part of our Prospect Perspectives series: articles written by the players themselves. Engel played winter ball with the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League this offseason. Here he gives us a glimpse into what that experience was like for an American ballplayer. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.***
By Adam Engel
Australia, what a trip. The best way to explain the experience as a whole is describing a developed country with a not-so-developed way of reproducing America’s pastime. We weren’t exactly sure what we were getting ourselves into but we were able to walk away with a once in a lifetime experience.
Cricket quickly proved to be the dominant interest between our wooden bat sport and theirs. As Americans we stood out like a sore thumb as soon as we opened our mouths, and especially when you room with a 6 foot 6 inch red headed Georgia boy [fellow White Sox prospect Nick Blount]. We were constantly asked if we were “on holiday”, their version of vacation, but had to explain we played baseball for Melbourne. The number one response was, “I didn’t even know we had a baseball team.” The sport is obviously a work in progress in terms of popularity. It was actually pretty cool explaining the game to people who had never seen the sport before, giving us a chance to share our passion with people who are from the “sports capital of the world”.
Being in the southern hemisphere, our winter ball experience was actually taking place in Australia’s summer months. We were able to visit various beaches along the coasts of the country. Our travel from city to city was all by plane and nationwide. I found the weather to be very similar to all the weather we experience in the states. The biggest difference is the amount of ozone depletion over the country leading to much more intense UV rays. Nick and I learned the hard way that if you want to soak up some rays at the beach, sunscreen is an absolute necessity. Nick went on to have one of his best outings of the summer a few days after trying his best to match his skin with his hair color.
The best part of the trip was building relationships with teammates from two totally different countries and cultures. The Australians were some of the most hospitable teammates and people I’ve been around. It was almost an immediate comfort level from a social standpoint from the very beginning. The guys knew we were a long way from home and welcomed us the best they could. Once the holidays rolled around we had several teammates inviting us to their homes for a Christmas meal and celebration. Being my first Christmas away from home, this was probably the toughest stretch of the trip. One particular family brought us in, fed us, took us to see some kangaroos and let us crash at their house on Christmas day. It wasn’t the same as home, but I don’t think that I could have had a better experience considering the circumstance.
The Australians were great but the Japanese players may have been my favorite part of Australia. They understood very little English but were fluent in hand motions. They always had a smile on their face and were the first to pick you up after making an out or the first to give you a high five after a nice play. They also were the first to quickly puff down a cigarette after their rigorous conditioning sessions that seemed to last all of practice. Both the Australians and Japanese players were great and definitely a highlight of the overall experience.
Some of the big differences between home and Australia are pretty obvious, so I’m going to try to write about the little things. Fast food in Australia is scary good. There was a KFC across the street from our apartment and I quickly fell in love with their “Kentucky Burger”. Minimum wage is almost double what ours is which seems cool, but also means the prices of everything are somewhat outrageous and we weren’t making their minimum wage. With that being said, tipping isn’t required so that helps the pocket book.
Spiders are everywhere. Nick and I had a near death experience the first day when a huge spider crawled across our windshield while I was still trying to get used to driving on the other side of the road and on the opposite side of the car. The majority of drying when it comes to laundry happens on a clothesline, not a dryer. The coffee is either from a barista (two thumbs up), or some dissolvable coffee blend mixed with hot water (two thumbs down). Natives wear work boots, jorts and muscle tees to local gyms. If you didn’t want to stand out, showing off your ankles was encouraged when picking out jeans or sweats (Nick and I were content with standing out). The voltage is different meaning if you plug your Xbox into the wall it will fry your power brick – man down.
Our team ended up in last place. How we got there is worth an article itself. Our GM was let go midseason followed up by our assistant GM getting deported. Very unique chain of events but I think it actually is what the team needed in the long run. They hired a new GM who has big league experience as a player so the future of the Aces is bright. The league was very competitive. I was somewhat concerned about the type of arms we would see but that proved not to be an issue. There were ex big league guys sprinkled throughout the league along with high level minor leaguers. I wouldn’t say quite the consistency of talent as maybe some of the other winter league teams but a league with prior big leaguers, Japanese big league and minor league guys and a bunch of young American and Australian talent makes for a competitive experience.
Overall the experience was that of the once in a lifetime variety. In a three to four month span we played at all ends of the country and saw most major cities. We played with Australians and the Japanese. We were able to work on our craft in warmer weather and experience things like feeding kangaroos and watching cricket in state of the art stadiums. If you can handle spending time away during the holidays, then this trip is hard to pass up.
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