Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Endless Bloom of Summer: The Canberra Cavalry, The 2013 Asia Series, and the Arrival of Australian Baseball

In one fell swoop, the mustachioed twenty-five year old catcher put the game away. While the name Jack Murphy may not be common to the tongues of those in his native United States, it is now spoken with the regard of nobility in his adopted home of Australia. In a handshake of days, Murphy hit perhaps the two most important home runs in the fledgling game of baseball down under. Late Wednesday night in Taiwan, the Canberra Cavalry completed what is perhaps one of the most impressive underdog stories in the game's history, and made a global statement for baseball in the land of Oz.

The Asia Series is a tournament that brings together 
the league champions from 
Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Europe, and Australia in a 
sort of "True World Series" concept.

The current time in Canberra is 5:07pm. The temperature, acclimated to the measurement tastes of Americans, is a breezy eighty-one degrees farenheit. It is early evening, but it is a new day for the massive island nation. While baseball still lingers long behind Australian rules football, cricket, and rugby, there is a swelling of pride from the night before. Some time around midnight, the rally was completed and then some. I, waking up at a reasonable 6:30am for a typical day of work, caught the final three innings of the Asia Series final. The Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions are the current champions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (based in Taiwan). The Lions, and Taiwan itself, played host to this year's tournament. The six-team field is divided into two "pools" of three teams, meant to be played in a round-robin format to produce a four team, single-elimination tournament. Typically, the winners of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball are seen as the favorite. Yet as with any sport bent on the wrist of fate, anything can happen to shift the expectation to produce a beautiful new result.

Late Monday night in Taiwan, the Cavalry were in a gritty match with the Korea Baseball Organization champion Samsung Lions. Knotted at five runs apiece after nine innings, the orange-clad Aussie champions needed a hero. In stepped Jack Murphy with one man on base. In a moment that eerily mirrored Kirk Gibson's timeless World Series home run, Murphy sent the ball just beyond the outfield fence, essentially putting Canberra up for good. Perhaps it was the catcher's thick mustache that conjured up such vivid memories of heroes past. Or maybe it was the relevance of the home run to an infant baseball nation that borrowed from the pages of postseason lore. Whatever the case, the Canberra Cavalry had made the Asia Series Final, a feat never before accomplished by an Australian team. All they had to do was wait to see which team would meet them there- the aforementioned Lions, or NPB champion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles had already trounced the Cavalry in pool play by a tally of six runs to three. Surely the expectation was for them to meet again, but baseball's centuries-old misunderstanding of what should be wandered into the tournament. In a stroke of what only can be conceived as luck, the rematch never came to fruition. The CPBL champion Lions made as daunting of an upset as any in a semi-final besting of the Golden Eagles.

As I woke up and meandered through my daily internet news this morning, I quickly remembered the title game happening on the other side of the globe. The score upon my finding of a quality video read Lions four, Cavalry three. It wasn't over, but this odd sense of disappointment came over me. I have no vested interest in any Australian Baseball League team, but my heart sided with the underdog Cavalry. In no time, Canberra was ahead six to four. Then eight to four. Then ten. With the bases loaded, into the batters box was the crowned Mr. November of the Southern Hemisphere- Jack Murphy. The game was already out of hand, but it was time for a statement. With a wildly violent hack, Murphy slugged a no-doubter to right center. A modest, yet still genuinely proud bat flip followed. Perhaps he was admiring the shot, or maybe Murphy was lost in the understanding of his own accomplishment. The score was fourteen to four. It would remain as such through the final frame. Canberra had won, and in a strange way put Australian baseball on the global map. A league sometimes viewed as a "winter league" for minor leaguers had crashed the party and done the downright improbable.

Given the tilt and orbit of the planet, baseball is more feasibly played outdoors from November to early February, when the Wrigley Fields and Fenway Parks of the world are frosted over. Because of this twist of scheduling fate, the Canberra Cavalry were playing in the Asia Series based on their victory from nearly ten months ago. This forces the Cavalry to play the tournament of champions while in the middle of their title defense season. While this may seem as an inconvenience to some, it could not be more beneficial to the league and the game of baseball in Australia. The pride and joy of a nation's capital returns home victorious. There is surely a swelling of attention in the game of baseball and in the six teams of the Australian Baseball League. How the league attends to this new found attention is yet to come. For now we allow a newborn global player bask in the glory of a legendary run to a title that proves there is no credence to expectation when the will to surpass what is laid before us is more powerful than its hindrance.

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