A sport and cultural exchange to the land of koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles turned into an adventure that will long be etched in the memories of 12 small-town baseball players and their coach.
The Arizona USA team that traveled last month to Australia for the tour was assembled and coached by Payson High School baseball coach Teddy Pettet.
During the two-week trip Down Under, Pettet kept a dairy that provides a detailed look at a culture that intrigued and fascinated the coach and teenage players.
Arizona USA team members were Jon Beeson, Tylor Brunson, Mark McRae, David Curtiss, Rob Ochoa, Tyler Williams, Chase Armstrong, Russ Wegner, Waylon Pettet, Jeremy Heairet and Darin Grover. All but Armstrong have been, or currently are, players in the Longhorn baseball program. Armstrong plays on the Camp Verde High School team.
Upon the team's return to the Rim country, Pettet shared the dairy with the Payson Roundup. The following are excerpts from that trip.
July 16: Our Qantas flight to Sydney was to leave Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. but was delayed to 2:30 a.m.
July 17: While flying over the Pacific Ocean we cross the International Date Line which makes the day pass by very quickly. But the flight is 13 hours long.
July 18: We arrive in Sydney about 10:30 a.m. and are immediately cleared by customs to catch our connecting flight to Cairns. That flight has been delayed two hours waiting for our arrival. The people already on the plane are not happy with us, but it's not our fault.
We arrive in Cairns and head for a parking lot where a bus is to take us to the Wild World Wildlife Park. There, the players see many of Australia's wild animals including crocodiles, koalas and kangaroos. At mealtime, we have our first taste of Australian beef in hamburgers. The meat is very lean and doesn't have much flavor.
The country has ketchup, but it's very hard to get regular mustard, they have only Dijon.
After 17 hours on an airplane, we finally suit up to play a night game against the North Queensland Fury. The Fury is made up of players from Cairns, Townsville and MacKay. Jeremy pitches the entire six innings and gets a 9-8 win. We commit no less than 10 errors, but find a way to win. Darin's one-out, two-RBI single that followed a sacrifice bunt by Jeremy proves to be the difference. Chase had three hits.
July 19: We return to the Wild World Wildlife Park to make up for the time missed on Friday due to the late arrival.
After a couple of hours at the park, we play the second of a three-game set against an Aussie team. We easily dispatch them 16-1. Waylon hits two home runs and Jon one in our 10-hit onslaught. Chase picks up the five-inning victory allowing only one hit and striking out eight. Our only regret was having to listen to an elderly Aussie man sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" for the three innings. When it was clear we would get the victory, he stops singing.
July 20: The final game of the set is a 12:30 p.m. contest. Jon gets the starting nod and pitches three innings of no-hit ball. After we build an 8-0 lead, Grover finishes off the Aussies in the final two frames. Darin gets three hits and Rob has two. We win 12-3.
The Aussies have a ceremony at the end of the series and present the players with certificates commemorating the championship. The people are without a doubt gracious hosts and treat us extremely well. The players make new friends and many shirts and other items are exchanged.
July 21: We board a bus to spend the day on a 150-foot catamaran off the Great Barrier Reef. Players snorkel, eat lunch and snorkel some more. The reef holds hundreds of varieties of tropical fish. None of athletes suffer ill effects from the constant motion of the catamaran on the open seas. The players quickly learn to stay clear of some visitors who have barf bags ready for sudden use. No sharks are sighted, but on the way back, four whales are spotted. We are allowed to watch them for about 10 minutes.
July 22: We head to the railroad station for the Kuranda train. The ride lasts for about two hours and climbs from Cairns through the rain forest to the Kuranda Village. We spend a few hours shopping and then jump on the sky rail that takes us about five miles over the top of the rain forest about 100 feet above the ground. The sky rail offers magnificent views of the countryside. The sky rail finally drops about 1,200 feet to Jabakai Village. There, we eat and attend the Aborigine Theater where native Aborigine men display their culture through dances, throwing the boomerang and practicing their use of the atlatl spear.
July 23: We head to the airport at 6:30 a.m. for a flight to Brisbane. Upon arriving in the beautiful city, we spend four hours downtown shopping. Around noon, we board buses and travel to McDonald's for some real American food. After lunch, we travel by bus to Toowoomba where the players meet and go with their host families. Coaches stay at the Toowoomba Motel. The town of 90,000 is known as the Garden City of Australia because of its beautiful flowers, plants and trees.
July 24: The players attend high school for the day. We assemble at 6 p.m. near Harristown High for the opening ceremonies of the Toowoomba International Youth Challenge. Players are welcomed, fed and treated to a dance.
July 25: Players spend another day attending classes at the high schools. They also attend a baseball clinic put on by one of the local baseball clubs - the Toowoomba Rangers. Later that evening, the Australia vs. USA trivia challenge is held at a shopping mall. The challenge is won by two members of our USA team. The participants are awarded gift certificates from the local merchants.
July 26: We open play against the University of South Queensland. This team is made up of students from the university, but is run on a club level. Jeremy opens on the hill and we easily dispatch them 17-1. Jeremy and David have two hits each.
Later that night in 38-degree temperatures, we play the Toowoomba Rangers. Despite the cold weather, Chase three-hits the Rangers.
Russ and Mark have two hits each in our 21-hit attack. We win by a 27-1 margin which turns out to be the largest blowout of the tourney. The win assures us of a spot in the championship game .
July 27: We open against the Western Region team that is 0-2 so far. Jon gets the starting nod and pitches another gem in our 3-2 victory. Western Region relies on outstanding pitching from a 23-year-old club pitcher who has good control and superb off-speed pitches. Offensively, Tylor hits a solo homer in the first inning. In the bottom of the fifth with the score tied 2-2, Chase hits a line drive at the feet of the right fielder. The ball gets by him and Chase gets an inside-the-park game-winning home run.
In the 1 p.m. championship game against the Rangers, Jeremy takes the hill. We hear the Rangers had not played their best lineup against us in the first game. They had saved their best pitcher anticipating the championship match-up. Jeremy is exceptional again in our 10-3 win. He Ks 10 and only gives up four hits in recording his third victory during the trip. Tylor leads us with two hits in our 15-hit attack. After the game, the gracious hosts award us with medals commemorating our second championship in as many week.
Players load up on a bus bound from Paradise Country and the Gold Coast.
Many of the families and the players who stayed with them shed tears as the bus pulls out of town. What a great international experience this is.
Following the ride, we arrive at Paradise Country and are entertained there. We are treated to a bull whip demonstration, sheep herding and sheep shearing. During dinner, we are entertained by a one-man band. Some players dance with a group of Malaysians.
Later that night, we arrive at the Gold Coast International Resort.
July 28 and 29: We are treated to two full days on the beautiful white sand beaches at Surfers' Paradise on the Gold Coast. Shopping, surfing and boogie boarding are the main attractions. No one is disappointed with this part of the trip.
July 30: We board buses bound for the Brisbane airport. We fly to Auckland, New Zealand where we have a two-hour layover. There, the players do some last-minute souvenir shopping. Our flight to Los Angeles takes about 11 hours. We arrive in LA and even though it has been 36 hours since we left Brisbane, it's still July 30. A flight from LA takes us to Phoenix where we are met by friends and relatives.
One last thought: Opportunities like this don't come too often. It is a credit to our community that these young people had found a way to make it happen. They are thankful to all the people who helped them raise the funds to be able to go to Australia and represent our community and state.