Their eyes lit up at the sound of home.
Jarrod Belbin and Mitchell Austin grew up about nine hours apart and had never met. But when they learned they were both from Australia, they connected and even exchanged contact information.
Belbin and Austin competed against each other Wednesday night in the 2019 NBC World Series in Wichita. Austin and his Derby Twins beat Belbin’s Hays Larks 9-7 in their first-week championship game. Austin will go on to championship week. Belbin is going home, or at least back to school.
But the result didn’t seem to matter to the Aussies after the game. They said they have seen their families Down Under just once a year since moving to the United States to pursue baseball careers. So any chance to talk about home is welcome.
“There are a lot of boys over here in the college systems,” Austin said. “Every day we do something good over here, they hear about it back home. Each time they hear it, it gives kids our age a chance to give it a shot.”
Austin grew up 20 minutes outside of Sydney on the eastern coast of Australia. His uncle was the president of the local team and his cousins all played, too, so he started competing when he was 4, he said.
According to Fox Sports, baseball is not one of the top 10 sports in Australia. It’s behind others like netball, tennis and swimming, so growing up around baseball made Austin unique.
When he decided to pursue a career in America’s pastime, he knew he couldn’t stay home.
Australia has won one medal in the Olympics, Baseball World Cup and World Baseball Classic combined — a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Even four years earlier, when the Olympics were in Sydney, Australia only qualified because it was the host nation. The Aussies finished seventh out of eight teams.
Austin said he knew the U.S. was the only place he could go to pursue his dream, but he didn’t know how to make it happen.
He started by putting his resume together and creating a highlight tape. He looked up email addresses of coaches he thought he could have a chance to play for and started sending his pitch to fly halfway across the world.
It was like a job, he said.
“I left at 19 years old and here I am now 23,” Austin said.
Belbin’s journey didn’t take as much work. After growing up playing cricket on the southern coast of Australia, around the southeastern horn of the country from where Austin was raised, he attended a couple of clinics and was good enough to get noticed. He signed on with Arizona Western Community College in Yuma.
Both said the culture change wasn’t the hardest transition. It was the baseball.
“Everyone is just better,” Belbin said. “Pitchers have so much more (velocity) and more action, and I love it. It makes you a lot better over here.”
In Australia they faced pitchers throwing 85 mph tops and played in a level below professional. In his first at-bat at Kansas’ Highland Community College north of Kansas City, Austin saw a pitch blister past him at 96 on the corner.
“Welcome to America,” he said. “Strike one, this is going to be a fun time.”
Austin now plays at Newman in Wichita. Kansas is far, far different from Australia, he said, but he has enjoyed his time here. Belbin said that other than the humidity, he has relished it, too.
So then came Tuesday night as their paths crossed. Each has an Australian teammate on his college team, but outside of that, it was their first experience with another Aussie on a baseball field since moving to the U.S.
Belbin started for the Larks at right field and went 1-for-5 in the loss but hit for a .429 average overall in the series. Austin did not play Wednesday but will have a chance to get on the field starting Friday during championship week.
“I played a lot of sports growing up: cricket, (Australian rules football), rugby,” Austin said. “I just fell in love with baseball and I’ve stayed because of the camaraderie, I guess you could say.”