Why you should care
Who knows — perhaps you too will put your life on hold to play ball Down Under.
If the opportunity arose to leave your family, friends and job behind to move to a beautiful country and have your basic necessities taken care of to play the sport you’ve always loved, would you put your life on hold to do it?
For Sam Siddall, the answer was unequivocally yes. Growing up, Siddall dreamed of making it to the major leagues. But, more than anything, he just wanted to play baseball.
As a right-handed pitcher with an 86 mph fastball, Siddall faced an uphill climb. After his senior year playing at Midland University, an NAIA-level program in Nebraska, major league scouts still didn’t know who he was. Instead of being drafted, he got a marketing job with a local Coca-Cola distributor in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. Five months later, Siddall finally got the offer he’d been waiting for. But it didn’t come from the Chicago Cubs or the Toronto Blue Jays — rather, the Northern District Reds baseball club in Adelaide, Australia.
Siddall is one of a number of North American baseball players who were imported by a local club baseball team in Australia. He and other players had little to no shot of making it to the big leagues or even signing a minor league contract, and yet they put the real world on hold to continue playing a game they love.
I love baseball, and I knew I would enjoy it. I always wanted to go to Australia.
These players are “usually guys who played four years of college ball, and they’re just looking for a chance to continue playing and also see the world at the same time before settling into a 9-to-5, regular job,” explains David Burns, the founder and CEO of Baseball Jobs Overseas, a company that helps connect players with baseball opportunities in Australia and Europe. Baseball Jobs Overseas helped place six players with Australian clubs in 2013–14; by 2017–18, that number has ballooned to 71. Burns expects to help Australia import 100 players this season. While most come from the United States and Canada, some hail from Europe as well.
“Working is fine, but I don’t know if that job with Coca-Cola was for me,” Siddall says. “Maybe I would have stuck with it. But I love baseball, and I knew I would enjoy it. I always wanted to go to Australia.”
Other major Australian cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, also house baseball clubs looking to bring in imports on a seasonal basis. It helps that their summer begins in October, when baseball season is ending in much of North America.
While in Australia, many of these players make very little money. Clubs belong to leagues with their own rules that dictate how many imports a team can have and the pay it can offer its players. In Adelaide, Siddall was given a place to live, groceries, a vehicle to share with other players — and access to a significant amount of alcohol through his team’s bar. Whether it was accompanying teammates on an ocean fishing trip during the holidays, traveling along the Great Ocean Road or visiting Surfers Paradise in the Gold Coast, Siddall collected once-in-a-lifetime experiences Down Under.
Most of the clubs function by having youth teams and training individual youth players, and the imports get paid to help coach or even umpire games. If a team can’t afford to support a player, it hooks them up with a job. Many of these club teams are loosely affiliated with the Australian Baseball League teams. A club’s goal is to foster future young players through youth teams, which hopefully will produce a player or two talented enough to play for the ABL’s Adelaide Bite. That helps the club market itself as a developmental organization to future youth players.
But the clubs also want to win. That’s still a big reason why they import players from around the world but largely from North America, which boasts a supply of talented baseball players who can easily live and work in Australia on a type of visa known as a working holiday. However, working holiday visas aren’t available to North Americans for more than one year, so if players want to stay on, a team might need to sponsor them or otherwise bend the rules.
Per Siddall, that’s how a lot of players operate. “It’s a lot of under-the-table stuff,” he explains. “There are guys doing cash jobs. I was doing tree removal stuff for cash. I helped paint a random guy’s house — just random odd jobs I could find.”
Many kids grow up dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. While the odds certainly aren’t in anyone’s favor to make it to the majors, playing for a club team in Australia is a much more achievable goal — even for players with no professional experience, like Siddall. The trade-off is delaying having a family or any real financial stability for a year or two — or longer. After his stint in Australia, Siddall started playing baseball in Hungary and, now, Sweden. He’s not sure what’s next.
“I don’t really plan these things out,” Siddall says. “I’ll just take things a month or two at a time.”