Battaglia a Representative of Baseball’s International Growth
Dave Roberts | On 05, Jul 2013
Not many people expect to hear the Men at Work one hit wonder, “Land Down Under,” playing at a baseball game. It’s much more reminiscent of the beach than a ballpark but every time Scrappers catcher Ryan Battaglia steps to the plate it is that song that echoes throughout the stadium to announce his walkup.
Battaglia does not come from your typical baseball background, he hails from Albany Creek, Australia. Australia is a country where sports such as soccer, cricket, and rugby are more common than baseball but the sport is growing. The Australian Baseball League features six teams that carry a collection of imports and domestic players. The league is funded by Major League Baseball and plays during the winter months, although due to being on the southern hemisphere it is summer for the Australians.
Similar to how many minor leaguers play fall and winter ball leagues in the United States and the Caribbean, the Australian Baseball League is yet another venue for players to get reps.
“I mean it’s pretty similar,” Battaglia said. “Just the atmosphere is a little bit different. Nowhere near as big or popular in Australia but they are doing a good job promoting it.”
For Battaglia his introduction to baseball happened relatively late in his life compared to others. He picked the sport up in his early teenage years in just a backyard baseball fashion.
“Just some friends were playing and got me into it,” Battaglia said with a laugh. “I always played rugby and cricket before I got into baseball. It’s a bit of a change but then I went on with it.”
For being a kid who caught on to the sport late Battaglia showed a solid ability for it while playing with the Pine Hills Lightning in Albany Creek, Australia. Word got out about his canon for an arm and solid bat and the Indians signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 2009 at the age of 17.
The youngster had a big year in 2010; he was selected to play for Australia’s under-19 national baseball team, which placed second in the World AAA Championships. He won the tournament Home Run Award and was named to the All-Star team as a catcher. That year he also made his debut with the Brisbane Bandits of the ABL, making him the youngest player on the team.
In 2011, Battaglia made his professional debut playing seven games, split between the AZL Indians and Short Season Single-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Although he was hitless in 11 at bats, he did manage to drive in a run. After the stint in the minors, the young catcher jettisoned back to Australia where he put up solid numbers playing for the Brisbane Bandits including a .273 average with two homers and six RBIs in 14 games.
The following season Battaglia looked to get himself established in the Indians minor leagues and he did just that playing 29 games with the AZL Indians. He posted a .214 average with three home runs and 19 runs batted in during his time in rookie ball. He played behind the plate and manned some first base while in Arizona. Again following the minor league season, he went back down to Australia and played another stint with the Brisbane Bandits where he posted a higher average at .238 in 24 games.
Entering the 2013 season the 6’1” 202 lbs right-handed hitting Aussie looked to play a full season of minor league ball and saw early action with the High-A Carolina Mudcats to start the season. In 17 games Battaglia batted .244 with four doubles and seven runs batted in.
When it came time for Short Season Mahoning Valley to start Battaglia was sent down to begin the season with them and get regular playing time behind the plate.
In regards to his stint in Carolina Battaglia said, “Yeah that was a great experience. Ah so much fun, but it’s nice to come back here and get the opportunity to play every day.”
So far, on the season with Scrappers Battaglia has played in seven games and owns a .227 batting average.
The 21-year old did not have any set goals for the season. “I’m just looking to play every day the best I can. Hopefully put up some good numbers,” Battaglia said.
Last season the Indians played Battaglia a bit at first to get him acclimated to another position on the diamond. When the Indians sent him down to Mahoning Valley for the start of the season and everyday playing time it was unclear exactly where the playing time would come from.
“I’m not too sure, I’ve been playing a little bit of first base and DH so we’ll wait and see,” Battaglia said.
One thing is for sure Battaglia represents the growth baseball has experienced in recent years bringing yet another nationality to the game and for the fans of Eastwood Field every time he walks up to the plate he brings an interesting song into play as well.
Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer