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Angels' Rich Thompson makes a pitch Down Under

Thompson_200 Angels reliever Rich Thompson played a little winter ball at home this off-season. And while that wouldn't be a big deal if Thompson was from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic or even Arizona, the fact he's from Australia made it a rare treat.

After an 11-year hiatus, the Australian Baseball League resumed play last fall and Thompson made a token appearance for his hometown Sydney Blue Sox, giving up three runs in three appearances but  picking up the win in his only decision.

"The competition is probably double A or maybe a little higher," says Thompson, one of 25 Australians to have played in the major leagues. "So it was pretty good.”

The league played a 10-week, 40-game schedule with six teams spread from Perth in the west to Brisbane in the east. Many of the players, Thompson said, came from Japan and Taiwan as well as Australia.

Although Sydney finished the regular season with the best record, Perth won the league title, beating Adelaide in the playoffs.

Attendance was sparse, averaging less than 1,300 a game leaguewide -- in part because of the varied quality of the stadiums. In Sydney, Thompson's team played in the baseball stadium used in the Sydney Olympics. But the ballpark in Melbourne, the pitcher said, had a left-field line that was about 265 feet from home plate. The wall featured a pair of shipping containers stacked one atop another, an Australian version of Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Thompson, a 26-year-old right-hander, has pitched 35 games for the Angels over the past four seasons. He spends much of his off-season in the U.S. now, but said he'd love to have the opportunity to pitch in his homeland during the winter. And he hopes a successful first season will lure more and better players to Australia next winter.

"Once the league gets a little more established and the guys kind of support the league -- guys that play in the major leagues -- that’s going to draw more people, more of an interest, better players," he said. "Then everything’s going to be on par with the Dominican. And it will [be] another choice."

-- Kevin Baxter in Tempe, Ariz.

Photo: Rich Thompson. Credit: Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

 
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