From Down Under, baseball and Byrne are on rise

MINOR-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

June 29, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Ask Americans about athletics Down Under and most would mention Australian Rules Football and perhaps cricket. Few would associate the land of kangaroos and wallabies with baseball, but the sport is gaining momentum there.

"In the last five years, it has definitely picked up," said Single-A Frederick Keys outfielder Clayton Byrne, a native of Perth, on Australia's western coast. "A lot of younger players are better than a few years ago, and the game has gotten to about eyeball level."

Since the American and Australian seasons are opposites, Australia is able to attract Americans to its nine-team winter league, which is made up of talent at "about a [Single-] A level," Byrne said.

The pay is low, with some top players earning $10,000 for a 56-game season and other players making as little as $1,000.

By contrast, a top-flight Australian Rules Football player can earn as much as $500,000 per season and professional cricket players also are paid handsomely.

Australian baseball's biggest weakness is a lack of pitching.

"Pitchers don't get a lot of work at a young age, so you don't get a lot of hard throwers," he said. "In our country, you don't start playing until about age 12, while in America they play T-ball almost as soon as they can walk."

The Orioles have supplied the Perth Heat with players for several winters but are restricted by rules that limit imports to four per Australian team.

With Australians ineligible for the U.S. amateur draft, the Orioles signed Byrne as a free agent in 1990.

Last summer, he hit .276 with 55 RBIs for the Single-A Albany Polecats. This year, he is batting .311, fifth in the Carolina League.

Byrne may be on his way to joining four Australians who have played in the majors, including two current Milwaukee Brewers, Dave Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd.

"Baseball has prospered into a bigger thing in Australia," Byrne said. "Some people think it's going to take off."

Krivda's luck doesn't wear well

Rick Krivda was the Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week and the Howe Sportsdata Minor-League Pitcher of the Week after throwing 28 consecutive scoreless innings. But when he changed his socks, his luck changed, too.

After Krivda pitched a complete-game shutout while wearing stirrups, Rochester teammate T. R. Lewis urged him to stay with them.

Sans stirrups Thursday, Krivda was rocked by the Charlotte Knights for six runs in 3 2/3 innings.

"I wasn't superstitious until T. R. made me that way," Krivda said.

Lewis, a top hitting prospect, has had the cast removed from his broken left hand and is due back on the active list in about two weeks. Manny Alexander is batting just .199 for the Red Wings but owns the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons' Paul Fletcher. Of Alexander's 15 pro home runs, four, including a grand slam, are off Fletcher, and he is 6-for-7 against Fletcher this year. . . . In his 67th game with Rochester, pitcher Jim Dedrick finally picked up a decision, a victory. . . . John O'Donoghue may be returned to the Red Wings' rotation for the first time since May 27 after pitching well in relief and gaining his first pro save. . . . Entering last night's game, the Double-A Bowie Baysox could field a starting lineup in which the lowest batting average was .298. That belonged to Brent Miller, who just returned from Rochester. . . . The promotion of Jimmy Haynes to the Red Wings on Monday broke up the Baysox's Fab Five starting rotation. He left the Eastern League with an 8-4 record, 2.80 ERA and league-leading 108 strikeouts in 103 innings. He made his Red Wings debut last night, pitching 6 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and one earned run. He walked two and struck out seven. . . . Bowie averaged fewer than 600 fans at four different home sites before Prince George's County Stadium was ready for play. Now, the average is above 6,000. . . . Left-hander Vaughn Eshelman became the first nine-game winner in Bowie history with a 3-0 victory over the Trenton Thunder, the first nine-inning, complete-game shutout by the staff. . . . Baysox closer Armando Benitez is 4-0 with a save and 32 strikeouts (only five walks) in 19 1/3 innings this month. . . . Frederick has two players on the disabled list, shortstop Feliciano Mercedes (disk problems) and pitcher Jimmy Walker (nerve in his pitching arm). . . . Second-round draft choice Tommy Davis started 2-for-20 (.100) for Albany.

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