Boysgo down under for fun and sport

Published on Thu, Aug 5, 2004 by ivian Bleecker

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Boys go down under for fun and sport

By Vivian Bleecker

July 27 is not likely to be a day that 10 Blaine baseball players will remember for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is a day that they didn’t even get to experience. After traveling from Portland to Los Angeles, the North Whatcom crew boarded a 747 for a 15 hour flight to Melbourne, Australia - across the international dateline, losing the day and the rest of their summer. They landed July 28 around 8 a.m. to winter and partly cloudy skies, scattered showers, and a high of 60.
The 2004 Australia Tour Down Under is the fifth trip for Gary Clausen, Blaine high school’s athletic director and varsity baseball coach. But the tours, occurring about every three years since 1992, follow a similar itinerary – baseball, homestays, sight seeing, and experiencing the Australian culture. This year’s tour will see local athletes traveling to Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney competing against teams in about 10-12 ballgames. “Games have a tendency to get adjusted due to field availability and weather conditions,”Clausen said. But there will be plenty to do besides baseball during the three-weeks between now and August 16 when the team returns.

After they arrive in Oz they will walk through Anakie Gorge to view koalas and have a barbecue in the park before traveling to Werribee/Geelong to meet their homestay families. Plans include an Aussie football game on Saturday before playing their first doubleheader. The players will also travel to the Ballarat Wildlife Park and Sovereign Hill and the Victoria Market in Melbourne before heading to Brisbane to visit the Gold Coast and Steve Irwin’s famous Crocodile Farm. After that they’ll go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and white water rafting on the Tully River. In Sydney the team will see the Sydney Center Point Tower, go on a Harbor cruise, tour the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbor and see the Blue Mountains and the 2000 Winter Olympic site.

A college buddy brought up the idea of Australia while the two were attending a baseball clinic in 1991, Clausen said he told his friend (Don Freeman) in November, “I’d love to go, but I just don’t think I can.” Listening to his heart (and his wife), Clausen said he called him back in January with a different response. “It was something I had always wanted to do,” he recalled. He took two players to Australia in 1992, nine in 1995, three in 1998, seven in 2001 and 10 this year counting the statistician, Amber Rucker. The players sold entertainment books, Pepsi products, dinner and auction tickets, concessions at baseball games and sponsored a comedy show during their fundraising efforts over the past three years to help cover the $3,625 tab, which includes airfare, meals, housing accommodations and uniforms. Each player raised about half of the cost of the trip and then paid for the other half.

“It takes a lot of effort to put a trip like this together but it’s all worth it when they get over there,” Clausen said. “Kids who have played for me in the past and have come back to visit, that’s (the Australia trip) what we talk about. That’s what they remember, not so much the baseball seasons,” he said, sharing a story about a sheep farmer in Melbourne who had come to town to protest soda pop which he pointed to as the source of his sheep’ losing their teeth.

“I couldn’t believe it when Carrie told me the sheep had false teeth - which he took out of the sheep’s mouth and put into his own mouth!”
Clausen said he and his family enjoy the trip so much – from seeing the country and its attractions to watching the reactions of the boys seeing it for the first time.

“A lot of it is the people in Australia. They are really friendly and they treat you well,” he said. “It’s such a unique place and I enjoy the different animal species and the environment.”
That’s what junior Matt Gorze is looking forward to on his first trip. “I am excited about seeing the wildlife and going snorkeling and white water rafting,” Gorze said, “oh, and of course the baseball.”

The players left for Prairie high school in Vancouver, WA on Monday to join about 10 other ballplayers from that area for a workout and practice session before two squads (an A team and a B team) were selected. The players also got a chance to meet each other, socialize, and have a picnic with parents before being housed out in the area. After a double header on Tuesday and another evening together, the players and chaperons met at the Portland International Airport for the short flight to LA.

Participants from Blaine include (2004 graduate) Sean McLaughlin, seniors Ben Freeman, Kyle Dhanani, Craig Rothwell, and Bryan Galbraith and juniors Garrett Barrow, Robert Bleecker, Ryan Henley and Matt Gorze.