By Joe Novella Photos Gary Sissons
If you find yourself going past CB Wilson Reserve, Mornington, in the upcoming summer months, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow ended up in suburban USA. You might be picking up some fish and chips, or on your way to Fishermans Beach for a swim, when you hear the thwack of bat on ball; but instead of turning around to see a field full of cricketers, you’re met with a scene straight out of the movie ‘Field of Dreams’.
CB Wilson Reserve is the home of the Mornington Pirates Baseball Club. The club was founded by Paul Simmons in 1975 but never really found a permanent home until the late 1970’s when the council agreed the club could set up their home base at CB Wilson Reserve. It was a hard slog for the Pirates in the early days, “We had two timber, leaky-roofed sheds about 4.0m by 2.4m which served as a store and change room,” said Paul. “No toilets either. The oval was too small for two games but we still used it for two games with outfielders facing each other. It’s a miracle no one ever got hit in the back.”
But, despite all the challenges, a core group of people who were passionate about having a baseball club on the Peninsula managed to ‘build it’ and, just like in the movie, the players came to play. Through the hard work of those early club members and the generosity of local businesses, two baseball diamonds were put in place in the late 1970’s and permanent netting erected. In 2002, the club’s permanent clubroom was opened and CB Wilson Reserve finally felt like home. From just a handful of players in the first few years of their existence, the Mornington Pirates Baseball Club now fields 11 teams, 110 players in total, and is looking to grow.
“During the winter season, we have six senior teams, a women’s team and four junior teams,” said Jo Schutt, a coach of the Pirates juniors. “Our junior teams are predominantly boys, but girls also play in the junior competition and are then able to join the women’s competition once they turn 13. A lot of our junior boys start playing a second game in the seniors once they turn 14, which is also a great milestone for them. This creates a fantastic mix of ages and abilities in our men’s and women’s baseball teams, with players ranging from 13 into their 50’s; it provides a great development path for our juniors.
“We are also the only club on the Peninsula offering summer baseball. In summer the juniors play Little League Charter Baseball which offers even greater opportunities to play at a higher level, with State, National and International tournaments for juniors who want to take their baseball to the next level and try out for representative teams.”
Many may be surprised to find that baseball has been played in Australia since the mid-1850’s. The Sydney Cricket Ground even hosted a world tour by the Chicago White Sox (or stockings as they were known back then) in 1888. So the game is certainly not a fad that’s just landed on our doorstep. In fact, baseball is growing rapidly on the Peninsula and the South East in general; the Dandenong Baseball Association, of which the Mornington Pirates is an affiliate team, is one of the biggest baseball associations in Australia. Baseball Victoria’s annual reports show the growing trend in participation numbers over the last decade, with the latest figures showing close to 9000 registered players at all levels with significant increases in little league and junior competitions.
So why is it becoming so popular among the kids? I posed the question to a few of the youngsters at the Pirates; “I love baseball for the batting, friends I’ve made and having so much fun,” said 12-year-old Josh. Seven-year-old Cillian said, “I love baseball because it’s the one sport that I’ve found that I feel like it just fits. I love to try to hit the ball really strong, and hang out with all the older kids who have become my new friends.”
Kids don’t need to have played the game before to join in and take up the sport, according to Jo Schutt. “We always welcome kids or adults with absolutely no prior experience because it’s the kind of game that anyone can play. Often kids will have played some version of the game at school and find it’s a very rewarding experience to learn the skills and strategy of the game in a club environment.
“They love the ‘thinking’ element of the game and the fact that big improvements can be made with very small changes to technique and lots of practice. There’s a lot of strategy involved, so part of the challenge is learning the rules, knowing what to do with the ball when it’s hit to you and improving your knowledge with each training session, game, or even each innings. And games are played over 90 minutes or two hours, so every batter usually gets three or four turns ‘at bat’ during a game which is one of the things that kids love most.
“We also make sure each junior player has the opportunity to try all the positions on the field, including pitching and catching, and often they find something they really love and start to specialise as they get older.”
Now, more than ever, it is important to get our kids out and involved in physical activity. COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball for a lot of community sports clubs and many kids have lost their confidence in being outdoors and physically active after having been locked down for so long. So, if your child has lost their enthusiasm for the mainstream sports on offer, maybe it’s time to take them down to the ball park.
“I have coached baseball for six years as my son started when he was eight years old,” said Jo, “and I find that baseball is a sport for kids of all abilities and personalities. It’s a really great sport for kids that have never played sport before, or found a sport they love. As a coach I often get parents expressing how grateful they are that their son or daughter has found a sport and club where they feel like they belong.”
The club is also inviting local businesses looking to be part of a growing club to join as sponsors.
Mornington Pirates summer season has started.
You can find more details of the club’s programs and events on their website