For Orioles minor league players, it provides a chance to extend their summer, play more baseball and work on their games. It also provides a chance to see a land far, far away and maybe even spend Christmas in Australia.
Over the years, the Orioles have developed a strong professional relationship with the Perth Heat of the winter Australian Baseball League. Perth has won the championship three of the last four years. It has become a destination for O’s farmhands to play winter ball and see the world.
The point man on the Australian end of this relationship is Owen Reid, a 27-year-old American from Moberly, Miss., who played college baseball at Baylor and Winthrop. He’s a 2009 Winthrop grad.
Reid played in the Australian League himself and is now the player development manager for Perth. He moved to Perth permanently in October 2010.
Reid said the Perth team has a strong relationship with the Orioles.
“We have, I wouldn’t say working agreements, we have relationships with other staff members or coaches in other organizations. But, by far, the Orioles are the best relationship we have with any of the 30 major league teams. That goes way back through a lot of people that held various positions in the organization,” he said.
“It might be more of a longstanding partnership or relationship. It has been an incredible experience for us. We know we are getting class players from a classy organization that are there to work and make the baseball experience better.”
In recent years, among the current or former O’s farmhands to play with Perth are Micheal Ohlman, Mychal Givens, Brenden Webb, Brett Jacobsen, Cole McCurry, Robbie Widlansky, Robbie Welty, Steve Bumbry and Allen de san Miguel.
Last winter, Tucker Nathans, Zach Staniewicz, Kevin Grendell and Pita Rona played with Perth. Perth has won championships in that league for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons.
So what is the level of ball in the Australian League?
“It is a broad spectrum of players there,” Reid said. “There are both active and former major leaguers and there are players that have never played a day of pro ball. That stems from the playing system that Australia has. You play for a local club and build your way up to a top team.
“It seems like the guys always compare it to A-ball on average. On a good day, there are a handful of guys in a lineup that are maybe Double-A caliber talent.”
Ohlman, a catcher currently with the Orioles’ Double-A Bowie team, played in Perth during December 2012 and January 2013. Ohlman used the experience he gained there to help propel himself to have a big year at Single-A Frederick last summer and it all led him to earn a spot on the O’s 40-man roster last November.
“It is a little different,” Ohlman said. “You leave your winter to go have an extended summer. You only play on the weekends. Sometimes Thursday through Sunday or just Friday through Sunday. But it was a fantastic experience. My host family was great, everyone was real nice.
“It was like a baseball vacation. I didn’t waste a minute out there. Was always going to see the sights. The baseball was just as good. I was actually surprised and it’s getting better.
“They had the opening series for MLB this year out there. The game is getting more popular there and that is kind of what the league is all about, exposing baseball to another country.
“I’m a huge advocate of playing winter ball. I got to play in Arizona. It will be interesting to see if and where I go this offseason. I like to go play during the winter.”
Ohlman gave up some offseason family time to play in Australia and even spent Christmas there. He said he and some of his teammates spent Christmas morning in December 2012 at a water park.
“That was the hardest part mentally going into it, knowing you are going to be away for so long. But once I got over there and got acclimated, my host family made me feel like I was at home. I loved it over there,” he said.
Not only did Ohlman get to advance his game a bit in Australia with the added at-bats and catching experience, but he got to a see a part of the world that he might otherwise never have seen.
As part of the ongoing Australia-Baltimore connection, Reid paid a visit to Orioles spring training in Sarasota, Fla., in March. He got a chance to spend time with some players that have played for Perth and also to see the O’s major and minor league camps. Reid has a background in strength and conditioning and spent time with several members of the Orioles strength and conditioning staff.
His visit just cemented the O’s already strong relationship with the Perth Heat.
“It was more than I ever anticipated,” Reid said of that Florida visit. “I came over to gain some knowledge in strength and conditioning. It was much more. Brady Anderson even took me to big league camp to work with some of the strength coaches there.
“I was spoiled to see those guys interact with players like Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Nick Markakis and Ubaldo Jimenez. To see those guys get after it in the weight room and with conditioning was incredible to see. I have a passion for conditioning, as I do the game between the lines.
“Seeing the dynamic of major league camp and also being with the minor league guys at Twin Lakes Park was great. To see how it all flows together with guys that will play at short-season all the way up to the majors.”
He was very welcomed by the O’s staff and Reid left his Sarasota visit feeling pretty good about the Orioles.
“Everyone was awesome,” he said. “The vibe throughout the O’s organization was so positive and upbeat. Seems like it’s a great time to be an Oriole. No matter the hat you wear, everyone is marching to the same beat. It’s all about progress, winning games and everyone working together. It was real refreshing to see that.
“It was an honor to be there and be welcomed as I was. We have a great relationship with the Orioles.”