Klein's baseball odyssey continues in Australia
By Kenn Staab
For the CLARION NEWS
Sometimes a quest can take you to a few pretty far flung places and area native Tanner Klein knows this first-hand.
After all, in 2019 his pursuit of playing professional baseball took him from Shippenville to a summer in Roswell, New Mexico to a fall and winter in Australia.
Klein, a former multi-sport athlete at Clarion Area High School, began his odyssey in May 2019 by donning the navy blue and nuclear (alien) green of the Roswell Invaders, a member of the independent Pecos League.
The second-year pro pitched 63 and two-thirds innings over the course of 18 appearances throughout the American southwest, compiling a 3-1 record with one save and an earned run average of 4.38.
At the plate, he hit .321 in 21 games, driving in nine runs.
The opportunity to play "Down Under" came up during the middle of Roswell's season. Klein was initially contacted by his off-season pitching coach, Kaleb Heffner of The Velocity Farm in Iowa, who had heard about an Australian club that was looking for a pro player.
"It sounded pretty cool. I didn't even hesitate. Baseball in Australia during the winter instead of the snow in Pennsylvania sounded pretty good to me. Within two weeks of them asking, my flights were booked and everyone knew I was going," reported Klein.
Once his summer stint as an Invader was in the books, Klein took off for Australia. Arriving in September, the start of spring in the southern hemisphere, he joined the Narangba Demons.
Located in the northwest Australian state of Queensland, Narangba is a suburb of Brisbane, the continent's third most populous city.
The Demons, a club team in the Greater Brisbane League, played two games a week, on Fridays and Sundays, through mid-March (though Klein returned to Pennsylvania in late February).
"I ended up pitching every Friday and playing a position wherever was needed on Sunday and batting third all year," said Klein, describing his role on the team.
As a club team, the Demons, like most squads in the league, had a few professional players with the bulk coming from the amateur ranks.
Explained Klein, "We were division one, the highest of the club's six divisions (which extended down to T-ball). All these clubs bring in professional players and guys who just finished college. Being the professional at the club you have to hold yourself to a higher standard and perform every week."
There's others who just play for the love of the game. Those guys don't have any attachment professionally. They go out there and they give it their all every single weekend."
Klein found the level of play in the Demons' league to be competitive.
"It's such a new game for them (many Australians). Baseball is a growing sport but they're gaining ground and really producing some athletes. But it's raw. You have guys that can throw, that can play, that have been playing just as long as I have," relayed Klein.
"The competition's there. Guys would jump up and down from the Australian Baseball League (ABL, on par with minor league baseball in the states). If you played in the ABL you're considered a professional baseball player. So loads and loads of talent."
Despite considering the league to be hitter-friendly, Klein had some memorable performances on the mound.
He pitched a five-hitter in a 12-4 victory over the Ipswich Musketeers on Nov. 1, striking out 17 without surrendering a walk. Fourteen days later he had another 17-strike out, no-walk game, going the distance in a shut-out against the Coomera Cubs, 2-0.
Klein found many similarities between baseball in the states and Australia, including the playing rules and, surprisingly, the use of feet and inches as unit of measures on the field.
In fact, games on Friday evenings evoked memories of playing at Clarion's Paul A. Weaver Park as a teenager.
"They play nine-inning games except on Friday nights. All the fields are in neighborhoods and they have light curfews. You either have nine innings or the light curfew comes and they'll (the umpires) end it after the home team's at bat," revealed Klein. "Exactly like over here at Weaver. You're like, Oops, game's done.' Nothing you can do about it."
During Klein's stay the world news was dominated by stories of massive fires in Australia that burned over 15.6 million acres.
"We had a couple (fires) but it wasn't like the ones you saw on the news. Nothing like they got in Sydney or Melbourne (in the south). I saw one and it was very, very small. It was very overcast because of all the ashes and air quality was a problem," he noted.
Though Klein returned to the United States in February 2020 to pursue professional playing possibilities this spring, including a potential return to the Pecos League, those plans have been put on hold due to the Coronavirus.
He is, however, hopeful of returning to Australia again this year.
"My club took care of me very well and they already invited me back. As long as everything goes as it should, I'll be back playing in Australia this fall."