By JOE McFARLAND
Imagine moving to a new town to keep your career aspirations alive. An unfamiliar street takes you to your new home, where you will meet new people and make new friends. Maybe you have moved to a new province or maybe across a border.
But how about packing up your things, getting on an airplane and crossing an ocean to get there?
The international flavour of baseball has been getting more intense with each passing season. Not only are we seeing more nations represented by players in Major League Baseball, but the league has started playing special games in other nations in hopes of driving up interest in the sport.
So it should come as no surprise that the Western Major Baseball League has also seen a more worldly influence this season. Not only have players come from across Canada and the United States, but WMBL teams have players listing hometowns in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Japan, Czech Republic and Australia.
Both hail from the country’s east coast, with Mayo born in Sydney while Gahan calls East Lismore home and both are hoping their Canadian stops will help them in their journey towards professional baseball.
FAIR GO, MATE
Family always plays an integral part in moulding the minds of young athletes. For both Mayo and Gahan, it means two totally different things when it comes to their influence early on.
Gahan started playing baseball when he was 4 or 5, as his whole family had played. In fact, his uncle Matthew Gahan played pro ball in the New York Mets system in 2001-2002. Mayo saw the sport for the first time at the same age, but he got into it for a different reason.
“The only reason was because my dad didn’t want to sit around and watch me play cricket as a kid,” Mayo told Alberta Dugout Stories. “He said there would be nothing worse than watching kids running around playing cricket.”
He had some family friends playing t-ball and he was hooked as “everyone got to have a go.”
Both continued to play the game and were given the opportunity to ply their respective trades across the pond in the United States. Mayo started off at Weatherford College in Texas, while Gahan headed to Miles Community College in Montana.
#GNACBaseball | Michael Gahan's stellar complete-game outing forces tournament finale as @MSUBsports earns a 6-4 win over @WOUWolves.
The final game of the tournament can be watched NOW on https://t.co/URkCdPbjcz!https://t.co/i49GyQra00 pic.twitter.com/Qfuj57De5Y
— GNAC Sports (@GNACsports) May 11, 2018
“From a young age, playing travel ball and being able to play internationally, I was able to travel a fair bit and I just kind of got used to being on the road, I guess,” Gahan said, when asked about living out of a suitcase. “It’s just been normal for me to be away from home so much.”
As college baseball players often do, both also graduated to bigger state-side programs. Gahan moved on to Montana State University while Mayo found himself at McNeese State University.
#McNeese baseball fans you’ll wanna get to know newcomer Lachlan Mayo. He’s 2-3 tonight with a 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R. He hits it HARD!
— McNeese Baseball (@McNeeseBaseball) November 4, 2017
Both also understood that to make their baseball dreams a reality, they would need to play summer ball somewhere. And that’s when Canada came calling.
While the destination for both Gahan and Mayo was the same, the path to get here was different. For Gahan, it was an actual phone call.
“It was Ray (Brown) asking whether I wanted to come up but I had already committed to playing in Arizona,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander said of the call in 2016. “A year later, I was thinking about where I wanted to play summer ball and remember there was a place in Canada and I hadn’t been there yet so I thought I wouldn’t mind checking it out.”
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He ended up emailing the Prospects skipper and found his way onto the roster for the first time in 2017.
Mayo can thank an old friend, Scott Cone, for getting him hooked on the idea of coming to Canada.
“I remember talking to him about the great time he had in Canada (with Lethbridge in 2014) so I asked him what he thought the odds were of finding me a spot,” Mayo reminisced. “He got in contact with Kevin (Kvame) and Coach Mac (Ryan MacDonald) and they decided to give me a shot.”
Mayo’s first stint with the Bulls came in 2016, then he played for the Victoria Generals in 2017 before coming back to the Bulls for 2018. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound slugger unfortunately had to leave the team in mid-July for some dental work, but looks back on his time in Southern Alberta with fondness.
Lachlan Mayo was named the WMBL Player of the Week for June 30th – July 6th!
— Lethbridge Bulls (@lethbridgebulls) July 10, 2018
“I loved it,” he said. “I absolutely loved it. It’s just a fun league to play in and that’s why I decided to come back again because I had such a good time my first year playing.”
Gahan is also feeling lucky he’s missed out on one aspect of life in Canada: winter.
“That’s nice because I’m a warm weather guy,” he smiled before turning his attention to his teammates. “Everyone is super-friendly here and it’s been a good time.”
ONE FOR THE ROAD
When you speak with Canadians who play the game on an international level, they will say that other teams have a different style. Baseball is a pretty basic game, yet the athletes can pinpoint some of the subtleties. So as outsiders looking in, Gahan and Mayo have been able to see the Canadian game.
“For the most part, Australia, the US and Canada are all fairly similar,” Gahan compared. “In Australia, it’s kind of a little more dirtbag-ish.”
Having played in international tournaments, he has seen the most stark differences coming out of Chinese-Taipai and Japan, which he calls a “very different style of baseball,” one that can be hard to deal with from a strategy perspective.
Michael Gahan working overtime for Edmonton Prospects https://t.co/BuPkfsPBJ7
— Edmonton Prospects (@EdmProspects) August 11, 2017
Mayo, on the other hand, thinks one of the biggest adjustments he’s had to make was in the southern United States, like Texas and Louisiana.
“It’s a little more hard-nosed and they just tend to get after it in a more serious way,” Mayo said. “It’s a little more fun the way it is in Canada. You can just go out there and get after it and have some fun with the guys on the team.”
It’s a style Mayo likes and something his coach appreciates.
“He’s one of the most-intense guys,” Lethbridge Bulls head coach Jesse Sawyer said. “He hates to fail but he’s a really good kid.”
Both Australians say they have enjoyed their time in Canada, and even in their short time here, they have noticed the talent pool.
“The hitting was unreal with a lot of guys putting up great numbers,” Mayo said. “I enjoyed watching the talent through the league and it’s definitely getting better. I think across the board, all the teams are becoming a lot more competitive which is awesome. It’s great for the league.”
While he and Gahan hope Canada is one more suitcase along the roadtrip to a pro baseball career, they both acknowledge it’s more than just a game.
“The biggest thing is the friendships,” Gahan said. “You can only play baseball for a certain amount of time, but friendships can last forever.”