Baseball in Australia 1953 – Bill Reay’s Story
- Updated: April 1, 2013
I started playing baseball when I was 19 years of age in 1953. I had never played before and a couple of mates of mine talked me into joining up with their club that they played baseball with. So I went down with them and registered with the Richmond Baseball Club, which was part of the Victorian Baseball Association in Australia. It was quite an experience to find out what this game was all about. Baseball was played in the winter in those days in 1953. Cricket was the summer sport and baseball was used by cricketers as an off season to keep their eye in and their arms developing for when they played their cricket. I had never been much good at cricket, so I was trying baseball as an alternative to cricket.
The first night I went down to the Richmond Baseball Club I got introduced to the club coach, Wally Locklier, a very experienced Baseballer. He was the 2nd Baseman for the Victorian State team, lead-off hitter and very knowledgeable about the game. He was also a very quick little runner and I learnt a lot from Wally in the few years I spoke to him. When I got introduced to Wally on that player’s night, he didn’t ask me if I had played before or not, he just looked me up and down and said, “You’ll be a catcher.” Being a smarty 19 year old I said; “What the hell does a catcher do?” So his general explanation at the time was; “Basically the last line of defence and basically nobody gets past you to the plate.”
So they gave me some catching gear and it didn’t fit very well. The breast plate dropped down well below the protection for the neck, it was floppy and you would get tangled up in it when you were trying to throw and the mask would flop down over your face. There were no such things as skid lids in those days, you just had a back to front baseball cap and the shin guards they gave me were loose and always flicking around and not holding their position. I suppose I naturally got all the poorly fitting gear because I was in the starter’s team which was down in what we called the fifths. So there were four teams above us that got the better gear and we being the new boys on the block, just had what was left. The catching mitt they gave me was a huge fully padded mitt. It’s a glove you couldn’t close. It just had an indentation in the middle of it that half a baseball fitted just inside the indentation. Without realising it, over the year or so I had that glove; it was teaching me to use two hands to catch. Because you had to have your bare hand underneath the glove to catch it as it popped back out of the glove after you stopped it with the big puddin’. “Pudding mitt” was what we use to call them. You would stop them with the glove and the ball would drop down into your bare hand. This taught me, quick transfer of the ball for throws to 2nd or 3rd base on a steal attempt. At that time you weren’t given a lot of explanation, you just sort of worked it out for yourself. They gave you the gear to see how you handled it.
The funny thing about baseball at that time was we would play on a Saturday and train on a Sunday because during the winter you couldn’t train during the week ‘cause it was too dark and we never had lights. I used to love going to training as I was always anxious to get a game. So I would never miss a training session. Throughout my career I followed this philosophy and I doubt I missed more than a handful of training sessions in all the years I was involved.
To my annoyance, while I was going to every game on Saturday, halfway through the season I hadn’t even had one minute of game time. So being 19 years old and a bit boisterous, I decided to confront the coach and see what he could do for me. So I went up to the coach of the fifths, who was an old cricketer by the name of Clive Sindry (a great knowledgeable old cricketer and a very good old Baseballer). Obviously my approach to him didn’t please him one bit, because I just said; “Listen Clive when am I going to get a bit of game time? I’ve been sitting on the bench for half a season. What about a game?” Well he turned around to me and I have never forgotten the look in his eyes. He just steeled his eyes and stared straight into mine just like a drill sergeant in the army and stuck his baseball cap up against my forehead, looked me in the eyes and said; “You’ll get a game when I think you’re good enough!” Well, being as cheeky as I was I had no answer to that so I just went back and sat on the bench and shut up.
A couple of weeks later there was a couple of innings to go before the end of the game when I heard my name called out. He was telling me to go and get my glove and warm up. I was going into the game. So I got up and grabbed a guy who helped warm me up and I ran out. He put me out at centre field for the last two innings of the game. I was determined, when I got out there, that I was going to run down every fly ball I could to make an impression on him, so I would never have to sit on the bench again. So it must have worked, because he never said anything to me, but from then on when the game team was read out, he always had me included in the starting line- up. So in the last 3-4 games I got a lot more game time than I had been getting beforehand.
I realised early through Clive Sindry and a lot of other people I spoke to, the approach to baseball is really based on what people think of you. You have to prove yourself at every level to be accepted in this game I have found. You have to lead by example, coach by example and play by example. There was an old coach at Richmond who had an influence on me with his favourite comment; “If you can remember what you did last week, you’re doing absolutely nothing for this game today.” I interpreted this to mean; “You can’t get a big head in this game because last week you might have been great, but this week is a different challenge.” I learnt a lot from the experienced players and coaches by listening to what they had to say and working on what might work for me. If it didn’t work I would try something else.
Just to finish this particular report, the P.S to it is…..
Yes I did get sick of being wiped out at the home plate, being a brick wall catcher, just allowing them to take me out and picking myself up about 10 feet in back of home plate after they finished wiping me off the face of the earth. Over the years, with help from some very good Baseballers, I developed sound techniques to make a tag for the out, rather than just being a brick wall, “come and take me out” type of catcher and developed into a reasonable catcher for the Richmond Baseball Club.
Bill Reay – Baseball
Been actively involved in baseball for over 55 years. Life member of Springvale Lions Baseball Club. Played for Richmond Baseball Club 1953-1963, North Melbourne Baseball Club 1954 (summer competition), member of the Bic Biro sponsored baseball team 1956 – 1959 (night series), Dandenong Lions Baseball Club 1964-1973 & Springvale Lions Baseball 1973-2013. Coached Richmond Baseball Club for 2 years, Dandenong Lions Baseball & Springvale Lions Baseball Club A Grade coach for over 8 years, DBA Rep Teams for over 10 years, Understudy to the Australian Catcher in 1956. Junior coach and development for over 50 years. Administration – Delegate, umpire Past Vice President of Dandenong Baseball Association. Coached Springvale Lions Women’s team for 6 years. The Springvale Lions Baseball Club established the Bill Reay Best Women’s Player Baseball Award in his honor.