Happy belated Australia Day, former Brewers

Cameron Spencer

It's already Tuesday in Sydney, but here we're only a day late celebrating Australian-born Brewers.

On January 26, 1788, the First Fleet of British ships arrived at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, seeking to establish a penal colony in Australia. Amazingly enough, the anniversary of that event is celebrated annually as "Australia Day." This year's celebration was on Sunday, although for most of the US it was still Saturday.

According to Wikipedia, observances of Australia Day include family gatherings, picnics and barbecues, the presentation of the "Australian of the Year" Award and the unveiling of the "Triple J Hottest 100." I'd like to add another observance to that list: an annual toast to the Australian baseball players who have appeared in games for the Milwaukee Brewers.

From 1884-1992 there were just two Australian born major leaguers: Second baseman Joe Quinn played 17 MLB seasons across eight teams and four leagues from 1884-1901, and shortstop Craig Shipley played eleven seasons as a member of five teams in the 1980's and 90's. Since, however, 26 more Australian-born players have joined that list, and nearly 25% of them have ties to the Brewers.

We'll start, of course, with Brisbane native and catcher Dave Nilsson, who was only the third Aussie in MLB history when he made his Brewers debut on May 18, 1992. Nilsson appeared in 837 games as a Brewer over eight MLB seasons, making him the longest tenured Australian-born player in MLB history. He was an AL All Star in his final season in 1999, hitting .309/.400/.554 with 21 home runs in 115 games.

Shortly after Nilsson's debut he was joined by Geelong native Graeme Lloyd, who had a long major league career as a left handed reliever. In 1993 Lloyd and Nilsson became MLB's first all-Aussie battery. Lloyd spent his first four big league seasons in Milwaukee, appearing in 183 games and posting a 3.67 ERA. All told, his 533 innings pitched and 568 pitching appearances are the most ever for an Australian-born player. (more on that later)

After Nilsson and Lloyd's departure the Brewers went without an Australian for a few years before signing Sydney native and infielder Trent Durrington to a minor league contract. Durrington appeared in 81 games as a Brewer between the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and even pitched in a game in 2004.

Today Sydney native Grant Balfour is known as one of baseball's most effective relievers, but when he joined the Brewers in 2007 it was his first MLB appearance in nearly three years. He struggled in three games with the Crew, posting a 20.25 ERA over just 2.2 innings before being traded to Tampa Bay in the deal that brought Seth McClung to Milwaukee. Since the start of the 2008 season, however, Balfour has a 2.74 ERA over 383 appearances. He needs to pitch 60 more innings and make 103 more appearances to pass Graeme Lloyd for the Australian career lead on both lists.

The other two Australian major leaguers with Brewers ties both only played for the organization in the minors: Pitcher Chris Oxspring made 18 starts for AAA Nashville in 2007, and outfielder Trent Oeltjen played in 70 games for the Sounds in 2010. Oxspring was a big leaguer with the 2005 Padres, and Oeltjen got the call with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers between 2009-11.

So, with the acknowledgement that we're a couple of days behind, we'd like to wish a happy Australia Day to all of you and to the Aussie Brewers.

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