First baseman Nic Spence loves every minute of taking a game he played in near obscurity in his home country of
Only, the second he yells a command from his first-base post to the rest of the infield, his unique background becomes more obvious than a high-and-tight fastball.
"Runnah!" Spence echoes across Marge Schott Stadium.
The alert doesn't sound awkward to Spence, a native of
"I guess it's a little bit different than how you guys pronounce it," he said, allowing a knowing shrug.
His accented alert quickly became a catch phrase with the new teammates Spence met upon his first UC season since transferring from Central Arizona CC. It lasted about a week, then predictably, another of his unique accented phrases turned into a running gag around the Bearcats.
Spence expects jokes. Living on the opposite side of the world from his hometown, ribbing comes with the territory. Select phrases are lost in translation and he caught the first sight of snow in his life. Still, he's quick to point out his new home in
That is, except for the atmosphere surrounding the baseball field he now calls home.
There are no high school baseball teams in
On the national sports radar, baseball falls somewhere into a jumble behind Aussie football, soccer and cricket. In fact, only seven players from the country currently play in the bigs.
For those reasons, just by starting for the Bearcats, Spence is defying the odds of his home country.
"He's got pretty good feel for the game for a guy whose probably not played the game as our guys have played as a young kid growing up," Bearcats coach Brian Cleary said. "He's got really good baseball instincts."
He built those baseball instincts living like a minor leaguer for most of his childhood. Without many local teams to play against -- even at the age of nine when Spence first started playing baseball -- his teams traveled an hour or more for nearly every game.
Spence spurned the more popular sports. They never fit. He wasn't quite interested in the running of soccer or physicality of Aussie football.
Much like the jokes he endures regarding his accent at UC, he took on the comments about playing an obscure sport in his home country in stride.
"All my mates were playing football and I am sort of the odd one out playing baseball," Spence said. "As much as they give you a hard time about it, it's also tongue and cheek because people knew I loved baseball a lot and had an opportunity to come over here."
His opportunity came with a blueprint.
Nic's brother Josh, 23, is two years older and first left
Watching Josh prove his baseball success in
Actually, for Nic, it was a no-brainer.
"It made the process easier, the fact he's in the same steps," Spence said. "I always wanted to play baseball, so my junior/senior year, I knew I wanted to come over to play. It was made easier the fact that Josh was playing at
Two years into his junior college experience,
The concept of taking on a player who didn't own the same exposure to the game in his youth didn't subdue Cleary's excitement about the potential match. Cleary spent a stint as a pitching coach for the British National team, which was comprised of many Australian players. Not as many players take part in the game down under, but those that do played it well in Cleary's estimation.
"I wasn't as concerned about that," Cleary said. "We had gotten so many positive responses doing research and digging on what kind of kid he is. Will he work? Will he compete? As you do that you rarely get a unanimous response when everyone says this guy is the makeup of what you are looking for. But in this case it was."
Spence struggled with the bat early in the season, seeing his average hang consistently below .200. Cleary connected most of the struggles to adjusting to the speed of Division I baseball. Spence's unique background required unique solutions.
"In having a conversation with him, he really did some things that you say, 'Man, that's really unorthodox, how did you ever learn that?'" Cleary said. "And in talking to him he says that's how you swing a cricket - I don't even know what - paddle? You sit there and say 'OK, that makes some sense.'"
Of late, Spence put down the cricket, uh, paddle, and picked up the whooping stick. He entered Wednesday on a seven-game hitting streak where he's hitting .393 including a 4 of 5 performance Tuesday against Otterbein. Actually, over the past month he's hitting .317 with 20 hits in 63 at bats.
His offensive numbers serve as icing on the cake that is his defense. He's started every game because Cleary wouldn't dare take his glove out of the lineup.
"I say all the time, there is nobody who is a good enough defender to warrant not giving you some offense," Cleary said. "But he might be the exception to that rule. I can't tell you how many outs and runs he's saved."
Spence established himself as a central figure of the program for the next two years. Beyond that, he hopes to establish himself as a central figure in this remarkably baseball-crazed side of the world.
"It's a dream to go play pro baseball, but I know that's not for everyone," Spence said. "I'd love to stay over here in
Going back to his home country and adding to the slowly growing number of coaches and players in
"I think his strength is how he attacks the game and how he handles himself," Cleary said. "I think he's great and, you know, he brings the accent."