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American Pitchers Abroad See Firsthand How Australia Has A Handle On Covid-19

Australia Covid Waltervilla
Rick and Carly Teasley (left); Matt Hardy (right)

A strict two-week quarantine upon arrival, computerized contact tracing and city-wide shutdowns after even one positive Covid test.

That’s what baseball in Australia was like this past winter for American pitchers Matt Hardy and Rick Teasley.

Hardy is a 25-year-old righthander in the Brewers organization. He won an Division II national title with Nova Southeastern (Fla.) in 2016 and started his pro career the following year as an nondrafted free agent.

Teasley is a 29-year-old lefthander who is not under contract with a major league organization. The Rays drafted him in the 23rd round in 2013 out of Saint Leo (Fla.), another D-II program, but released him after one year. Teasley has spent most of his pro career in independent leagues.

“My competition as a lefty in the Rays organization was a guy like Blake Snell,” Teasley said in a self-deprecating way. “He was throwing 98 (mph) effortlessly, and I wasn’t.”

Despite that setback, Teasley still carved out a pro career with stops in Taiwan, Venezuela and Mexico as well as Australia and the U.S.

Teasley played in the Australian Baseball League previously, but Covid made his most recent stay totally different.

For starters, Teasley, Hardy and anyone else entering Australia during the pandemic were forced into an extremely disciplined quarantine. Foreigners are only allowed in to the country if they have work visas, Teasley said.

Upon arrival, military police officers scoop the travelers up at the airport and take them to a windowless hotel, where they do not leave their rooms for two weeks. They even take away their room keys.

Three free meals are sent to the rooms daily, and guests can also pay to order extra food from Uber Eats.

“It was like being in a really nice jail,” Hardy said.

The Brisbane Bandits, the team Hardy and Teasley played for, sent over exercise equipment for use in the room.

Hardy, for example, said he threw a weighted ball against the mattress, which twice drew noise complaints. He also jumped rope—1,000 reps a day—and putted golf balls into a coffee cup.

To further pass the time, he re-watched the entire "Breaking Bad" series on Netflix.

“Quarantine was OK for the first couple of days,” Hardy said, “but then it got really tough mentally. I’m normally an outdoorsy person.”

Teasley, who spent Christmas in quarantine and got out on New Year’s Day, said Australia’s drastic methods worked.

“During the seven weeks I was there,” Teasley said, “they only had a couple hundred positive cases in the whole country.”

Once cleared to enter Australian society, the Americans discovered the world of high-tech contact tracing.

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Before entering any public place, everyone in Australia must type in their information into their phone and then have the barcode scanned in order to proceed. If anyone in the country tests positive, contact tracing begins. E-mails are then sent to anyone who was at those same locations, and a quarantine period begins.

“I didn’t mind the barcode process,” Hardy said. “It only takes a minute, and if that’s what it takes to not wear a mask and to live in a safe environment, I’m all in.”

That’s right—people don’t wear masks in Australia, other than at the airports or in Ubers. It’s also important to know that the Australian government fines and even closes businesses that do not enforce the barcode system.

And Australian cities routinely shut down for a few days after even one positive test.

“They changed our league schedule four times due to those shutdowns,” Teasley said. “If we had even one player test positive, the season would’ve been over.”

As for the standings for the six-team league, Brisbane finished in last place (8-18) in what was a condensed schedule because of Covid. The Melbourne Aces (19-9) finished first in the regular season and won a brief postseason.

Teasley went 2-0, 3.63. Hardy went 0-3, 7.63.

Hardy said the ABL league is usually equivalent to Class A ball, but it felt like Double-A or Triple-A this season because of all the affiliated players added to the 2021 mix.

Beyond that, the native players are getting better, Teasley said.

“For the Australians, they usually play for their home cities, and it’s a pride thing,” Teasley said. “They want to win for bragging rights.”

Teasley has seen a lot in his overseas career. In Taiwan, for example, a home hitter’s “walk-up song” plays for the entire at-bat. That noise plus 30,000 fans with thunder sticks makes it exceptionally difficult for the visitors.

In Venezuela, one of the most dangerous places in the globe at the moment, most players carry guns and check them into their lockers prior to games, Teasley said.

Australia, though, has been Teasley’s favorite place to play because of the people and also all there is to do outdoors.

“I’ve won two championships in my career, and they were both in Brisbane,” Teasley said. “The fans who love baseball wait all year for the season.

“Playing there was a blast.”

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