Aussie Setting The Record Straight

6/23/04 – Daily News Record – Written by Aaron Gray

By AARON GRAY Daily News-Record When you’re from another country, people tend to ask you lots of questions. Harrisonburg second baseman Cameron Clarke, a native of Australia, has heard them all – queries on everything from his accent to the movies. An example. In the closing scene of the movie "Point Break", Patrick Swayze is supposed to be surfing at Bells Beach in Australia. That touched a nerve in Clarke. "That beach is five miles from my house," the avid surfer said. "It looks nothing like that. That was probably filmed in California." Not that Clarke can speak from geographical experience. Besides a brief stint at a community college in Texas and playing at Oklahoma City University this past year, the third stop on Clarke’s U.S. tour has landed him in Harrisonburg with the Turks. But unfortunately for Clarke, there’s no surfing in the Shenandoah Valley. "Three years ago, I sold my surfboard for a plane ticket." Clarke said. His ultimate goal? To get drafted by a major league team. But in the Land Down Under, America’s pastime has always taken a backseat to cricket – the continent’s premier sport. "Like whiffle ball in America, everyone grows up playing cricket in Australia," said Clarke, who played on club cricket teams until he was 16 years old. The two sports are said to have common origins in the 17th century English game of rounders. Like cricket, rounders was played with a pair of stumps and two bases. The bowler (or pitcher in baseball) used to bowl under arm to the batsman who used cricket bats to protect the three stumps behind him. Over time, Americans refined the game into baseball. "The positions are totally different and cricket players don’t use gloves," Clarke said. Clarke’s father, a lifetime cricket player, taught his son the game when he was six years old. But instead of following Aussie cricket heroes like Matthew Hayden and Mark Taylor, Clarke watched televised MLB games at 3 a.m. at his family’s home in Victoria, Australia. "Growing up, all I’ve wanted to do was play baseball in the States," said Clarke, who spent two years at Australia’s Victorian Institute of Sport in preparation for a collegiate baseball career in America. The 22-year-old feels his chances of getting drafted will be improved by playing in Harrisonburg. In this year’s draft, 13 current or former Turks were selected, Clarke’s including OCU teammates E.J. Shanks (San Diego) and Grant Hanson (Chicago). The move to America, however, came with an obvious cost. Clarke has not seen his family since Christmas of 2002. "It’s tough not seeing my family," said the 6-foot-1, 191-pound Clarke, who calls America his new home. "Playing all the time keeps me busy, so it’s the breaks in between seasons when I get homesick. This year, fortunately, my college team went far." Clarke was a member of a Stars team that tallied a conference-record 73 wins and appeared in the NAIA National Championship this spring. He had a .630 slugging percentage, 72 RBIs and a team-high 26 doubles. Clarke was also fourth on the team in batting average (.394); hits (100) and runs scored (69). After a breakout season, the second-team All-American caught the attention of Turks manager Bob Wease. "He had a great year in Oklahoma and we’re expecting big things from him this summer," said Wease, who plans to use Clarke as a second baseman and designated hitter. Clarke got off to a slow start this summer, but he said it can’t be blamed on his cricket swing. "I’m just not playing so great right now, it has nothing to do with my swing," said Clarke, who has tallied only seven hits in 32 plate appearances this season. "If anything, playing cricket has helped my hand-eye coordination for baseball." On Monday, with Harrisonburg trailing 5-2, Clarke had a full count against Winchester pitcher Scott Yant with runners on first and second in the eighth inning. The Turks had been 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and were in serious need of offense. His RBI-single to center field started a four-run Harrisonburg rally that produced a 6-5 victory. The Turks (8-6) entered Tuesday night’s game a half-game behind Southern Division-leading Woodstock (9-6. They travel to Luray, which is in first-place in the Northern Division, at 7:30 p.m. tonight. While baseball is his primary focus, Clarke is also trying to clear up all those Aussie stereotypes. "My college coach always told people I knew the crocodile hunter," Clarke said. "They don’t even have that show in Australia. I like Steve Irwin, but I never saw the show until I came to the America."