06/10/2009 – Daily News Record
Written By Marcus Helton Daily News Record Aussie Pitcher Joins Turks HARRISONBURG – At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Aaron Luchterhand certainly looks the part of a college baseball player. The only problem the Australia native faced when joining the Harrisonburg Turks was that he didn’t quite sound like one – at least to Turks manager Bob Wease. "He called me up on the phone, and I had no idea what he was saying," Wease said. "I had no idea, and all I said was, ‘Yes, yes, OK, OK.’ Then I had to put Teresa [Wease] on the phone and she couldn’t understand him either. We got our assistant coach Steve [Sanchez] to talk to him, because he’s had Australian kids before, so he knew what he was saying." It’s not that Luchterhand’s accent doesn’t have its fans, though. "The girls, they’re like, ‘Oh, I love your accent, just keep talking!’" he said with a smile recently. "… ‘I always wanted to go to Australia!’" Neither Wease nor Luchterhand – a freshman right-hander from Redlands Community College in Oklahoma – are anticipating any communication issues on the field. Wease said he heard about Luchterhand from Keith Lytle, an assistant coach at Oklahoma City University. OCU has sent several players to the Turks over the years. "He told me he throws pretty hard," Wease said of Lytle’s scouting report, "and that he could be one of the better pitchers in this league." Luchterhand – who says his fastball tops out at 93 miles an hour – has yet to make his Valley League debut, if for no other reason than the weather. The Turks (1-1) have already been rained out twice, including Tuesday afternoon, when a thunderstorm scrubbed a date with Fauquier at Long Field. The 20-year-old Luchterhand said he’s been playing baseball since he was 5, but admitted the game isn’t exactly popular in his home country. "When we won the silver medal in the Olympics [in 2004], it started to grow," he said, "and then apart from that it’s just slowly gone back down. We’ll have a few years where it will get big, and then it’ll start going down and get big again." Because Australian high schools don’t offer varsity baseball programs, players play on club teams, the equivalent to American Legion squads in the U.S. Luchterhand ended up at Redlands via a pipeline the school has established through coach Matt Newgent. The Cougars’ roster boasts four Australians, as well as a player from the Czech Republic. Newgent was in Australia on a recruiting trip this week and could not be reached for comment. "His college roommate was an Australian," Redlands assistant Jacob Johnson said of Newgent, "and then he was a scout for the White Sox for a while and ended up meeting a scout who was over there and they just built a relationship. We got a few players his first year, and then it’s been pretty much from player reference from there on." The biggest obstacle facing Australian players who come to the States, Johnson said, is the sheer number of games. As far as baseball skills, however, he said they aren’t that far behind their American counterparts. "It was a bit different going from wood bats to tin bats," Luchterhand said, "but apart from that, it was pretty much [the same]." The Valley League should add to that familiarity: Unlike colleges, which use metal bats, the VBL uses the wood version. For Luchterhand, the biggest differences between his home and the USA – understandably – are social. "It was different because I was from a bigger city," Luchterhand said. "I’m from just outside Brisbane, it’s like a big area, and then you go to El Reno, Oklahoma, a country town. It was a big culture shock. … We can go out clubbing when we’re 18 back home, and here it’s 21." How well opponents clubbed Luchterhand is uncertain – his statistics were not available Tuesday. But in an April game against Northern Oklahoma College-Enid – then ranked No. 2 nationally – Luchterhand tossed a four-hit shutout while striking out seven and walking none. He took the loss in the team’s season-ending 10-2 loss to Western in the NJCAA Region 2 tournament, allowing six earned runs in five innings. "He had a pretty good season for a freshman," Johnson said. "I mean, I don’t think he had the wins and losses that he wanted. I would say some of that was built on us having 11 guys out through injury, so we were kind of bumped up this year. But he had a great freshman year, and we see big things from him coming back. I mean, he’ll probably be our [No.] 1 or 2 up there at the top and getting after it." Eventually, he’ll also pitch for the Turks – whether they all understand him or not.