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PLAY BALL, MATE // Aussies batty over baseball

The foul ball ricochets off a seat and rolls down the isle.

"It's mine," Steve Raulerson yells as he dives face first into the concrete. Another kid has the same idea, but after a brief scuffle, Raulerson emerges triumphant, ball in hand. "Yes!"

A few weeks before, the Snellville, Ga. 16-year-old dreamed he would catch a high fly in the stands.

"I don't remember who was playing," he says. "But it really doesn't matter, because as long as it's baseball, I don't care."

And neither do a couple of thousand other people who ventured out in the hot sun at 10 a.m this Monday to watch Australia and The Netherlands slug it out on the baseball field.

Wait a minute. Australia? The Netherlands? Baseball?

Maybe rugby or soccer, but not America's pastime.

"Where have you've been, mate," says Bill Hynes. "We've been playing baseball in our country since the Second World War."

The Aussies are mad about cricket, a game not unlike our nation's favorite sport, and baseball's not all that different. You've got a bat, a ball, a field, fans...

"I come from the bush, a mining city in New South Wales," Hynes explains. "We played baseball in the winter to keep our eyes sharp for cricket in the summer. That is why Australia produces some of the best (cricket) fielders in the world."

Hynes, and a dozen or so of his countryman, travelled 10,000 miles to see his son and the rest of the Australian team show the world the wonder of Down Under.

"We took it to the Cubans on Saturday," he says. "We we're leading them 4 to 2 early one, but by the time the rain started, they had tied it up, 8 to 8."

Hynes didn't get a chance to finish the story, because a player for the Netherlands nailed a triple to centerfield.

"That hurts," he says. "Wait till we get up. We'll show 'em."

The Cubans, touted as the team to beat in '96, bounced back to trounce the Aussies 19 to 8. It looked like Hynes' mates were in for another shellacking as the Dutch sluggers poured it on, scoring run after run and it was still only the first inning.

Lisa Hinton, whose husband was getting plenty of work at shortstop, looks a little worried.

"This is turning into a real hit fest," she says. "What is this? Batting practice?"

But Hynes, whose son was holding his own in left field, refuses to give up hope. He records each hit, no matter how painful, faithfully on his scorecard.

The 55-year-old environmental consultant exudes national pride, from his kangaroo socks to his Akubra hat.

"As far as I'm concerned mate, this is the official headgear for baseball," he said.

Finally, a pop out to right center retired the Danish side, and Hynes offered some insight into baseball, Australian style.

"We get some of your major league games on television, and the Sydney Morning Herald runs the box scores and division rankings at least twice a week," he says. "We have our own Australian League with eight teams, and some of our players have moved on to play for the United States."

Australian Mark Hutton, for example, recently started a game as a pitcher for the New York Yankees. Baseball fans have grown accustomed to seeing Latin Americans in the major leagues, but with players such Japan's Hideo Nomo wowing the crowds at Dodgers Stadium, perhaps they should get ready for a true "world" series.

By best estimates, baseball is played by an estimated 20 million people in 60 countries.

"In my country, baseball doesn't have the profile that it does here, but the sport is growing," Hynes says. "Our teams are allowed three of your AA players each. Next year, one major leaguer will be allowed."

Hynes stops again when the umpire calls a high ball a strike. He doesn't yell, "Throw the bum out!" but give him a few more innings, and he'll loosen up.

Finally, leftfielder David Hynes steps up to the plate. The solicitor from Sydney stands 6'5" and weighs 265.

"He hit .390 last year," his father says. "But I wouldn't call him a slugger. He hits a lot of line drives."

Hynes let the first pitch go by, low and tight.

"Don't worry," his father says. "He'll put it on for guys."

The second pitch, however, looks too good to let by.

Saaaa-wing batta...Crack! A rocket's launched over the left field fence.

"Now that's a start, mate," Hynes says as his son rounds the bases. "Show the pitcher who's boss."

Hynes logs the homer on his score sheet, then cozies up to the reporter.

"In Australia we call that an UFB," he wispers to the reporter.

"UFB?"

"You __- beauty!," he says.

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