While the Central League has a rich history of memorable players, the league doesn’t have a significant international flavor to it.
Especially not from the land down under.
Still, there's no mistaking where Mount Wolf catcher Ryan Wentzel hails from once you get the chance to talk to him. The 19-year-old’s accent is pure Australian.
So how does a kid, called "mate" by his teammates, end up settling in south-central Pennsylvania?
Through Dan Dierdorff, of course.
“I had a buddy, Teed Wertz, who went over to Australia to play baseball and he got connected through Dillsburg (Twi-Light League) manager Billy White,” Dierdorff said. “When Teed met Ryan, he tried to talk to him about college baseball and Ryan was interested, so he came over last year. And how I met Ryan was one day I was supposed to go to some University of Maryland game with Teed, but Teed called up at the last minute and said he couldn’t make it, but he had a friend from Australia who really wanted to go.”
It didn’t take long for Dierdorff, who is a Mount Wolf leader both on and off the field, to take a liking to Wentzel. And it didn’t take long for Dierdorff to convince his new "mate" to jump ship to play for Mount Wolf.
“I saw that he was with Mechanicsburg (in the Twi-Light League), but he wasn’t playing all that much,” Dierdorff said. “And our catcher (at Mount Wolf) hasn’t really been coming, so we needed a catcher. So I talked to Teed, who wanted Ryan to play, so he signed a contract down here last summer.”
Having good season: Wentzel is believed to be the first-ever Australian-born player in the Central League, but he is much more than just an international oddity.
His solid play since he joined the Mount Wolf club can't be overlooked. Wentzel, who represented Mount Wolf in this year’s all-star game vs. the Susquehanna League, is hitting .339 with 15 RBIs through 23 games.
“He’s been great,” Dierdorff said. “It’s been a blessing to have him here.”
Most teenagers would likely feel a bit out of place in a new country. Wentzel, however, has had little to none of that. He’s fit right in on the team, according to Dierdorff.
In fact, Wentzel has been living with Dierdorff’s parents this summer, all while sleeping in the same room that Dierdorff called his own when he was a teenager. He even has to do a lot of the same housework that Dierdorff did when he lived there.
“I’ve done my fair share of chores around the house,” Wentzel said with a smile.
Age difference: Besides his nationality, another big difference between Wentzel and his teammates is age. Many of the guys on the Mount Wolf roster are over 21, which is the drinking age in this country. In Australia, however, the drinking age is 18.
Does Wentzel long for home, especially when he’s around teammates who are enjoying a beer or two after a game?
“We start young over there,” he said with a laugh. “But I can’t drink here, which sucks, but it is what it is. I don’t want to go back (just to drink). I love baseball too much.”
Love for the game: That much is clear. Wentzel’s love for the game is obvious when he discusses the differences between baseball here and back home.
“There we don’t play nearly as many games as we do here,” Wentzel said. “We only play two times a week max, while the juniors play just one time a week. Here it’s just like you live and breathe baseball and that’s what I like. That’s why I came here.”
Wentzel’s dream is to be drafted to play the sport professionally, but he knows he is still quite a bit away from any of that. He first must go to college.
“I’ve been looking at Allegheny,” he said of the junior college in Maryland. “I plan on studying business economics, so hopefully I do well in that.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.