Despite late start, M.V. catcher ready for season

NILES – Fourteen is an age when most American kids with aspirations to play baseball start looking for camps and advanced leagues to improve their skills.

It’s not a normal age to just start playing the game. In Australia, though, it is. What’s not normal is a kid from the land down under picking up a glove and bat for the first time at 14, then, five years later signing a professional contract.

Meet Mahoning Valley Scrappers catcher Ryan Battaglia.

The Brisbane, Australia native is entering his fifth season in the Cleveland Indians organization. He played in just six games with the Scrappers in 2011 and spent most of last season with the rookie league in Arizona. Battaglia opened 2013 with the Carolina Mudcats, Cleveland’s Class-A Advanced team in the Carolina League where he played in 17 games and batted .244.

“I can’t wait,” Battaglia said. “I’m really excited to start playing and getting some nice game time. Hopefully, I’ll be playing everyday.”

On its opening day roster, Mahoning Valley sports four catchers, but Battaglia looks to be the favorite for the first start at 7:05 on Monday against the Jamestown Jammers, a new Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate.

Not a bad gig for a guy who grew up playing cricket and rugby.

“I still carry a rugby ball with me everywhere I go,” Battaglia said. “I can’t really teach the guys here how to play it because they get too confused.”

Though cricket and baseball can be compared on a small scale, Battaglia said there is no real similarity between the two sports.

“Maybe the fact that you’re running, hitting and gaining a sense of hand-eye coordination,” he said. “But that’s it. I’d like to go back to playing cricket some day.”

In a “purely coincidental” move, in Battagia’s regards, two other Australian natives played for the Scrappers in the past two years. Andrew Campbell from Ipswitch, Queensland played in 21 games for Mahoning Valley. Mitch Nilsson, also a catcher, a Brisbane native and nephew of former Major League All-Star Dave Nilsson, played in 20 games.

Just this week, the MLB announced that the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels will open the 2014 season with a two-game series at Sydney Cricket Ground on March 22-23.

“It’s definitely exciting and it’s great for baseball in Australia,” Battaglia said. “Hopefully it promotes it a little bit more.”

Battaglia has played for the U-19 Australian national team, which finished second in the 2010 World AAA Championships. He’s also played two seasons with the Brisbane Bandits of the ABL.

He’s got the experience down, he knows the organization and he’s comfortable calling a game. The only funny thing that remains is something he can’t control – his accent.

“They still give me (crap) for it,” Battaglia said. “It’s all in good fun, though. At first there was culture shock with literally everything, but I’ve settled down with it all.”

Aside from Battaglia, outfielder Juan Romero, infielder Robel Garcia and pitchers James Stokes, Alexis Paredes, Rafeal Holmbert and Harold Guerrero are repeat Scrappers. Pitchers Manuel Carmona and Joshua Nervis, along with infielder Nellie Rodriguez were sent down from Lake County, midseason, to get more playing time in Mahoning Valley.

There are eight 2013 draft picks assigned to the Scrappers to open the season in the New York-Penn League.