Last week, in Part 2, we learned about one of Lars’s colorful teammates with the Henley and Grange Rams. Today, we get reintroduced to Birdman Bats cofounder Gary Malec — previously featured in the Lars Anderson Discovers Japan series — and hear about a visit to a tattoo parlor that prompted an ink artist to say, “So, you lost a bet, did ya?” We also get a story about the cosmic jest and excruciating mental math that comes with the International Date Line.
Lars Anderson: “The 2017 Birdman World Tour/Strategic Universal Takeover continued down under, rolling through Adelaide with a visit from the boss himself, Gary Malec. Since Gary was the catalyst for both myself and our bats being in Australia, it was only fitting that he’d check on the seeds he’d sown.
“Like Gary’s visits to Japan earlier in the year, we had a grand time, save for a couple hangovers, some brotherly bickering, and Gary’s geriatric body permanently dangling over the self-destruct button. While much of the trip was spent at the baseball field, we still had opportunities to explore, highlighted by a visit to Cleland Wildlife Park, where we observed and interacted with koalas, kangaroos, ducks, geese, swans (so large we questioned if they could still fly), an emu, dingoes (essentially wild dogs), wallabies, and wombats. The emu was my favorite. It was as if the ill-fitting creature was erected from the discarded scraps of three unrelated animals. The head, body, and lower half went together like lasagna, sushi, and fried goat’s balls.
“Along with our foray into Steve Irwin territory, Gary and I caught the first half of an international basketball game. We watched as the Australian national basketball team bludgeoned their way to a 10-point halftime lead over Japan before we decided that hanging at the beach would be a better use of our time. I imagine that most American college teams would handle either team with ease… And of course, there was the requisite partying.
“One such night, we went to my new friend Tom Brice “Harper”‘s house, where we were joined by Henley and Grange teammates Tyler Thompson and Locky Burrows. The day before, I introduced Locky to Gary in the parking lot of the Rams’ home field. We had a team picture scheduled, so all of the players showed up in Rams garb. Locky hopped out of his beater sedan in a ragged work shirt, jeans, and boots. He had come directly from his job. Cigarette in one hand and baseball clothes in the other, I introduced him to Gary. After exchanging pleasantries, Locky stubbed out his ‘hoon’ with his work boot and cloaked himself in his Rams jersey. He then grabbed his white baseball pants and pulled them over his jeans. ‘Denim sliders! I’ve never seen that before!’ exclaimed Gary. It was instant kinship.
“After Locky left, Gary said, ‘I know Locky. I grew up with so many dudes just like him in Jersey! He is like the townie superstar. Did you see the denim sliders?!’ It turns out they were connected in an even more bizarre way. The next night at Tom Brice Harper’s house, the inevitable subject of age came up: turns out, both Gary and Locky are 36.
“The ‘what date is your birthday’ game came next. ‘I was born on New Year’s Eve, 1979,’ Gary started. No way, bruh (pronounced “brew”),’ a wide-eyed Locky responded. ‘I was born New Year’s Day, 1980!’ After some discussion, head-scratching, and excruciating mental math, we concluded that Locky was in fact 48 minutes older than Gary, despite being born a year later. Townie blood, sprinkled with cosmic jest — an unstoppable combination.
“Perhaps the most noteworthy (and mildly shocking) off-the-field incident, however, was the first ever (of hopefully many) Birdman tattoo. Two weeks prior, I was sitting at the same Tom Brice Harper’s house, enjoying a conversation with a couple of fellow ball players. Tyler Chappell, a pitcher for the Bite and wearer of various tattoos, announced to the group at large, ‘If someone pays for it, I’ll get pretty much anything tattooed on me!’ Light bulbs were exploding throughout my brain…. ‘What about a Birdman tattoo?’ I asked, curious if he was serious. ‘Ha! Of course, man….as long as you’re paying for it! ‘Done,’ I replied.
“We decided to wait for Gary’s visit before heading to the tattoo parlor. Tyler booked a slot at 1891 Tattoo Studio in Adelaide, a shop that could have doubled as a vintage clothes store/barber shop/cafe. My only experience in a tattoo shop was an ill-fated trip with best mate Ryan Kalish. Not only was that result less than spectacular (don’t get your name tattooed on your tricep, kids, it can cause a world of problems when your sensibilities evolve!), but the tattoo itself took forever.
“This was not that. We were in and out in less than an hour, and Tyler’s left calf now has some squirrelly half-man/half-bird creature peering out at the world at large. For reasons still unclear to me (maybe a favor owed to Tyler), the artist didn’t even charge us. The Birdman Bats logo remained ever-polarizing: when another employee at the parlor came to take a look at his calf, she immediately asked Tyler, ‘So, you lost a bet, did ya?’
“All extracurriculars aside, we spent the majority of our time at the yard. I had been practicing and playing games with the mighty Rams, as well as practicing with the Bite, which adds up to five days/nights a week of baseball activity. With Gary in tow, we bumped that number up even more, attending Bite games as well as practices that I wasn’t involved in, to peddle our wares. Being the generous blokes that they are, we were allowed full access at the Bite stadium, and we were even invited into the visiting team’s clubhouse to preach our gospel.
“My takeaway was that it’s a lot easier to sell bats to people who speak English, as explaining the differences and similarities of birch wood vs. maple wood to a Japanese-speaking player was a monumental, if not impossible, task. We flourished in our new environment.
“In the Henley and Grange realm, Russell made Gary an honorary mighty Rams coach, decking him out in our Rams uniform, where he sat with us in the dugout. (The last time I saw Gary suit up, he got kicked out of a Fighting Dogs practice.) He was good luck, too, as the trend of my hitting home runs with Gary visiting continued. In the first game of his being in Adelaide, I hit a 10th-inning walk-off home run to right field. As I rounded third, I took my helmet off and bowled in towards home plate and my awaiting teammates. Pandemonium ensued, and Gary was somehow amongst the throng of maniacal, jubilant Rams players.
“During our post-game meeting following the win, Dom, the president of the Rams, walked onto the field with a pint of beer and handed it to me. ‘Here you go, mate! Good on ya!’ A post-game beer on the the field… yet another first for this veteran ballplayer and entirely indicative of baseball life here. It’s fun and loose.
“A week into Gary’s visit, our gang of two grew to a party of three as the one and only Ryan Kalish galloped into town with the Canberra Calvary… (and that might be the worst pun I’ve ever written). You might be asking how Ryan came to play in Australia, and it is a story worth telling. Our professional lives intersected once again.”
Author’s Note: in the next installment, we’ll hear about how Kalish — Anderson’s former MLB and minor-league teammate — ended up playing Down Under and how the reunion of old friends was akin to sharing a coffee with a Mormon.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.