Born in Melbourne, Australia, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and redhead Angel pitching prospect Alex Da Silva end up LA baseball rivals

AC/DC, Crowded House, Helen Reddy, Kylie Minogue, Little River Band, and Men At Work are just some of the big names that have sprouted out of Melbourne, Australia. There has never been a drought for world-class talent hailing from the metropolis often referred to as the “cultural capital of Australia” and the world’s most liveable city. Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria.

Melbourne-born Michael Balzary AKA “Flea” of LA’s Red Hot Chili Peppers jams the national anthem at Dodger Stadium.
Four-year-old Michael “Flea” Balzary moved from Melbourne to New York when his father, a customs officer, was transferred in 1967. Shortly after his parents divorced at age seven, his dad returned to Australia, where he now lives on the outskirts of Canberra with his second wife. Flea’s mother later married American jazz musician Walter Urban Jr. and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1972. Flea would often sit in on weekly jam sessions with his stepdad and the constant flow of musicians who visited. While most of the California high school kids were into disco and dance music, Flea listened to jazz legends Louie Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. His greatest childhood memory was when he met Gillespie backstage after one of his concerts. Flea’s musical interests diversified when he discovered funk music and Jimi Hendrix became his new idol. He befriended Anthony Kiedis in 1977 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed after Flea left Fear and declined an offer to join PiL in 1984.
Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, LA Lakers center-forward Pau Gasol and Flea
Widely known as a devout LA sports fanatic, most people are unaware of Flea’s strong ties to Australia.
Flea has a strong connection to his Aussie roots. He professed, “I love Australia with my heart and Australian blood coarses through my veins. We are coming to Australia early next year, can’t wait to feel the connection to my birthplace once again.” The bassist owns a beachfront property in the little town of Congo on NSW’s South Coast. Flea said, “Chances are, I’ll end up living there permanently. Without wanting to sound corny, I feel it in my blood when I’m in that part of Australia. I get a lot of power and strength from the land.”
Redhead pitcher Alex Da Silva of
the Melbourne Aces and LA Angels
Power and strength are two attributes commonly referred to when Melbourne Ace and LA Angels pitching prospect Alex Da Silva takes the mound. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim international scout Grant Weir as a free agent on January 10, 2011, the 19-year-old Da Silva has a cannon for an arm. Weir commented, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive.” Equipped with a 90 plus MPH fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter, Da Silva is committed to working hard everyday to realize his dream of making it to Major League Baseball. This past Australian Baseball League season the six-foot-two Aussie hurler was in good hands pitching under the guidance and supervision of Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale, a former minor league coach for the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves as well as a national baseball coaching legend for leading the Australian team to its first ever silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics with a 1-0 upset over Japan. We checked in with Alex recently.
Melbourne’s Alex Da Silva signed a professional contract with Angels scout Grant Weir in 2011.

Roberto: How are things going for you in Tempe, Arizona?
Alex: Feeling pretty good at my first Angels Spring Training camp. It’s pretty good. They are very keen on looking after the players so everything is taken care of. I mean from getting picked up in the morning, breakfast, lunch. It’s just a baseball paradise here, you know.
Roberto: It’s everything you expected it to be?
Alex: And more…
Roberto: Reports from Australia are that you pack some heat with your fastball. Is that true?
Alex: It’s a bit more like that back home, but over here I am just another fish in the sea. I’m mean, it’s nothing special, really. That’s where I have to develop. I mean, back home, yeah, There are not many guys that throw that hard. Over here, everybody does. I’m just another number.
Roberto: But you’re a hard worker committed to a seven-year contract.
Alex: Yeah, seven years but at the moment just (taking it) day-by-day.

Alex Da Silva played on the 2011-12 Melbourne Aces which included Oakland A’s starter Travis Blackley.
Roberto: Playing for Melbourne with Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay must have been inspirational?
Alex: You see how they go about their business and whenever they step on the field it’s always 100% business. It gives you something to go off and something to follow. Especially those guys, they are really good examples to follow. They always give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it. They are really good people to have around.
Childhood friend and Melbourne Ace teammate
19-year-old Darryl George is a bright MLB prospect.

Roberto: It must have been tough watching the Australian Baseball League Championship between your Melbourne Aces and the Perth Heat?
Alex: At the same time as you’re not playing, you’re still kind of there. You know the guys, especially Darryl George when he was getting up. I grew up with him. I know exactly what is going through his head. I’ve seen him do it since he was like 11-years-old. At the same time, you know they are doing everything they can and hopefully in the years to come I’ll be the guy out there.
Melbourne Ace pitcher Alex Da Silva

Roberto: Did you have a case of the butterflies when you took the mound for the first time in the Australian Baseball League?
Alex: I played the very first series in Sydney. That was the only series I played. I came on when we were down to a time limit so I was put on to waste a little bit of time. Yeah, the crowd wasn’t too happy so it was a little bit of a new experience for me. You know, the crowd against me. We were trying to do everything we could do to stretch the game a little bit. It’s a tough situation.
Roberto: You played with Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo from Italy at the MLB Australian Academy. What were were impressions of him?
Alex: When I first met Alberto, he was one of those really fun guys to be around. Always smilng. His English is actually pretty good, but we still messed around with him a little bit. But he took it in the spirit
Italy’s Alberto Mineo
it was meant to be. In terms of a catcher, I really like the way he went about his business. He took control of the game. There were times when I wanted to throw a pitch that I wanted to throw, but he insisted and pulled me back in line a little bit. In terms of catchers that I like, I just like catchers that get the job done and don’t say too much. I do my job, and they do their job.
Roberto: But do you take things personally when catchers are insisting on a pitch, and you are shaking them off for another?
Alex: I’m not a big fan of shaking guys off. Every now and then I might feel that I know a hitter pretty well and the pitch I want to throw might be a bit more effective. When they put the same sign down twice, I always think they’re really persistent on this one so I give them this one. I’ll go with what they say. You might have a bit of a joke about it later if they get a hit off you. Go back to him and say that it should have been a curveball instead of a fastball. I usually just trust what they do.
Roberto: Baseball is still in its infancy in Australia. With the abundance of more popular sports on your home turf, what lured you into baseball?
Alex: Well there is AFL, Australian Rules Football, but I didn’t like running that much so that kind of put me off it. I tried karate for a little while. I guess I really liked the guys who played baseball. I played with some pretty cool guys growing up. There was just something there that kept me going back every year. I really don’t quite know what is was, but something kept luring me back.
Roberto: Who was an inspirational figure in your baseball career?
Alex: My very first baseball coach, Greg Dawes, he was a bit of a hard ass. Even little things like everytime you go out there to make sure your shirt is tucked in and your socks are tucked up stuck with me until now. In a way, that’s the way the game should be played. That little bit of respect he taught me for the game carried on. Now I enjoy it much more because I got all that basic stuff out of the way. Now it’s off to the fun stuff in just playing, and I don’t have to worry about it.
Roberto: What is the most frustrating part of pitching?
Alex: The hardest part for me is when you throw a really good pitch, you’ll throw a curveball that snaps off really well, and the hitter comes up with something. He might get a hit off a curveball that would have bounced before the plate. I mean what things are out of your control are the things that really get to you. So you do your job really well and you hit your spot, but the hitter just does a better job. For me that’s the hardest thing. Or you do your job, you get a guy to roll over and there’s an error in the field. They’re the kind of things that really get me. I mean you’ve done your job, and at the end of the game you’ve got a loss next to your name. They’re the things that really get me. It’s just things that are not in your control is what frustrates me a little bit.
Roberto: Is it fun competing with international players abroad?
Alex: The two dominant forces here are the Americans and Latins. Americans are very similar to Australians. There is always the language thing. We say ‘mate’. They always make fun of us saying stuff like ‘Hey mate” and things like that. The Latino guys are really cool to be around, they’ll mix in some Spanish. They’ll mess with you a little bit, and you mess with them back. Just the other day we tricked one of the Latino guys into thinking that ‘vamos’ which means ‘let’s go’ meant ‘French toast’. So he is out on the field yelling ‘French toast’ (laughter). There’s really not that much difference culturally. I’ve been told that Tempe, this area, is very similar to Brisbane. It’s like being at home, just a bit drier and not as many hills. Otherwise, it’s very easy to assimilate into this environment.
Roberto: Other than the jetlag and the time difference?
Alex: Yeah, it was a bit difficult. My flight from Sydney to LA was fourteen hours, and I didn’t sleep a blink. The first couple days were hard. It took me like four days to feel like I was right. That’s going to happen. You’ve got to deal with it.
Roberto: It’s part of the game. What’s next for Alex Da Silva?
Alex: After spring camp and extended spring, I hope to make a rookie or rookie advanced team from there. I mean, either way,
I don’t really mind so long I am still playing here. That’s the greatest blessing just to be able to come out and play everyday. At this point, it’s spring, extended spring and short-season.

Roberto: Is Anaheim in the future?
Alex: I just want to get there. It doesn’t matter when. I just want to make the big leagues. That’s why I am here. That’s why I was signed because somebody thought that I could make the big leagues. That’s just what I want to do. Doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter who for—whether it be Anaheim or New York—it doesn’t matter. I just want to get there.
Roberto: Are you looking forward to pitching for the Melbourne Aces in the 2012-13 Australian Baseball League season?
Alex: I think by the end of the season, I might want a little break. I might take a couple weeks off, but I would like to play as many series as I can play with them. I would love to go over and play whatever role Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale puts me into. Really, I would like to play as much baseball as I can.

A visit to Dandenong Ranges National Park and run up Mount Dandenong’s 1000 Steps Kokoda Trail is the reward for Alex Da Silva after a good outing on the mound.

Roberto: Any words of encourage or advice for up-and-coming baseball players worldwide?
Alex: Never give up. There is always setbacks, but you have got to keep going through the setbacks. I have been lucky. I haven’t had many injuries or anything,
I know some guys that have, and they are still where
I am. The thing is every time you have a setback, you just have got to keep going. Get through, get to the next little bit. Set yourself goals, get to the next little section. For me, my next section is to get through spring healthy and hopefully not giving up too many runs. I don’t expect much from myself at this point, but I mean once I get an idea where I am at extended spring camp then I will set myself some good goals. You know, like I may not want to give up more than one hit for every two innings or something like that. You really have got to set specific goals and when you get those goals—reward yourself! Maybe instead of
just running around your block–you’ll go for a run to the beach. You have always got to have those goals, and at the end of those goals you have got to have a goal to look forward to.Roberto: So have some immediate short-term goals leading to long-term goals?
Alex: Yeah, for me where I live at the bottom of the hills there is a place called the 1000 steps. Instead of my normal running, you know, it got a little bit boring so after I had a good outing I would go there. If I was starting, I would say that I wanted to get through five innings and only give up two runs or just be in a leading position coming out when I leave the game. If I got that, then I could go up to the 1000 steps and do my running because it’s a beautiful rainforest which is a bit cooler and a really nice place to run. That was my reward. Or just about anything that I looked forward to.
Roberto: What about the growth of Aussie baseball with the injection of the MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League (ABL) and the MLB Australian Baseball Academy?
Alex: In terms of the fanbase, with the ABL in place it has just exploded. It still has a long way to go. As far as the MLB Australian Academy, you can look at how many guys have been signed since the program started… My year alone 12 guys were signed and the year before me was even better. Everyone of them has been through the Academy multiple years. It’s getting the results.
Roberto: Any words for your friends and family back home?
Alex: Missing you guys. I’m doing you proud!
Despite Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and redhead Alex Da Silva ending up on opposing sides of LA baseball, their love for Melbourne is skin deep. On game day when LA Angel pitching prospect Da Silva gets ready for a start, he pumps up the volume with some of his favorite jams from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rise Against. When Chili Pepper bassist Flea wants to get fired up before a big concert, he watches Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regardless how these two individuals mentally prepare for their performances, both are professionals grounded and undeniably connected by their Australian blood.
Da Silva’s home away from home at LA Angels of Anaheim Spring Training Complex in Tempe

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Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.

LA Angels believe in Aussies Sookee and Da Silva

Aaron Sookee of the ABL's Sydney Blue Sox (Jen Edwards/SMP Media)
Grant Weir, Australian scout for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has not let anyone down in the past with his baseball wit and intuition in discovering raw talent. Just ask Angel owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia, both of whom are very pleased with Weir’s 2002 find of one of the team’s longest-tenured players, Aussie pitcher Rich Thompson. A decade has passed, and Weir is still finding hidden gems. Among his Angel signings are two young up-and-coming MLB pitching prospects currently in the Australian Baseball League: 20-year-old Aaron Sookee of the Sydney Blue Sox and 18-year-old Alex Da Silva of the Melbourne Aces. Both pitchers have seen limited action in the ABL. Aaron Sookee (0-1, 5.68 ERA) has pitched 6.1 innings of relief while striking out seven, and Alex
Da Silva (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has made one appearance. Despite their limited visibility in the spotlight, the education these young hurlers are receiving behind-the-scenes is what is most impressive and valuable.
The sky is the limit for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim right-handed MLB pitching prospect Aaron Sookee.

Aaron Sookee is being mentored
by past and present MLB pitchers–including Korea’s Dae-Sung Koo
(New York Mets) and fellow Aussies Chris Oxspring (San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers), while Alex Da Silva gets to rub shoulders in the dugout with American Jason Hirsh (Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies) and Aussies Travis Blackley (Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants) and Shane Lindsay (Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers).

18-year-old Melbourne Ace pitcher Alex Da Silva has been known for shooting down hitters effortlessly with the fastest gun in Australia. (Joe Vella/SMP Images/ABL)
Aaron Sookee has spent most of his two minor league seasons playing Arizona League Rookie ball with modest success. Last year for the Arizona League Angels, the six-foot-three reliever went 3-3 with three saves and a 4.63 ERA. In 14 appearances, he pitched 23.1 innings and struck out 28. Averaging more than one strike out per inning in both the Arizona League and ABL is an encouraging sign. International scout Grant Weir commented, “The Angels are very excited with the signing of Aaron, and we believe he has an enormous future in professional baseball. He has physical attributes that are going to help him have a long and fruitful career, but more importantly he is a great kid who works hard.” Having a seven-year professional contract with a probable World Series contender a la Pujols, Sookee can potentially develop into a huge Major League Baseball talent over time.
It took Aussie Angel predecessor Rich Thompson over five and a half years to make his MLB debut in 2007.
Based on the Thompson timetable, Aaron Sookee is right on schedule to have a significant impact on this franchise’s young pitching promise and future.Alex Da Silva is a ladies' man.

Named MVP of an international competition in America while playing for the Penrith and Sandringham Baseball Clubs and the NSW team in Blacktown, the younger Aussie Alex Da Silva was watched meticulously by MLB scouts during the national youth tournament in Perth and was signed shortly thereafter by Angels’ scout Grant Weir, who was blown away by the velocity of his 90 mph fastball.

Ladies' man Alex Da Silva prays for the opportunity to give one-on-one lessons to TV starlet Eva Longoria.

With a keen eye for the ladies and his sights on some
of the Angels’ Hollywood heartthrobs and playmates, Alex Da Silva hopes that his pitching arsensal of a wicked fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter will expedite the process of an invitation to Angels’ Spring Training Camp and Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. Having completed eight weeks of intensive training at the
MLB Academy on Australia’s Gold Coast, the young
work-in-progress pitcher will join the Arizona Angels’ Rookie Camp in March. Weir said, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive. He has the fastball, and he just has to learn how to pitch. He’s got the right tools to pitch.
But he’ll learn in the right environment.” Da Silva has an uphill battle ahead as he experiences the growing pains of rookie camp with aspirations of turning heads and being selected on one of the organization’s minor league teams. Having followed Alex’s pitching finesse since playing for the U13 development squad, Weir believes Da Silva has what it takes to be successful.

Alex Da Silva hopes to play with and catch Holly Madison in MLB.

“He’s a smart kid. I think he’s realistic, and he knows that this is just the start for him. There’s a lot of work to be done yet,” Weir said. Beginning his baseball playing days when he was nine years old, Alex’s athletic career has progressed from participating on club teams to Victorian State teams and then on to Australian national squads. Alex feels blessed that he was born with what he called “natural pitching ability that cannot be learned.” Da Silva credits his dad for his six-foot-two stature. He said, “I’m a pretty good build, and I get that from my father’s side so I think I just have naturally improved as a pitcher. I really want to see where my talent can take me. I want to make the Major Leagues.” Given Derek Jeter’s Major League relationships with the likes of Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey, Lara Dutta, Joy Enriquez, Jordana Brewster, Vanessa Minnillo, Vida Guerra, Jessica Alba, Adriana Lima, Jessica Biel, Rachel Uchitel, Tyra Banks and possibly Scarlett Johansson, the future looks bright for both Alex Da Silva’s personal dating life and his potential to join the game’s elite as a pitcher for the LA Angels.