Kennelly comfortable half a world away

Australia native making strides with Phillies' Lakewood affiliate

Tim Kennelly is hitting .293 with 11 extra-base hits in 39 games for the BlueClaws. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

By Tim Britton / MLB.com | August 13, 2008 10:37 AM

The trip from Perth, Australia, to Lakewood, N.J., covers 11,641 miles and some 23 hours in the air. It also involves some time travel of sorts, since somewhere over the Pacific Ocean yesterday suddenly becomes today again.

But the BlueClaws' Tim Kennelly gladly makes the trip across the International Date Line twice each year, living his baseball dream in the summer and spending his offseasons in his Western Australia hometown during, well, more summer.

It's tough for Kennelly to get much farther from home. The time difference between Perth and Lakewood is 12 hours -- literally halfway around the world -- and the difference in hemispheres means the seasons occur at opposite times.

That's not such a bad thing for a Minor Leaguer hoping to hone his skills year-round.

"The last three years I've only had summer and spring there because I'm over here for summer," Kennelly said in his identifiably Australian accent. "I go back after the season finishes and spend five or six months over there. We play in the offseason, then come back over for Spring Training."

Kennelly's long-distance journey to professional baseball began in the same way so many of them do: following in the footsteps of an older brother. As a child in Perth, Kennelly had a choice between baseball and cricket. His brother had gone with the former, so Kennelly started playing tee ball.

That turned into Pee Wee Baseball -- Australia's equivalent to Little League -- at the age of 10, then club baseball throughout high school.

"We actually don't have high school baseball," Kennelly explained. "Your town or your area would have a team and you play against other areas. We call it club ball. You get into it that way. You play for the same club that you played tee ball and then you go into baseball."

At the age of 14, Kennelly was introduced to the Western Australia Institute of Sport, or WAIS, where he worked with coach Don Kyle on developing his skills on the diamond.

"[Kyle] got me going in the direction toward pro baseball. He had a lot of guys who played pro baseball go through his program," Kennelly said. "He picks up young talent, and once in that program, he points you in the right direction."

At 16, Kennelly attended the Australian Baseball Academy in front of a cavalcade of Major League scouts. Kennelly admitted it was a nerve-racking time for him, but it ended with him signing with Philadelphia.

One problem with signing professionally in baseball was that Kennelly had to give up his other sport: the wildly popular Australian rules football. Kennelly loved playing the sport that's style is about as far from baseball as Perth is from Lakewood.

Was it hard to give up playing Australia's biggest spectator sport?

"Yeah, definitely," Kennelly said with no reservations. "I followed that ever since I was little. I still kind of follow that along now."

It was much tougher to follow baseball Down Under, as Kennelly rarely got the chance to watch Major League games on television. When he could, he did pull for Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.

It wasn't that hard to switch allegiances to the Phillies, whom Kennelly joined in 2005 when he made his first trip halfway around the globe to play for Philadelphia's Gulf Coast League club at the age of 18. The transition was seamless on the field -- he hit .295 with 11 doubles in 38 games. It wasn't too difficult off the field, either, as Kennelly had some countrymen to share the experience with.

"I had two friends who had come over the previous year, so I got a rundown on what it was like over here playing baseball," Kennelly said. "And then to come over with three other Australians in their first season as well made it easier because they were in the same boat I was."

Still, it was the first time Kennelly had been away from home for an extended period of time, and he admitted that was the most difficult part of the move.

The next two seasons didn't go as smoothly, as Kennelly hit .220 and .221 while spending time at all three levels of A-ball.

"It was definitely frustrating," he said. "Always after you have a good year, you want to go back and do the same thing. When things start not going your way, you try to do too much, which was kind of my problem the previous two years."

He's found his groove in a more extended stint with Lakewood this season, batting .293 with a home run and 20 RBIs in 39 games. Kennelly's also displayed his versatility on the field, spending time in the outfield and behind the plate for the BlueClaws. In his career, he's played both corner-infield spots, as well.

"I like being in the lineup," Kennelly said when asked if he had a favorite position. "Anywhere I can hit is good."

That's emblematic of a laid-back attitude that allows him to handle any jokes about his accent or vegemite -- "I like the taste, so I don't care what they say" -- and to cope with being a hemisphere away from home.

"I'm blessed, and you don't want to take it for granted," he said. "I'm playing baseball, something I love, for money. You can't complain about that."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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