Rays’ Curtis Mead already has gone where few Australians have before

PORT CHARLOTTE — Curtis Mead has gone back to his native Australia for at least part of each offseason since he started playing pro ball in 2018.

But he noticed some differences when he worked out as he usually does in November and December with the Adelaide team based near his home in the south central part of the country.

Young Giants players would gather to see him work. Some would venture on to the field to take part. A brave few would ask questions about Mead getting somewhere few Australians have: to the big leagues.

“I definitely found that when I would take ground balls, I’d have three or four younger guys kind of just come out and watch or join in, which was pretty cool,” Mead said.

“And I love that. I like to be able to help out those kids because I tell them all the time, like, ‘Dude, I was in the same position five years ago. This was not on the cards. I know it’s not on the cards for you, but it could be.’ ”

When Mead, who played 24 games for the Rays last season following his August callup, would stay to watch the Adelaide game, fans would approach for autographs, often telling him how long they’d followed his career waiting for the big moment.

He got more requests for interviews. He would sometimes get recognized at restaurants.

Mead, 23, said he appreciated the reaction and respect.

“It was awesome,” he said. “The thing I like about the offseason in Australia is in the baseball world, I guess, I’m a bigger deal than I ever was, which is kind of cool.

“But then, with family and friends outside of baseball, I’m still Curtis, I went to my same high school. So I kind of get the best of both worlds.”

Some perspective is needed to understand why Mead’s accomplishments are such a big deal.

Consider that of the 23,000-plus men who play in the majors, only 37 have been Australian. Of those 37, only 13 have been position players. Of those 13, only five have played in more than 100 games.

And of those five, only one was selected to an All-Star team, hit more than 30 career homers or compiled a career WAR greater than 5.00.

Dave Nilsson said it was impossible during his eight seasons with the Brewers (1992-99) to not be aware of the new ground he was breaking.

“Oh, that was very clear,” he said from Brisbane after Mead was first called up. “I knew my position in the sport. I was a pioneer, basically, in that regard. So there was no avoiding that. I understood where I stood.

“But 20 years later no one really knows who I am.”

Nilsson, who has managed the Australian national team and the Brisbane team in the Australian league, was joking about the last part, as all Aussie baseball fans are well aware.

Mead certainly is. And though he has met a few of the other Australian big-leaguers, he was thrilled to get to chat with Nilsson this past winter when his team came to Adelaide.

“When you get to speak to someone who’s done it as well, and for as long, as he did, it was cool to kind of share stories and compare stories and listen to the advice he’s giving me,” Mead said. “It’s a small group, so when you catch up with someone who’s done it, it’s pretty cool.”

Nilsson, 54, has some theories as to why it has been harder to get Australian position players to the majors and to be successful than pitchers, a list that includes three-time All-Star Liam Hendriks, former Rays Grant Balfour and Damian Moss, and somewhat recognizable names such as Graeme Lloyd, Peter Moylan and Ryan Rowland-Smith.

Primarily, Nilsson says the issue is a lack of playing time as they grow up. “Limited opportunities, limited reps,” he said.

While pitchers can sell themselves with just their prized arms, which can buy them time in pro ball to develop, position players need reps to improve offensively and defensively. (Players who can do both tend to opt for pitching because they see an easier path.)

Plus, he thinks Australians who get signed into pro ball are not shown as much patience as players from more baseball-rich countries.

“It’s very difficult,” Nilsson said. “We’re probably 18 months behind the development or maybe 24 months beyond the development of MLB players or American players. So the challenge is to get those at-bats and not be seen as a 20- or 21-year-old American.”

One change that could help, he said, is that more Australians are opting to play college baseball in the United States, so they can get those additional reps before advancing to pro ball.

Physically, he said there are no reasons more Australians can’t have success in the majors.

“Because you grew up in America or Australia, I don’t think that the water is any different,” Nilsson said. “I think it’s just development.

“Curtis has the physical abilities, has the body, has the work ethic, has the knowledge. I don’t see why he’s not going to be around the big leagues for a long period of time. It’s going to have nothing to do with being from Australia, I can tell you that much. He’s already overcome the initial obstacles to get there. So now it’s just on him as a person to continue to develop and stay there.”

Mead, whose callup was chronicled as a nationwide success story, being a hit in the majors will have an extrapolative effect on the Aussie baseball effort.

“Whenever (an Australian reaches the majors) we always try to pay attention to them, and always try to use it as inspiration to the next generation coming through,” Nilsson said. “Curtis is going to have so much impact on the next 10 or 15, possibly 20, years of young kids in this country. We try to hang our hats on people like that to show them hope.”

Hey, mate

A list of the Australian position players to reach the majors:

• Joe Quinn (1884-1901): 1,772 games

• Dave Nilsson (1992-99): 837 games

• Craig Shipley (1986-98): 582 games

• Trent Durrington (1999-05): 140 games

• Luke Hughes (2010-12): 106 games

•Trent Oeltjen (2009-11): 99 games

• Chris Snelling* (2002-08): 93 games

• Justin Huber (2005-09): 72 games

Curtis Mead (2023): 24 games

• Glenn Williams (2005): 13 games

• James Beresford (2016): 10 games

Aaron Whitefield (2020-22): 8 games

• Brad Harman (2006-08): 6 games

* Born in Miami but raised in Australia and has played for national team. Sources:;

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