"We're Australians. We're not intimidated. By anybody."
Infielder Trent Durrington's approach to baseball was best summed up when his national team took on the sport's traditional powers in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. "Durro", who got into 140 major-league games from 1999 through 2005, was never a heavy hitter, but he ran and fielded well. He was also very versatile, playing all nine positions during his 14 years as a pro in the US (1994 to 2007). Similar players who broke through to more extended careers in the majors were Bob Bailor, Lance Blankenship, and Joe McEwing. Perhaps if Durrington had ever played for Tony La Russa – a leading backer of supersubs such as Blankenship and McEwing – the Aussie might at least have enjoyed one full season in "The Show." Yet along with his energy and versatility, he earned his chances when he got on base.
Just before Durrington made his big-league debut in August 1999, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times described him neatly. "The Angels' new second baseman has the body of a miniature pulling guard, the voice of Crocodile Dundee and a sunny disposition that shines every time he greets a new face with his native, ‘G'day, mate.' " He was "a stout 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds with thick thighs and a low center of gravity."i ii
Trent John Durrington was born on August 27, 1975, in Australia's biggest city, Sydney. He was the second of Douglas and Sheila Durrington's two children, following his sister, Vanessa. As a youth Durrington played two of Australia's more traditional sports, rugby and cricket. He started playing baseball at the age of 14, when his family moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast (to the north, in the state of Queensland). Durrington told the story several times during his playing career, but the way he started was always the same: "I loved baseball from Day One."
That day came as young Trent attended the Southport School, a prestigious Anglican day and boarding school for boys located on the Gold Coast. In 2012 Australian baseball author Nicholas R.W. Henning said, "It is one of the most elite schools in all of Queensland, and its alumni include many notable high-profile Australians. In sports many international rugby players attended TSS. It's similar to the school from the film Dead Poets Society." Dana Oppedisano of the Naples News, writing during spring training 2006, added, "Durrington embraced the game through his father – a traveling businessman who brought an affection for baseball home with the suitcase of souvenirs – and some American classmates who showed up at his school when he was a teenager."iii
Durrington told Oppedisano, "I think it was just the feeling of hitting the baseball, clean and crisp. With a cricket ball, unless you're bowling, you can get out in the field and not see a ball for three or four outs. It was just a lot more excitement." A few weeks later that spring, he told another journalist, Anthony Sharwood of the Australian men's magazine Alpha, "I liked playing backyard cricket like every Australian kid, but I just wasn't into spending the whole day playing, you know?"iv
Durrington joined a club team for teenagers in Queensland called Surfers Paradise (named for the Brisbane suburb). He was selected for the Australian junior national baseball team in 1992 and '93 and was promoted to the national team in '93.v In between, he also made his pro debut, going 0-for-2 in seven games with the Gold Coast Dolphins of the Australian Baseball League. The ABL had begun operations in the summer – in Southern Hemisphere terms – of 1989-90. It replaced the Claxton Shield, an interstate amateur tournament, as Australia's leading baseball platform.
Durrington was part of the team that represented Australia in the 1993 Intercontinental Cup, held that summer in Italy. At some point during the year, he came to the attention of the California Angels. A September 1993 feature in the Los Angeles Times about superscout Ray Poitevint, then international scouting director for the Angels, detailed the team's efforts overseas. It said that 17-year-old Trent was one of the Pacific Rim prospects signed that year.vi
Durrington returned to the ABL for the 1993-94 season; his team had been renamed the East Coast Cougars. He went 15-for-81 (.185) with one double and 4 RBIs in 36 games – yet he still impressed his manager, Adrian Meagher. Meagher, one of the earlier Aussies in the US minors, pitched in the States from 1983 through 1988, climbing as high as Triple-A. He remained active at home as a player, coach, and manager for years to come, becoming one of Australia's most respected baseball figures. As an Angels scout, Meagher also received credit for signing Durrington.vii
"It was a big decision to come over here and a big decision for my parents to let me go," Trent told Anthony Sharwood. "When I arrived, I soon learned I didn't know anything about the game. The pay's shocking at the lower levels, too, but I stuck with it."viii
After getting his feet wet in 16 games in the Arizona Rookie League in 1994, Durrington played again at home for the Cougars. He still didn't hit much: 19-for-100 (.190) with six doubles in 42 games. For the summer of 1995, he went to Boise in the Northwest League (short-season Class A). There he hit just .171-3-19 in 50 games.
Durrington made a breakthrough in the ABL in 1995-96. He hit .283-1-9 in 35 games for the Cougars (the team was once again known under the Gold Coast name) and stole 11 bases without getting caught. Even so, the Angels organization kept him at Boise to start 1996, and he hit for better average (.279-0-14) – while also drawing notice for the stuffed, mounted kangaroo head above his locker.ix He earned promotion to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League (regular Class A). Overall, he stole 39 bases.
Durro slid back with the Cougars in 1996-97, hitting just .204-0-16 in 44 games, though he did steal 24 bases. Nonetheless, he advanced to the California League (high A) for 1997. With Lake Elsinore, his hitting remained modest (.247-3-36 in 123 games), but he stole 52 bases. He followed up with his last – and best – season in the ABL. In 47 games for the Cougars, he hit .305-3-22 with 28 steals. He also cut his errors down to just two.
Thus he climbed another rung in the US in 1998, joining Midland in the Double-A Texas League. He split time at second base with Hawaiian Keith Luuloa and appeared in the outfield, plus a little bit at third base and shortstop. It was not an auspicious year in offensive terms (.225-1-30 with just 24 steals in 112 games).
Durrington started the 1999 season with Erie in the Eastern League, and he performed much better. He lifted his average to .288 in 107 games, and he drew 52 walks, boosting his on-base percentage to .379. He also stole 59 bases while hitting 3 homers and driving in 34. Then, in August, a series of events brought him to the majors for the first time, before he'd ever played Triple-A ball. Mike DiGiovanna wrote, "With Randy Velarde traded to the Oakland Athletics, Andy Sheets struggling to hit .200 and Justin Baughman recovering from a broken leg, the Angels want an extended look at the fleet-footed Durrington, who could be the team's leadoff batter in 2000 if he impresses Angel coaches and front-office executives in Anaheim."x
Trent recalled in 2006, "I was playing in Erie and we'd had a day off, so I traveled to Niagara Falls with my parents and sister, who happened to be visiting. Then I got the call. It was a game against Boston and I got a hit at my first at-bat."xi In fact, he hit the very first pitch he saw in the majors, from Bret Saberhagen, into right field for a single.xii
When Durrington took the field that Friday night, August 6, at Edison International Field of Anaheim, he became the seventh player trained Down Under to appear in the majors. He was also the first with the given name Trent. Through the 2011 season, there had been one more – another Australian, Trent Oeltjen.xiii
The rookie got into 43 games for the Angels in 1999, starting 36 of them. He hit in seven of his first eight games and made a strong first impression. Mike DiGiovanna wrote, "Angel coaches like Durrington's enthusiasm, energy, and work ethic, and he seems to have a good head for the game." The sportswriter also quoted Angels general manager Bill Bavasi ("He is not scared, and that will pay off") and coach Larry Bowa ("I like everything about him so far"). Trent himself said, "The first couple of days were mind-boggling, but now I come to the yard ready to perform."xiv
However, he ended the season with an 0-for-21 slump. That left him at just .180, with no homers and 2 RBIs, and he had just two doubles among his 22 base hits. Yet Angels manager Terry Collins lived up to what he had told DiGiovanna when Durrington arrived. "He's not here to audition, he's here to play. He can't worry about what's going to happen next year. I don't want him to be thinking after an 0-for-4 [game] that it might affect his chances for next year."xv
DiGiovanna, who also served as Angels beat writer for The Sporting News, offered further observations that September. "Trent Durrington has a good arm, above-average range, a good glove, and can turn double plays fairly well, but he has not shown he can handle major-league pitching. He flies out too much, which renders his speed useless. How he does in the Arizona Fall League could determine whether the team tries to sign or trade for an established second baseman this winter."xvi
Durrington did well enough to compete with Scott Spiezio and Pat Kelly for the second-base job in spring training 2000. The competition was narrowed down to him and Spiezio in March, but as Mike DiGiovanna wrote, "Durrington is a better fielder than hitter, and Spiezio is a better hitter than fielder."xvii Therefore, the Angels landed Adam Kennedy in a trade that sent Jim Edmonds to St. Louis, and Durro started the 2000 season at Triple-A Edmonton.
An amusing moment that March came when Reggie Jackson paid a visit to the Angels' Arizona camp to see some old friends. Durrington wanted an autograph from the Hall of Famer, but despite what he said in 2006 about Aussies not being intimidated, he sent teammate Mo Vaughn to make the request. "Trent was too scared to ask you himself," Vaughn said.xviii "Good," Jackson said, when told of Durrington's apprehension. "That means I still have some Reggie left in me."xix
California recalled Durrington in May because starting shortstop Gary DiSarcina had a sore shoulder. He got into four games from May 9 through May 13, with three of those appearances coming as a pinch-runner. He was then sent back to Edmonton as the Angels called up Keith Luuloa for what turned out to be his only cup of coffee in the majors. The rest of the year did not go well for Trent; he got hurt and appeared in just 28 games for the Trappers.
The 2000 Summer Olympics were held in Sydney, but injury kept Durrington from being part of the Australian squad, to which he had been selected. According to A History of Australian Baseball by Joe Clark, various major-league franchises made moves to keep Aussie ballplayers out of the tournament. The Los Angeles Dodgers promoted pitchers Jeff Williams and Luke Prokopec to the majors and put Double-A farmhand Adrian Burnside on the disabled list. Meanwhile, "Anaheim and Baltimore protected their interests in injured players Trent Durrington and John Stephens by having them undergo major arm surgeries."xx This account is at odds with other sources, though, which indicate that the Anaheim organization released Durrington on August 9.
That November, Durro received the Australian Sports Medal, an honor introduced at year-end 1998 to recognize the nation's sporting achievements. In December the other Southern California franchise – the Los Angeles Dodgers – signed him as a free agent. He played 22 games for Las Vegas, their top affiliate, and was released in May after hitting .218-1-2 in 22 games. The very next day, though, the Angels picked him back up and assigned him to Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League. With the Travelers, Trent showed some more power for the first time, hitting 10 homers in 217 at-bats. His .291 average also got him back to Triple-A Salt-Lake City for 39 games.
Durrington started the 2002 season at Arkansas again, taking the step back to learn how to play catcher. In April, there was a bit of a flap with Rich Pharris, the organist at Little Rock's Ray Winder Field. The Australian had grown tired of hearing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" as he came to the plate. "It's a little annoying," he said, and asked that it be replaced with "anything else." Pharris switched to "I've Been Working on the Railroad," but distracted Durrington by playing while he was at the plate. The umpire refused to grant time, but Tim Ireland, managing the visiting Tulsa Drillers, was even more annoyed. His pitcher had fallen behind in the count, 3-0, and Ireland – who had a longstanding complaint with Pharris's act – was ejected after an argument. Durrington walked on the next pitch, stole two bases, and scored on an error to tie the game.xxi That kind of play suggests why he also got into 19 games for Salt Lake City, though his hitting totals were just fair for the Travelers (.246-9-47 in 107 games).
Durrington returned to Salt Lake in 2003 and had his best year overall as a pro, hitting .304 in 117 games with 7 homers and 54 RBIs. In mid-August, after the Angels put David Eckstein on the disabled list, Trent made it back to the majors for the first time in more than three years. He got into 12 games for the Angels over the rest of the season – pinch-hitting, pinch-running, and playing in the DH role as well as second, third, and left field.
After becoming a free agent again that October, Durrington signed the following month with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. "I told [general manager Doug Melvin] I wasn't chasing money, I was chasing opportunity." Brewers manager Ned Yost said, "I like everything about him. He's versatile, he can steal a base, he can hit. And I wouldn't be afraid to play him at any position on the field."xxii
Despite the arrival of Craig Counsell and Junior Spivey in a trade with Arizona, Durrington made the Opening Day roster in 2004 for the first time in his big-league career. He served almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter while filling in at third and second. On April 17 at Houston, he also made his only big-league pitching appearance. The Astros were leading 14-5, and he moved over from third base to get the last out of the eighth inning. "I threw one pitch, to Jose Vizcaino, and he popped it up," Trent remembered in 2006.xxiii
A special highlight came on May 26 as Durrington hit his first major-league homer, off Odalis Pérez of the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 26 at Miller Park. The pinch-hit solo shot tied the game at 1-1, and the Brewers eventually won 2-1 in 12 innings. Milwaukee optioned Durro to Triple-A Indianapolis in June, but he returned about six weeks later. On August 4 he hit his other big-league homer. It also came as a pinch-hitter, off Mike Stanton of the New York Mets at Miller Park with nobody on base. Milwaukee got a little closer, 6-4, but eventually lost, 6-5.
Although he took part in qualifying and pre-Olympic tourneys that spring, Durrington once again did not play for Australia in the 2004 Summer Games. This time, though, it was his choice. "Australian organizers contacted Brewers general manager Doug Melvin to see if Durrington would be available to play. Melvin gave his approval but Durrington, who was at Triple-A at the time, declined. ‘It was pretty apparent I had a shot to get called up,' he said. ‘The reason you go to the Olympics is to help the Australian team, but the reason I'm here is to be in the major leagues. It was a chance to be in the Olympics against a chance to be in the major leagues, and it was a no-brainer.'" He correctly predicted that his homeland would win a medal, along with Cuba.xxiv However, he did not foresee Australia's exciting 1-0 win over his other medal pick, Japan. That sent the green and gold squad into the Gold Medal game against Cuba, but the Aussies had to settle for silver.
Durrington opened the 2005 season at Triple-A again. He performed well for Milwaukee's new top farm team, Nashville, hitting .300-5-31 in 92 games and stealing 30 bases. The Brewers called him up in late June, and he got into the final 28 games of his big-league career. His duties consisted almost solely of pinch-hitting and pinch-running; he played just two innings in the field, at third base. He was 3-for-14, bringing his lifetime average in the majors to .196 (46-for-235).
During the offseason, Durrington represented the Queensland Rams in the Claxton Shield competition, which returned after another incarnation of the Australian pro league folded in 2001. He was the star of the tournament, "singling home the winning run for Queensland to complete a comeback from a 7-0 deficit."xxv Trent said, "I go into spring training in the States every year fighting for a job. Playing in the Claxton Shield gives me a chance to face live pitching and get your timing and feel back at bat. That's why the tournament is great preparation for spring training. It's the reason I have hit very well over there for the last four years."xxvi
Then Craig Shipley, the first Australian-trained player in the majors, reached out. Shipley was serving as vice president of professional and international scouting for the Boston Red Sox, and Durro signed a minor-league contract with Boston in February 2006. He "became one of [manager] Terry Francona's favorite players during spring training due to his boundless energy and ability to play eight positions, which came in handy on long bus trips when the Red Sox were dealing with a limited roster."xxvii
The Australian national team was also training at the Red Sox facilities in Fort Myers, Florida. The World Baseball Classic took place in Orlando that March, and Australia lost its opener to Italy, 10-0. The Italian team was "made up entirely of American-born players with Italian heritage – including the likes of 11-time major-league All Star Mike Piazza. . . Trent Durrington struck Australia's only hit of the game."xxviii Yet even when the mercy rule was about to be invoked, the Aussies still hustled. Said Durrington, "As Australians, we're going to compete until the end. We're going to dive for balls and play all-out. On the flip side of that, you've got to execute." Australia went on to play competitively in losses to Venezuela (2-0) and the Dominican Republic (6-4).xxix
Durrington knew that he was a long shot to make the Boston roster, but he got to the final round of cuts in April before he was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Anthony Sharwood's feature was written while Durro was with the PawSox. "Yeah, I've bounced back and forth a little bit," he told Sharwood. "I've seen every bit of America, and I don't really have any loyalty to any particular club. My goals right now are to get back to the majors, establish myself and play for the rest of the season. I'm 30 and there's no reason I can't keep playing at the top level until I'm 38 or 39."xxx
Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson added, "He's the most versatile player I've ever coached, and I've managed for 14 years. You can put him in left field, you can put him in right, you can put him in center, and he plays all the infield positions, too. I've had guys that can play different positions, but I've had very few guys who do 'em all well. He even pitched one inning for me this year and it was pretty darn good."xxxi Johnson's memory was a little faulty; Durro went three innings and took the loss in the 16th inning as he gave up two earned runs. But he was helping the team, "with the PawSox' staff handcuffed by a Sunday doubleheader and strictly monitored pitch counts for top prospects."xxxii
Durrington hit .233-3-30 with 32 steals in 112 games for Pawtucket. In August the Boston Globe wrote, "Take away Trent Durrington's slow start, and the Aussie would be making a strong case for a September call-up."xxxiii Boston did not summon him, though, and he signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians in February 2007. He joined Cleveland's Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons. He played six positions, including two more outings on the mound. He got a win on May 5 at Buffalo's Dunn Tire Park, despite walking in two runs, when the Bisons scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Pawtucket, 15-14.xxxiv
But Durro spent at least three stretches on the disabled list with assorted injuries and hit just .226-1-20 in 73 games that season. He thereupon retired. Although he liked many things about the United States, his deep Australian identity brought him back home to Broadbeach Waters on the Gold Coast. A few years before he quit, he had become involved with real estate. In his leisure time, he enjoyed surfing, water skiing, golf, and fishing. Trent's wife, Alison ("Aly"), is a professional water skier, a trick performer at Sea World Australia.xxxv The Durringtons welcomed their first child, a son named Max, in February 2007.xxxvi Daughter Isabella followed in February 2010.
The Australian Baseball League, which went defunct after the 2001-02 season, was re-formed in 2010. As of 2012 Durrington had not been involved with the latest incarnation of the ABL, although he did operate the Trent Durrington School of Baseball for a time after retiring, while also offering training programs in collaboration with the Surfers Paradise club. After living and working in Sydney for a few years, he and his family were back in Queensland as of 2012.
Although Durrington was on a different career path and life as a father and husband, he still helped coach the state U16 and U18 teams. In April 2012 he offered the following insight on what baseball has meant to him.
"I am what I am today because of the game of baseball. The game has taught me determination, tenacity, and bravery. Although living a very busy life raising a family and working, I still miss the daily battles the game provided. I do reflect on the team comradeship and having the common goal to win daily and over the course of a season. These are some of the attributes I bring to my career now as a project manager for a development and construction company here on the Gold Coast."
Grateful acknowledgment to Trent and Doug Durrington for their memories (e-mails, April 5 and 10, 2012) and to Steve Horrigan (secretary, Surfers Paradise Baseball Club) for the introduction. Continued thanks to Nicholas R.W. Henning in Australia for his input.
Peter Flintoff & Adrian Dunn, Australian Major League Baseball: The First Ten Years (Self-published and printed independently: 2000). Used as a source for Australian Baseball League statistics only.
i Mike DiGiovanna, "It's a G'day for New Second Baseman Durrington," Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1999. Although some baseball references list his height at 5-feet-10, Australian sources show him as 175 centimeters, which is a shade under 5-feet-9.
ii Glenn Miller, "Red Sox's Lester shines against Australians," The News Press (Fort Myers, Florida), March 6, 2006, C5.
iii Dana Oppedisano, "Durrington eager to join mates Down Under," Naples (Florida) News, March 3, 2006.
iv Anthony Sharwood, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Pawtucket," Alpha, August 2006, 72.
v DiGiovanna, "It's a G'day for New Second Baseman Durrington."
vi Steve Henson, "The Frontiersman: Poitevint Blazes Trail for Angels as Global Scout," Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1993.
vii DiGiovanna, "It's a G'day for New Second Baseman Durrington."
viii Sharwood, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Pawtucket."
ix "Southern Oregon Road Trip Turns into Longest Day," Spokane Spokesman Review, July 14, 1996.
x DiGiovanna, "It's a G'day for New Second Baseman Durrington."
xi Sharwood, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Pawtucket."
xii Gordon Edes, "A bit of Australia in Red Sox Nation," Boston Globe, February 26, 2006.
xiv DiGiovanna, "Durrington Makes Favorable Impression," Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1999.
xv DiGiovanna, "It's a G'day for New Second Baseman Durrington."
xvi DiGiovanna, "Borderline," The Sporting News, September 20, 1999, 56.
xvii DiGiovanna, "Angels Spring Report," Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2000, D3.
xviii "Reggie a Big Hit in Clubhouse," Long Beach Press-Telegram, March 21, 2000.
xix DiGiovanna, "Jackson's Visit Is a Bit of Heaven for Him, Team," Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2000.
xx Joe Clark, A History of Australian Baseball (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 140.
xxi "Manager objects to music," Associated Press, April 23, 2002.
xxii Tom Haudricourt, "Mr. Everywhere: Durrington does it all," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 24, 2004, 7C.
xxiii Edes, "A bit of Australia in Red Sox Nation"
xxiv Adam McCalvy, "Notes: Capuano scratched," MLB.com, August 13, 2004 (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20040813&content_id=827151&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=null).
xxv Edes, "A bit of Australia in Red Sox Nation."
xxvi "Durrington's mission is to pull his Sox up." Daily Telegraph (New South Wales, Australia), January 20, 2006.
xxvii Jeff Horrigan, "New job for Durrington: reliever," Boston Herald, April 14, 2006.
xxviii "Australia crushed by Italy in World Baseball Classic," Sydney Morning Herald, March 8, 2006.
xxix Tyler Kepner, "Australia Deals With Letdown on the World Stage," New York Times, March 11, 2006.
xxx Sharwood, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Pawtucket."
xxxi Sharwood, "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Pawtucket."
xxxii Horrigan, "New job for Durrington: reliever."
xxxiii Gordon Edes, "Final Chapter in Bard's Saga Yet to Be Penned," Boston Globe, August 11, 2006, C4.
xxxiv Brad Bisbing, "Team Scores 9 in the Ninth to Win," MILB.com, May 6, 2007 (http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070506&content_id=238431&vkey=news_t422&fext=.jsp&sid=t422).
xxxv David Laurila, "Trent Durrington," interview for Red Sox Nation website, June 15, 2006. This interview offers much additional insight into Durrington as a person and as a ballplayer (http://www.redsoxnation.net/index.php?showtopic=21426).
xxxvi "Durrington Takes You Inside the Herd," interview with Ben Wagner for Bisons.com, May 3, 2007 (http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070503&content_id=237269&vkey=news_t422&fext=.jsp&sid=t422).