Competitive Drive: Australian Wind Surge player’s unusual path to big leagues

Competitive Drive

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita Wind Surge outfielder Aaron Whitefield, who grew up in Australia, always thought he might be a professional athlete — but until he was a teenager, baseball wasn’t on his radar.

“Growing up in Australia, you wouldn’t see many baseball games on TV,” said Whitefield. “If you asked me in high school what I was going to be, it wouldn’t be a baseball player. I could tell you that right now.”

Born to world-class softball players, the Brisbane native wasn’t a complete stranger to the diamond but preferred other sports, such as rugby and soccer.

“When I was old enough to play sports, my parents made me play a different sport every season,” said Whitefield. “Rugby is like built into me.”

Whitefield grew up watching the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby union team and played the sport himself until injuries would get in the way.

“Anything with contact, like rugby, I couldn’t do for like 6 months,” said Whitfield. “But they told me I could play softball in those six months.”

Despite never playing the sport before, Whitefield would follow in his parents’ footsteps inside the lines.

“I had a lot of family friends that played, so I would always be at the field — even though I wasn’t playing at a younger age, I got a feel for it,” said Whitefield. “t was good to be around my family so I kind of just stuck with it for a little bit.”

When he was just 16-years-old, Whitefield represented his home country at the Men’s Softball World Cup in Argentina where a Major League Baseball scout approached him with the Cincinnati Reds. Soon after, he would get his first taste of America’s favorite pastime.

“I had a friend that needed some players on his team, and I played softball which was pretty close, so I went over and played on his club team,” said Whitefield.

After his first year playing the sport, he was offered a minor league contract with the Twins: “Someone said, ‘hey, do you want to play baseball in America and travel around America for free?’ At 18, I was like, ‘why not!’”

“I think it was because I was very athletic, and I could run,” said Whitefield. “I was very fast for how big I was. For them, it was like, he hasn’t been playing, so maybe we could turn him into something.”

In his early days of minor league baseball, Whitefield had to adjust to the ins and outs of a new country and learn to deal with the mental side of the game.

“Not every game is going to be your best, but you still have to come out and play,” said Whitefield. “I had to learn how to turn it around day after day.”

The 6-foot-4 outfielder said that the most difficult part of being a professional baseball player, however, is time spent away from family: “My family got to come once, but now with the pandemic, it’s like impossible for them to come. It’s a 14 hour time difference, so even after a game… I’m tired and I want to go to bed, but that’s the only time I can really talk to my family.”

After five years in the minors, Whitefield would crack the Twins’ 2020 Opening Day roster, becoming the 35th Australian player in MLB history. Now, he is focused on returning to Target Field.

“Seeing how those guys go about their business and seeing the level that we strive to be at… it was a little bit of drive,” said Whitefield. “I have to step it up, and if I want to play back there I have to do a lot better. I just focused on what I thought were my weaknesses, and I think it’s paying off now.”

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