Cooklin goes Down Under for the love of the game

~courtesy of The Perry News, written by Jeff Webster

Tyler Cooklin, a 2011 East Greene graduate, is playing minor league baseball for the Doncaster Dragons in Melbourne, Australia. Photo submitted.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — It has been said that a man might sometimes follow his passion to the ends of earth.

For Grand Junction native Tyler Cooklin, that saying has almost come true, as the 2011 graduate of East Greene High School is spending his summer — our winter — pitching and playing center field for the Doncaster Dragons in what amounts to Australia’s minor leagues.

“I got the phone call that they wanted me and two days later, on October 6, I was in Australia,” Cooklin said during a video interview with ThePerryNews.com. “I had always hoped baseball would take me places, but I have to admit it never dawned on me that Australia might be on the list.”

Cooklin was the starting pitcher at the 2009 Class 1A state baseball tournament. Photo submitted.

Cooklin said baseball had always been his first love. He was good enough to play varsity ball as an eighth grader for East Greene and was an instrumental part of head coach Dana Fink’s Hawk squad that went on a wild run through the postseason to the Class 1A State Tournament in 2009.

The sophomore left hander earned the start in the quarterfinals against top-ranked Newman Catholic, and while the eventual champion Knights made short work of the Hawks, Cooklin was the lone player to cross the plate against the Mason City powerhouse in the tourney.

Cooklin finished his collegiate career throwing for Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. Photo submitted.

After leaving high school (the class of 2012 was the last for East Greene, who folded into what is now Greene County) he pitched two seasons for Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where he studied automotive restoration. That led to two years at the Pennsylvania College of Technology — Penn Tech to natives — in Williamsport, Pa.

If the name sounds familiar, it should — Williamsport is the home of the Little League World Series, at which Cooklin worked for two years.

“Absolutely incredible,” he said of the experience. “It is everything you imagine it would be and more. The kids, no matter where they are from, are amazing. I loved every minute of it.”

He finished his studies in business management, but a rotator cuff injury that required surgery — often the bane of southpaws — appeared to have ended his dreams of playing post-collegiate ball.

Cooklin stayed on at PCT as pitching coach when he made acquaintances with Bubbie Buzachero, who works for the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League, a minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Buzachero was a career minor league, having toiled in various leagues for 14 seasons. He spent part of four seasons as high as Triple A, where he was a combined 12-13 as a starter, but never received the dreamed-of call to ‘the show.’

“Bubbie had pitched for the Melbourne Aces, which is the highest level in Australia, so he had contacts down there,” Cooklin explained. “He motivated and helped me get back in playing shape and work on my mechanics. Bubbie shot some video of me playing and sent it to Australia.

“That was the last I had heard of it and didn’t really expect anything to happen,” he said. “All of sudden the phone rings, and I am told ‘get on a plane in two days if you are interested’ and I couldn’t believe it.”

Cooklin made a quick trip back to Iowa for a swift round of goodbyes and it was off Down Under, a trip of over 10,000 miles with an advance of 17 hours in time zones. A change in flights meant every traveler’s nightmare — lost luggage.

Cooklin plays center field when not pitching. He currently leads the conference with a .417 batting average. Photo submitted.

“I get here and I all have is the clothes I am wearing and my backpack of stuff — toothbrush, deodorant, things like that,” he laughed. “It took a week for my bags to catch up to me.”

Melbourne — which is currently hosting the Australian Open Tennis Tournament — is the capitol of the Australian state of Victoria and, at 4.5 million, is the second-most populous city in the nation. Located in extreme southeastern Australia, Melbourne is just 380 miles north of the island of Tasmania.

Doncaster is an eastern suburb of Melbourne, a city of 18,000. Cooklin noted it was 91 degrees during the video interview and said he was not missing the Iowa or Pennsylvania winter at all.

Cooklin is the designated non-Aussie for the Dragons. Photo submitted.

Cooklin is the son of Davy Cooklin and Tina (Miner). His family also includes step mother Angie Popp, sisters Graci Ann and Kalyn and brother Cale. While in Australia, he is staying with Rob and Sharon Findlay, whose son, Billy, is a member of the Dragons baseball team. They also have a daughter, Bridget.

“Each team is allowed one foreign player, no matter where they are from,” Cooklin explained. “I am the ‘import’ player for the Dragons, and yes, I get asked everywhere I go to ‘say something’ because everyone wants to hear my American accent.”

[Each team in the league is allowed one “imported” player — Cooklin is the designated non-Aussie for the Dragons. Photo submitted.]

Cooklin is the lead pitcher in the starting rotation for the Dragons. He is given the day off after each start, but then plays center field until his next assignment on the mound. His .417 batting average currently leads the league.

While being paid, as he described “decently” there is more money to be made as a minor league player in the U.S. or even in Europe, which is the goal of almost every professional player in Australia.

“Europe pays you a lot more than here, so even if you don’t catch on in the U.S. there is still good money to be made if a European team takes you,” Cooklin said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happen often enough that the better players realize it is a real possibility.”

Cooklin will continue playing for the Dragons until March, when he will return to PCT to serve again as the Wildcat pitching coach until May, when he will return to Doncaster for the Aussie “winter league” which lasts until the end of September. At that point, his cards may be up in the air again.

“After September, who knows?” he said. “There are any number of ways this could go.”

As for now, the 23-year old is loving life in the sun Down Under while pursuing his passion.

“I get to play baseball while everyone back home is in the cold,” he smiled. “The weather is beautiful, this is a wonderful place, the people are incredible and they are paying me to do what I love. Hard to beat that.”

 

Print or share article:Print this pageEmail this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook