The first Major League Baseball game played in Australia occurred on March 22, 2014.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks opened the season at Sydney Cricket Ground, with both teams turning to left-handed starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw outdueled Wade Miley, and the Dodgers won 3-1.
Among the 38,266 fans in attendance were two aspiring left-handed pitchers. Twin brothers Alex and Lachlan Wells, then 17, made the two-hour trip south from Newcastle, New South Wales, to witness baseball history. The brothers, who chose baseball over cricket years earlier, already had been noticed by MLB scouts at state and national tournaments. If they had any doubt about pursuing professional baseball, it was erased in the glow of that night.
"We've always had a dream to play on the biggest stage, under the lights, in front of all those people," Lachlan said.
In mere months, the plan to achieve that dream was officially set in motion.
After receiving interest from several MLB clubs, Lachlan chose to sign with the Minnesota Twins in November 2014, in part because that organization had a track record of developing Australian players, such as Luke Hughes, Liam Hendriks and James Beresford. Lachlan collected a $300,000 bonus, and a few months later he traveled halfway around the world and reported to Twins headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida.
"It didn't really hit me that I was a professional athlete until I got my flight over here," Lachlan said. "When I got on that plane, and saying goodbye to the family for the first time, it's pretty tough, but this is the career I wanted. This is the path that I chose."
While Lachlan embarked on a professional career in the United States, Alex stayed home and considered what it would take for him to get a contract of his own.
"I was happy for him, and I got a little jealous at times," Alex said. "But it made me work harder to want to get that professional contract as much as anyone else out there."
Alex didn't have to wait long. Just as Lachlan was finishing an impressive debut season at the rookie level of the minor leagues, Alex signed with the Baltimore Orioles in August 2015 and received the same $300,000 bonus. To hear the brothers tell it, neither was tempted to make any extravagant purchases when the money came through. They followed the advice of their parents and stashed most of it in savings and investments.
LEFT-HANDED PITCHING is coveted in baseball. Teams that rely too heavily on right-handed pitchers are susceptible to statistical disadvantages if opponents stack their lineup with left-handed hitters. Lefty pitchers with effective curveballs who consistently throw strikes and earn high marks for maturity and character are especially valuable, and that is exactly what scouts saw in the Wells twins, who turned 20 in February.
Based on their 2017 club assignments, they're slightly ahead of schedule in terms of development. Lachlan, who throws a fastball at 90-93 mph, is on the roster of the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League, three levels below the majors in high Class A. Alex, who hits 88-91 mph, is one step back in regular Class A with the Maryland-based Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. Lachlan is two to three years younger than the typical FSL player, and Alex is one to two years younger than the average SAL player.
Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said Lachlan is viewed as a starter but might eventually become a reliever. Lachlan joined the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Class A Midwest League halfway through last season, starting 12 games and recording an impressive 1.77 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 16 walks in 71⅓ innings.
"He's got a really good curveball, and he had it at an early age," Radcliff said. "He was one of the youngest guys in his league last year. He might be the youngest guy in his league this year. We think he has a really bright future."
As good as Lachlan was in 2016, the Minnesota prospect said his brother has a more fluid delivery and an even better curveball. Alex played in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League for the Aberdeen Ironbirds last season, starting 13 games and compiling a 2.15 ERA with 50 strikeouts and nine walks in 62⅔ innings.
"He has tremendous makeup, great work ethic and studies the game," Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said of Alex. "He likes to pitch. He likes to be at the ballpark. When you get kids like that, they're really fun to coach."
LIFE IN THE minor leagues is a lesson in humility.
The schedule can be relentless, and the experience of hopping between small towns can be a culture shock even for Americans. The food choices are often dubious -- good luck finding authentic Australian chicken schnitzel with chips and gravy -- and long bus rides are an infamous rite of passage. None of those things, however, could diminish the first pro season on the road for either brother.
"It was amazing," Alex said. "I loved every minute of it. I feel like the season went a bit too quick. I didn't get to really soak it all in. Before you know it, you're halfway through the season."
After playing as a rookie in 2015 in the locally based Gulf Coast League, where road trips are relatively short, Lachlan got the full minors experience in 2016.
"I'd rather be playing baseball and grinding it out every day than going to [college] or trying to find a job," Lachlan said. "That's one of the big things I tell my friends -- that it may be a long season, but it's fun. The guys you play with make it fun."
ALEX AND LACHLAN originally played cricket as children and picked up baseball at age 10. As they got older, scheduling conflicts ultimately required them to decide between the two sports. By that point, baseball had become a point of pride and passion for the brothers.
"We just fell in love with baseball and started playing a lot more," Lachlan said. "As we kept going to higher levels, it required a lot more time. We were pretty good cricketers, but eventually we had to make a choice. We were disappointed to give up cricket, but it obviously has worked out."
Back then, Alex rooted for the New York Mets, and Lachlan supported the Oakland Athletics. Additionally, they followed Australians playing in the major leagues, such as Grant Balfour, Travis Blackley and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who also hails from Newcastle.
"When we were 16, at the junior national championships down in Australia, we started getting interest from clubs," Alex said. "That's when we thought we had a really good shot of playing professional baseball if we kept working hard."
Only about 10 percent of minor leaguers ultimately reach the majors, and it's not unusual to spend at least five years making the climb. Some players spend a decade or longer in the minors and never get the call. All that said, the Wells brothers aren't looking for any short cuts. They're in it for the long haul.
"The dream is real," Lachlan said. "I don't ever want to give it up. As long as I'm healthy, I'm going to play baseball."