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Grant Balfour
Down under, but on top of the world

By Mychael Urban / MLB.com

Grant Balfour's accent tells you he's from Down Under.

His numbers tell you he's on top of the baseball world, even after beginning the 2008 season in the Minors.

Balfour was designated for assignment on the final day of Spring Training 2008 and headed for Tampa Bay's Triple-A affiliate in Durham, N.C. His stay with the Bulls lasted all of 15 games, however, and he returned to go 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA over 51 regular-season appearances with the Rays.

Balfour's success between the lines is certainly remarkable, but his appeal during the 2008 postseason crossed international borders.

The Rays' animated righty setup man is from Sydney, Australia, where baseball barely registers on the national sports radar. Balfour has done his best to change that with each appearance he's made.

"The games aren't nearly [as popular as] they are over here, or in the Latin countries," he said. "I'd say that the game is definitely getting a lot bigger every year, but it's never gotten to the point where it's really taken off in Australia the way it could."

Cricket and rugby rule Down Under, according to Balfour, but baseball had enough of a presence for him to fall in love with the national pastime of another country.

"I pretty much just stumbled across the game," he said. "Walking around the park with my dad, I saw some kids playing, and they happened to be playing t-ball. I didn't even realize what it was, to be honest. From there, my dad actually started up a baseball club with another guy, and I just took it on from there."

He's taken it nearly as far as any other Australian-born big leaguer.

Graeme Lloyd, a native of Victoria, Australia, won a World Series ring with the 1998 Yankees. The crowning baseball achievement for Balfour thus far is helping the Aussies, for whom he pitched in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, to a gold medal in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup.

Balfour received countless e-mails and messages from friends back home during Tampa Bay's run to the World Series, which was chronicled by all of Australia's major media outlets. He joked that the people in Sydney ditched their Yankees caps in favor of Rays gear.

Age: 30

Hometown:
Sydney, Australia

College:
William Clark High School (Australia)

MLB Teams:
MIN, TB

Video | Player bio
"People are into it," he said. "And it can only be good for the game back there."

Balfour primarily played catcher as a youth, but noted he had good instruction from qualified instructors to help his growth.

"I would take a little bit from each guy," Balfour said. "And I'd learn from other players or watching the game."

Balfour signed with the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in November 1997 and made his big league debut with Minnesota in 2001. He underwent elbow surgery in 2005 and didn't make it back to the bigs until 2007 with the Brewers.

The Rays acquired Balfour at the Trade Deadline in 2007, and as much as they love his power arm, they dig his fiery demeanor at least as much. He frequently screams at himself on the mound, and that prompted a shouting match with Orlando Cabrera during the Rays' American League Division Series victory over the White Sox.

"He's a little bit crazy, but in a good way," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. "He gets pumped up, and he gets all of us pumped up, too."

It's hard to imagine someone being more pumped up than Balfour was after striking out Ken Griffey Jr. for the final out of the ALDS.

"It was awesome to ... be mobbed by the players," he said. "I haven't had players form a huddle around me like that since the Intercontinental Cup."

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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