Padres lefty John Spence sparks excitement Down Under

SYDNEY Wed Jun 22, 2011 4:23am EDT

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Josh Spence's family will be crossing their fingers 10,000 miles away when the San Diego Padres take on the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, hoping the lefthanded pitcher gets the call from the Fenway Park bullpen for his first taste of Major League Baseball.

The 23-year-old from Geelong, near Melbourne, was called up by the Padres from their Arizona minor league club on Tuesday and flew from Texas to Boston only to sit out San Diego's 5-4 win over the Red Sox.

On Wednesday, Spence, only the second player from the 2010 MLB draft to get the call-up to "the show," will get his second chance to become the seventh Australian to play Major League Baseball this season.

"He was pretty excited," his father, Tony, told the Geelong Advertiser. "He could hardly talk. But we're so excited for him. He was called into the manager's office and told 'you're pitching tomorrow but it's not here. You're on a plane to Boston.'"

Picked by the Padres in the ninth round of the 2010 draft out of Arizona State University, Spence has gone 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA with the Double-A San Antonio Missions this year.

Baseball was introduced to Australia by American miners during the Victoria gold rush of the late 19th century but has always played second fiddle to cricket.

The sports-mad country has, however, produced 28 major league players before Spence, who will be following in the footsteps of another lefthanded pitcher from Geelong.

Graeme Lloyd played 10 years in the major leagues from 1993 with several clubs including the New York Yankees.

The other Australians to have played in the major leagues this year are Luke Hughes (Minnesota Twins), Trent Oeltjen (LA Dodgers), Rich Thompson (LA Angels), Grant Balfour (Oakland Athletics), Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers) and Peter Moylan (Atlanta Braves).

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)