Message from New York Mets star

Australia's biggest baseball fan

MEET Australia's self-proclaimed biggest baseball fan, who excels in the art of lucky, or "chance" meetings, with some of the sport's biggest stars.

Marika Forras is her name, and a domestic flight from Melbourne to Sydney, to be a part of the historic Major League Opening Series was hardly a mission for her.

No. Not when you consider the history of her past epic baseball adventures.

And the amazing things she has done with her life.

Marika has devoted a website to her travels in taking in America's favourite past-time - the most epic being a holiday she made in 2004.

Then, Marika visited every Major League Baseball park in the US and Canada.

Marika meticulously planned her three-month, 16,500km trip over several years before jetting out.

She contacted every ball club in the land, and even received on-field access at six of the grounds.

Marika was working for Qantas as a travel consultant at the time, and she received a free trip overseas for 10 years of service.

The baseball nut met Australia's second All Star, Grant Balfour, while he was at the Minnesota, after just signing a lucrative contract with Tampa Bay.

The Australian champion kept in touch with her and took a keen interest in her travels.

On another occasion, Marika was enjoying a beer at a sports bar in St Louis after a Cardinals game, before bumping into a man to her left, sporting a World Series ring.

"I told him what I was doing - that I was on a baseball holiday," she said of the front-office official.

"And the next thing he organised for me to meet (a member of the 500 home-run club and the 3000 hit club) Rafael Palmeiro in Baltimore.

"The Orioles did a lot for me, including setting me up to meet Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in their media room.

"On another occasion I met Queensland boy Trent Durrington at the Milwaukee Brewers' ground.

"We chatted in the dugout before the game, and he went on to hit two for three, and steal two bases.

"It must've been because I was the only other Aussie at the ground."

Marika's amazing baseball trip did have some other highlights outside the ball parks, as well as other chance meetings.

A significant one revolved around bumping into a man named Michael Vitez in Philadelphia.

"I was running up the steps that appear in the Rocky movie and I happened to bump into the guy who wrote the book Rocky Stories - Michael Vitez," she said.

"It's a book about why people (52 profile pieces of everyday folks) are motivated to run up the famous steps.

"He interviewed me and I later appeared in that book."

Vitez chronicled Marika's incredible journey in the book, including how she volunteered as a single mother to work with underprivileged children in her spare time.

One day, again by chance, she met a man named Phil Dale at an Australian Baseball League game, after taking a group of kids there.

Dale was on the mound pitching that day.

He went on to become a key talent scout and coach in Australian baseball, and is now the pitching coach for the Melbourne in the ABL, as well at Team Australia.

He was the first Australian player to receive a scholarship to play at an American college, and afterwards signed a deal with the Cincinnati Reds.

Dale told Marika to get her only son involved in baseball, which she did, before falling in love with the sport herself.

That chance meeting kick-started a journey which saw Marika become one of the pioneers of Aussie women's baseball.

In 1994 the Victorian Baseball Association started a woman's league baseball competition and she joined the Malvern Baseball Club.

To help launch the competition, Lavonne "Pepper" Paire, from the All-American Girls Professional League, was brought out to throw the first pitch.

Pepper also held a series of talks about her baseball career and the movie - A League of their Own - based on the American Girls Professional baseball league, which she consulted on.

Pepper was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.

She was the one who inspired Marika to be a beacon for women's baseball in Australia.

Marika has since played every season since the inception of the Women's League Down Under, over the past two decades.

"From that point on there was no looking back," Marika wrote on her website.

"And in 1997 we took two woman's teams over to play a friendship series in southern California, culminating in the 4th of July Firecracker tournament at Fullerton."

Marika's chance meeting with Dale triggered in motion a lifetime love affair with The Big Show.

She has watched every World Series game on television since 1995, and collected all the WS clubhouse hats since then.

Marika's library of memorabilia is extensive.

She owns a commemorative bat from the 50-year anniversary of Jackie Robinson and a signed ball and 2131 ticket from Cal Ripken (Ripken has the record of the most consecutive games - yes, 2131).

Then there is the signed Mike Piazza ball and a framed "Summer of 62" plaque celebrating Mark McGwire's and Sammy Sosa's home-run chase.

A framed photo of Mickey Mantle with the Yankees 2001 World Series envelope also takes pride of place.

Her big achievement at the recent MLB Opening Series in Sydney was scoring a signature from the outgoing commissioner Bud Selig on her hat which travelled to all 30 US ball parks during her 2004 adventure.

"The hat has now been to the honorary 31s park - the SCG," Marika added.

"I'm probably the biggest baseball fan in Australia."

As the old saying goes, you make your own luck in life.

Marika considers herself extremely lucky that a sequence of events led her to the Rocky Steps that day back in 2004.

But Vitez saw something else in her - a hard-working, caring, generous and enthusiastic person, driven by making every day count.

"Marika was quite the sight, lugging her bags and camera up the steps," Vitez wrote in his book.

"But she knew what she wanted, went after it, and savoured every moment of her adventure.

"She struck me as someone whose life was not particularly easy, but she was a 'glass-half-full' woman."

You can read more about Marika's story by clicking here.