Aces flying under the radar?
26 September 2018
With an expanded Australian Baseball League competition poised to get under way in a matter of weeks, interest levels are being progressively ramped up as clubs – and fans – dial in to what the 2018/19 season might bring.
While triple reigning champion Brisbane has garnered a large chunk of social media attention as the Bandits build their star-studded roster, another seven clubs – including two new entities - have been going about their baseball business with an eye to their own short and longer-term prospects as Claxton Shield contenders.
Of those clubs, Melbourne Aces assumed a markedly low profile in the off-season, yet may be emerging as a genuine threat under Team Manager Jon Deeble, who has returned from duties with Los Angeles Dodgers and expects his charges to be “fighting for the title.”
Resuming for his third year at the helm of the Melbourne club, Deeble – an Australian Baseball Hall-of-Famer and our national manager for almost two decades – has barely had time to savour a relaxed breath after three solid months of overseas commitments with the Dodgers organisation.
During that period, he has nevertheless been instrumental in re-contracting a number of former Aces players while investigating other options under a revamped league contractual structure that poses challenges - and opportunities - for all clubs as the league transitions into a new licensing format.
“There have already been some big announcements made by the club, and some other arrangements that I can comment on at this stage,” Jon Deeble told Australian Baseball Alumni on his return to Melbourne this week.
“Our fans will be pleased to know that Darryl George will be ready from Day One. Allan de San Miguel and Sam Street are back with us, Dushan Ruzic signed this week and Luke Hughes was a huge announcement for the club. Mike Walker will be back playing with us.”
“Delmon Young will miss the first three series because of his other pro commitments,” Deeble said. “Jon Kennedy and Christian Meister will become available during December, Matt Marksberry during December, Scott Shuman and Dan McGrath after Christmas.”
“We will be bringing out a Sebui starter and a Sebui reliever to boost a strong pitching roster.”
Negotiations are well under way to secure the services of two Boston Red Sox professionals, three players from Kansas City Royals (including a third baseman), along with a Braves outfielder. The Aces are working on a Phillies pitcher who is likely to be here for at least a month and they are currently in discussions with a former Aces defensive star keen to return to Australian Baseball League.
“People need to understand that we can’t name some players just yet,” Deeble said. “We have to operate within league constraints and we have to work around the professional commitments that these guys might have. It is always a balancing act finalising a roster, but there is plenty of exciting stuff going on.”
“People have been asking about the man, but Mark Hamburger won’t be here this season because his wife is due to have a baby early in November,” Jon Deeble said.
Phil Dale and Damian Shanahan will again be assisting Deeble with game-day management and preparation for the 2018/19 Australian Baseball League season, a campaign which will include practice matches against Korea/Geelong on 10 and 11 November.
“Those games will be important for us, because I have no idea how Korea are doing at this stage – or New Zealand for that matter. I have heard a bit about players signed to their rosters but I haven’t been over that at all. I don’t have Facebook and I don’t bother with other social media. It is just a forum for dills to have their say,” quipped the typically and refreshingly forthright Aces Team Manager.
Especially given the significant number of imported personnel, Melbourne Aces will not be conducting local tryouts for players as the club continues to construct its roster for the new season.
“My feeling on this is well-known,” Deeble said. “The league is allowing far too many imports and our good young players aren’t really getting a chance. We picked some younger players last season but they lost interest and really couldn’t commit when they saw that they weren’t getting much of a look-in.”
Ever the consummate baseball professional, Jon Deeble retains his lifelong attachment to Victorian baseball and is committed to doing whatever he is able to assist his home state in its effort to regain ascendancy as a major presence on the national – and now international - stage that is the Australian Baseball League.
Underwritten by Baseball Victoria and Baseball Australia as the club transitions into its licensing arrangements, Melbourne Aces will come under direct control of Simon Sallka and FS Entertainment from March 2019.
Acknowledging the “energy, enthusiasm and vision” that Simon Sallka has already generated around the project, Jon Deeble has an encouraging message for fans of the Melbourne Aces – many of them long-suffering aficionados craving sustained success in the resurrected national league.
“Yes, we have flown under the radar a bit, but we are going to be very strong offensively with the addition of Hughes and Walker along with Delmon Young,” he said. “People can forget that Delmon hadn’t played for two years before he came out here last summer. He has just torn up the Mexican League – hitting .340 with thirteen home runs – so we are expecting big things.”
“Having Hughes and Walker on board is a real bonus. Those guys can turn any game.”
“Our starting pitching is looking good, and we are compiling a strong bullpen, with two guys up to 100 – also Meister and Shuman hitting 98 this year,” he said.
“We are looking really strong this year and we expect to be fighting for the title.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Melbourne Aces Manager Jon Deeble for his assistance in producing this article. We wish all Australian Baseball League clubs the very best in their preparation for what will be a ground-breaking season in 2018/19.
Image: Australian Baseball League
Image: Australian Baseball League