All-Star clash an opportunity for many
9 December 2015
Again expected to attract a sizeable crowd, the fifth Australian Baseball League All-Star Game – between a national team and an ABL international squad - will be held at Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday 16 December.
While selection for either squad is a recognition of playing performance in the Australian Baseball League season to date, it also provides the opportunity for individuals in both groups to press their claims for higher honours – particularly with the game being broadcast by ESPN into baseball countries around the globe.
For Australian players, one of those potential honours is selection in the national team to contest the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in mid-February.
Comprising a mix of experience with emerging younger players, the 26-man Australian squad will be managed by Head Coach Jon Deeble, along with assistants in Phil Dale, Tony Harris, Graeme Lloyd and Kevin Jordan.
The Australian side includes eleven pitchers – a mix of right and left armers – and it has representation from each of the six Australian Baseball League clubs. Seven of the players are from Brisbane Bandits, five from Adelaide Bite, Perth Heat and Sydney Blue Sox, with two each from Melbourne Aces and Canberra Cavalry.
While the majority of the Australia squad has played at Rookie or Single A level in United States, two players (Brad Harman and Luke Hughes) played at Major League level and another three (Craig Anderson, Ryan Searle and Allan de San Miguel) have reached AAA level.
“It is a balanced squad,” Head Coach Jon Deeble told Australian Baseball Alumni from South Africa today. “With some of our more experienced players not available, this is an ideal opportunity for the younger guys to step up and show us what they can do.”
“We are approaching the All-Star Game the same way we approach any game,” he said. “We are out there to win. Every time we put an Australian uniform on we want to win.”
“That is very important to us."
Image: Australian Baseball Alumni
With players drawn from United States, Japan, Taiwan and Brazil, the World All-Star side has settled for a squad of players who will be managed by Steve Fish – a man who is well-accustomed to success at Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League.
All of the All-Stars playing list – which includes eleven pitchers – have been prominent in Australian Baseball League action this season, with seven drawn from the Canberra ABL club, five From Melbourne, four from Sydney, three each from Brisbane and Adelaide and one from Perth.
A final member of the World All-Star team will be determined by a fan ballot that closes on Sunday 13 December. Fans can vote via FACEBOOK.
The All-Star squad boasts two AAA players in Brian Grening and Bryan Pounds among a vastly experienced group that includes well-performed players from independent baseball and from Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan).
“I think the World team will be very strong this year,” Jon Deeble said. “Their key strength should be their pitching, and that will give us a good understanding of where our kids are at. If they play well individually against this team they should be able to do well in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers.”
“At this point we expect our guys to only throw one innings in the All-Star Game. Steven Kent will start for us.”
While there is plenty of experience among the Australian pitching staff, Deeble is excited about the progress that some of the younger players are making and the impressive numbers that they are putting up in the Australian Baseball League.
“There is plenty of serious talent there, and we are keen to see how these kids perform as we prepare for the WBC Qualifier in February,” he said. “Mitch Nilsson is one who has a great season. We are looking at who will be able to play third base for us in the future and he is definitely a guy we are considering.”
“Whitefield is still very raw, but very talented. He is a great athlete whose type is hard to find. He has clocked 10.80 over 100 metres and came close to running in the Stawell Gift a few years back.”
“Steve Chambers is having a good season in the ABL and has added a split finger fastball which has helped him a lot,” Deeble said. “And Sam Kennelly is another guy who we see as a future Olympian for Tokyo in 2020. He will be in the prime of his career at that point.”
While the All-Star Game is regarded by many effectively as an exhibition match, it will again offer all players on the Australian team – regardless of their experience - the opportunity to state a case for selection in our national team for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier at Blacktown in February.
We can expect some relatively new names to suit up for that squad, whose prospects will be seriously enhanced by the inclusion of several household Australian baseball names.
“It looks like we will have Travis Blackley, Peter Moylan, James Beresford and Ryan Rowland-Smith available for the WBC Qualifier,” Deeble said. “And I believe I might have coaxed Trent Oeltjen out of retirement. He is too young and too good to not be playing.”
“We are hopeful that we can get Liam Hendricks, Mitch Dening and Drew Naylor. David Kandilas is recovering from minor knee surgery and will hopefully be ready.”
“Sam Gibbons is a good chance for the qualifier,” he said. “Unfortunately Lewis Thorpe and Daniel McGrath will not be available.”
“So there is a lot to look forward to as we prepare for what will be a really important series early next year. We cannot take anything for granted – especially with New Zealand likely to have some match-winners on their squad.”
“But that is still some time off. For now, we are just focused on having a good hit out and putting up a strong showing against the All-Stars next Wednesday.”
The Australian Baseball League All-Star Game will be played at Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday 16 December, starting at 7.30 PM.
If you are not able to be at the game, you can watch it live on ESPN (click HERE for details).
Image: Australian Baseball Alumni