Fans respond as stars come out at Altona
16 December 2015
While Melbourne Ballpark has at times been a maligned facility because of its location, that was certainly not a disincentive for the legion of fans who came out to the All-Star Game in support of what was a wonderful sporting event tonight.
With the best of the Australian Baseball League internationals pitted against an Australian squad preparing for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in February, a crowd estimated at over 4000 was treated to a high quality contest that showcased some of the very best pitching, defence and hitting capability on offer in the ABL at present.
Team Australia finished the game ahead 3-2 – although our own grassroots baseball may have been the real winner, in the view of home-grown Major Leaguer Ryan Rowland-Smith.
AUSTRALIA 3 defeated WORLD ALL-STARS 2
Sending ten of its best to the hill in an exhibition of pitching depth, Australia conceded a run in the first before emerging superstar Aaron Whitefield smacked a two-run scoring single in the second off All-Star left-armer Rick Teasley – for a lead that held up until Justin Williams left the yard in the fifth off Steven Kent.
With both sides wringing the pitching changes – the All-Star team used eight on the hill – scores remained deadlocked until the bottom of nine, when Andrew Campbell reached second on a defensive error, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and crossed the plate as Trent D’Antonio laid down another short ball off All-Star closer Kody Kerski.
Kerski was saddled with the loss while consummate finisher Ryan Searle carded the win with a scoreless, albeit frenetic top of the ninth.
Logan Wade (two hits) and Whitefield (a hit for two RBIs) were the best of an Australian offence that could muster just six hits, while the All-Star side – with nine – had terrific contributors in Tanner Vavra (three hits), Tyler Bennett (three hits) and Williams (two hits, with the home run and a walk).
Attending an All-Star Game at Melbourne Ballpark for the first time, home-grown Major Leaguer and long-term playing professional Ryan Rowland-Smith offered Australian Baseball Alumni some interesting and encouraging insights on the game – and on Australian baseball more generally.
“It has been a new experience for me, and I am trying to get my head around what it all means for the sport back here,” he reflected after a game that would surely have sent the punters home happy.
“Just talking to people tonight it is clear that Baseball Australia and the Australian Baseball League are really positive about having the game on their schedule. One of the challenges is to have all of the guys available – which is difficult with the timing.”
“The location is so far out of the city – which is both a good and a bad thing,” he said. “It is a long way for families to travel, but there are a lot of people here tonight. That tells us something.”
“The playing surfaces look fine and I have been impressed by the standard of play.”
“What excites me most is the kids and the level of excitement around the place. We need to be able to work off that,” Ryan Rowland-Smith said. “If we can, then Australian baseball has a great future.”
Speaking of future engagement of young people in the sport, Ryan Rowland-Smith and former Major Leaguer Trent Oeltjen are delighted with the response that they have received for NxtGEN Baseball, a joint project committed to coaching and mentoring young players.
NxtGEN Baseball will be running a series of baseball camps along the eastern seaboard during early 2016.
“It is going really well,” Ryan said. “We have put a ton of work into this and the feedback and interaction has been just outstanding. It has been great fun and we are really excited about the project – especially in New South Wales.”
“What seems to especially appeal to kids and their parents is that we are offering a mentoring service along with the coaching and camp activities. It is a varied programme – with a lot of different aspects – but we are placing real emphasis on the kids having direct access to us,” he said.
In preparation mode for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier at Blacktown in February, Ryan Rowland-Smith has not yet dismissed any chance of an appearance with Sydney Blue Sox as it builds its Australian Baseball League season.
“If I could time it right in my preparation and work it around the NxtGEN camps, maybe,” he said. “I have spoken to Coach Pospishil – and I would love to – but the timing has to be right, and it would have to fit in with my programme for the WBC Qualifier.”
“Travis Blackley and James Beresford were at the game tonight. All of us had a 45-minute chat with Jon Deeble and he is helping map out a programme to be right for the Qualifier, which is a very important series for Australia with the Classic and the Olympics both on the agenda.”
“The great thing about tonight is that it has been a rare opportunity for people to get together and put some strategies in place for the future.”
In all of my many years of attending games at Melbourne Ballpark – in some capacity or another – the crowd in attendance was the largest and the most engaged that I can recall, notwithstanding the unavailability of some players and the eleventh hour problems created by unanticipated weather issues interstate.
Well done to all players, coaches, administrators and media personnel involved. And congratulations, especially, to a sports-mad Victorian community that supported the event in such numbers and with such enthusiasm.
Scroll down for a selection of images from the game.