Aussie media personality a lamplighter at Premier 12
30 November 2015
Boasting huge prizemoney and immeasurable prestige, the inaugural Premier 12 tournament was by far the most significant international baseball event since the World Baseball Classic, drawing an audience estimated at tens – even hundreds - of millions of people across the globe.
Among the legion of technical staff, journalists, media personnel and commentators on the ground in Japan and Taiwan for the series was one Craig "Frita" Kernick – an Alumni member and an Australian baseball identity who accepted the unique opportunity to provide service to the World Baseball and Softball Confederation for its online streaming.
In a hectic schedule over the two-week tournament, Kernick covered sixteen games – including the medals rounds at Tokyo Dome – in what he describes as “the greatest thing I have ever done in baseball”.
A former hard-nosed player in our earlier version of the Australian Baseball League, a successful club coach and a confirmed baseball lifer, Craig "Frita" Kernick has a lengthy resume in baseball media, having previously anchored the Baseball Radio Show in Victoria, commentated at All-Star Games and ABL fixtures for Melbourne Aces while more recently hosting the informative MLB Podcast through Sports Entertainment Network.
While the baseball media role is one in which the popular baseball identity has already proven his credentials, the opportunity to offer his services to Premier 12 coverage was one – understandably - that Kernick could hardly resist.
“Look, it came about largely because of a suggestion from a media friend and associate, James Watson, who I worked with on the old Baseball Radio Show in Victoria some years back,” Kernick told Australian Baseball Alumni.
“James suggested that I put in a resume to Media Partners and Silva and see where that might lead.”
Contracted to provide live streaming service of the Premier 12 for the World Baseball Softball Confederation – the governing body – Media Partners and Silva is a massive London-based conglomerate that owns, manages and distributes sports media rights. Its portfolio includes Formula One Racing, Major League Soccer, National Basketball Association, Asian Games, Arsenal Football Club, the AC Milan Channel, World Baseball Classic and the Premier 12. It is a major player in the transmission of world sporting events.
Taken on board by MP and Silva to help provide WBSC live streaming of the Premier 12 tournament, Kernick was initially engaged to cover a minimum of five games, a number that expanded rather quickly as he again proved his worth - not that he had to - and clearly gained the confidence of the media organisation.
While he was responsible for baseball coverage in English, the stream was presented in eight languages, with a global reach that stunned even organisers of the Premier 12 tournament, who could not have accurately predicted the scale or the reach of the online service.
“The streaming website was built with an initial projection of reaching maybe 1500 people,” Kernick said, “but the dimension of the whole thing became pretty obvious when the first day – in Sapporo – reached one and a half million people.”
Anchor man to all of his Premier 12 broadcasts, Kernick had some assistance but was largely on his own for what was a frenetic timetable often involving two games a day, combined with travel from Japan to Taiwan and back to Japan for the finals, not to mention the many hours of waking time expended in day-to-day preparation and travelling to and from games.
“It was a very hectic schedule and I really had no time for anything else other than preparing for games, being at the ground all day, doing nightly research and getting a few hours’ sleep before repeating it all again the next day,” Kernick said.
“But I found that I got into a sort of rhythm, and I was fortunate to be helped out especially by some of the Canadians – and others who the organisation brought in as colour guys for the commentary.”
Commenting upon the grounds, the facilities and the assistance provided to media personnel, Craig Kernick had nothing but praise for the world-class manner in which the tournament was conducted and for the welcoming way in which he and others were received – notwithstanding the language differences that presented themselves on occasions.
“The whole series was just so totally professional,” he said. “We were really well taken care of at all times – especially on game days, when we were meticulously provided with lineups, player information, food, drink and anything else that we needed. We never had to ask for, or to chase up on anything.”
“The technical staff were just fantastic and I am sure that showed up in the quality of the online images, the angles, the replays and the sound. There was very little downtime and any transmission issues seemed to be dealt with straight away.”
Played to massive Asian audiences that are wildly passionate about their baseball at any time, the Premier 12 series was scheduled at some of the most outstanding facilities in the Asian baseball world, including the Sapporo Dome – in the northern Japan island of Hokkaido – and at Tokyo Dome, where the finals were held.
“All of the grounds in Japan and Taiwan were first-class facilities that were maintained perfectly during the tournament,” Kernick said. “Sapporo was just out of this world and I was extremely fortunate – and honoured - to call those medals games in Tokyo Dome, where there was a full house of over 40,000 fans for the Japan final.”
“Chinese Taipei was getting over 20,000 per game when their national team was playing in Taiwan.”
“The Asian crowds were intense – fanatical – in supporting their national teams,” he said.
Calling the large number of games over a short time frame that he did, Kernick would inevitably receive feedback on his commentary style and his capacity to deliver a knowledgeable and balanced service to an online audience scattered across the English-speaking baseball world. The response has been overwhelmingly positive – including that from an Australian baseball community that should never underestimate or take for granted the significance of his personal achievement.
To our knowledge, the Kernick streaming coverage is the only occasion that an Australian has enjoyed a media role of such magnitude at a major global baseball tournament – an event that has rivalled and arguably surpassed Olympic Games baseball and World Baseball Classic. While New-Zealand born Sam Hammington has established himself as an unlikely multi-media star in South Korea, the Kernick achievement is quite remarkable given that the Premier 12 was hosted by Asian countries and that Australia had no playing presence.
To our mind, it is a pioneering achievement that reflects very well upon a baseball lifer who was prepared to accept a challenge, take a risk and go balls out in "lighting the way" for others – much as the same person played and coached the game.
It is an odd phenomenon that Australians are sometimes able to more readily prove their credentials through opportunities that arise elsewhere in the world – more so, even, in Australian baseball, which surely needs all of the help that it can get from eminently qualified and experienced people in all areas, including media and communications where the service has for far too long been undervalued.
Pressed on what were, for him, the real highlights of his Premier 12 sojourn, Craig "Frita" Kernick was effusive in his appreciation of the organisers, the officials, the teams, the players and the overall conduct of this ground-breaking tournament, an event to which Australian baseball will surely be aspiring as a qualifier with our sport poised for re-admission to the 2020 Olympics.
“This was genuinely a global event, a successor to the Baseball World Cup but with the extra dimension of big prize money on offer,” Kernick said. “Much was made of MLB 40-man players not being available, but these were still national teams, with some great players and a whole lot of pride in representing their nations.”
“The Asian teams were basically their best national teams. Outstanding players, managed by some of the biggest names in world baseball.”
“Japan had the best team, but we know that anything can happen in tournament baseball like this,” he said. "One bad game - even one bad innings - can make all the difference."
“For me, there were some real standouts in individual players. Knowledgeable people are already saying that (Japanese starter) Otani may be even better than Yu Darvish - and his teammate Sho Nakata was just brilliant over the series. Kim Hyun-soo was great for South Korea and certainly earned the Most Valuable Player award after his team won the tournament.”
“One of the more memorable players from the series, for me, was Venezuelan Luis Jimenez – an absolute man-mountain, who beat United States on his own in a game that I called. Three hits, with a two-run homer for five RBIs, a stolen base and even a running bunt. And this from a bloke who is six three and weighs in at over 130 kilograms!”
Now home after enjoying his working baseball trip of a lifetime, Craig Kernick has had time to reflect upon his experiences and to place his media role in the perspective of a sporting life that has engaged him at various playing and coaching levels, more recently as a popular and respected media personality with plenty to offer and return to the sport from which he – like many - has derived so much.
“I just feel proud and honoured to have been given this opportunity at the Premier 12,” Kernick said.
“I have taken plenty of enjoyment from baseball over the years – including two Australian Baseball League championships – but this is far and away the greatest thing that I have done in baseball.”
“It was everything and far more than I could ever have imagined or hoped for.”
Australian Baseball Alumni thanks Craig "Frita" Kernick for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We congratulate him on his ground-breaking achievement as a media commentator at the Premier 12 tournament and we wish him all the very best in his future baseball endeavours. Furthermore, we trust that we may be hearing the dulcet Frita tones while tuning into his commentary and measured analysis for many years to come into our Australian baseball future.
Sapporo Stadium from the outside