Aussies intent on strong World Cup showing
2 November 2014
Currently assembled in Sydney for intensive training and preparation, the Australian squad is expected to be fully primed for a serious tilt at the Under 21 World Cup to start in Taiwan on Friday.
With a 24-man roster that includes eighteen current playing professionals, the team has an opportunity to improve Australia’s international baseball ranking to a level that may yet earn us a berth in the inaugural Premier Twelve series to be held in 2015.
Being held for the first time, the Under 21 World Cup – which has attracted eleven national teams - makes provision for six players up to 23 years of age to be included, although no more than three will be permitted in the line-up at any given time.
Australia has drawn in Group B alongside Venezuela, Nicaragua, Netherlands and baseball powerhouse Japan. Group A comprises Italy, New Zealand, Czech Republic, South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Mexico. Each team will play a Round Robin series against the members of its group, with the top three advancing to a Super Round Robin that will generate the eventual finalists.
For Australia – currently ranked fifteen in the world despite seeming to play far less tournaments than some other baseball countries – a successful campaign will attract IBAF points and has the potential to qualify us for the prestigious Premier Twelve event when it is launched next November.
“Our guys will be ready,” Manager Tony Harris told Australian Baseball Alumni.
“We have a large contingent of professionals in the squad. They are highly committed, they have a good grounding in the game and they have a very good mindset.”
“Everyone has jumped at the chance of playing,” he said. “There is a real air of excitement. They can’t wait.”
“We have a young group and we’ll be working hard as a team to get the best results that we possibly can. We’ve chosen five over-aged players as pitchers. We’ll be building around Aaron Sookee and Aaron Thompson as starters but we’re certainly solid and experienced in the bullpen.”
“Ben Lodge is our sixth over-aged selection. He’ll solidify the outfield with the younger players around him.”
With some coming off a short break from professional duties and others actively involved at Australian Baseball League level, players have travelled to Sydney for several days of orientation and playing preparation – which will include practice matches against Blacktown Workers and Sydney Blue Sox on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
“We’ll have several training sessions,” Tony Harris said. “It will be a pretty intense build-up, but the players are all fit and well-conditioned. Some of them have been preparing for the ABL season and have already played a couple of games. Others have only had a month off as a maximum.”
“They are all in really good shape.”
Well aware of the quality of the opposition that Australia will face, Harris takes a typically positive approach into the tournament.
“We know we have to finish in the top three after the Round Robin to reach the second round of cross-over games,” he said. “We’ll be trying to win every game, starting with Japan first-up. We know that they are always strong defensively and are always a tough opponent with a team of high-quality professionals. Beating Japan would be huge, and it is definitely achievable.”
“Winning is our mindset. We’ll be throwing all of our bullets at the Japan game. If we miss out against Japan, we’ll be taking the same approach against Netherlands in the next game.
“It is very much the old cliché of a game at a time. Every game is vital. We’ll be trying to win them all,” he said.
“Australian baseball has been building a strong culture for many years now,” Harris said. “We’re running this as a farm team to the Australian national team and we’re taking the same approach into this World Cup as all of our Australian national teams take – senior, under-aged or women’s. That approach is about being successful, about winning and about forging a strong baseball future.”
With Australia not far adrift of eleventh-placed Italy in the IBAF rankings, a strong showing at the Under 21 World Cup could potentially propel the nation into a berth at the 2015 Premier Twelve, an international event carrying massive prestige aside from offering millions in prize money.
“The points system is fairly complicated,” Tony Harris said, “and there are too many possible scenarios for us to consider at this stage. At the end of the day we just need to win as many games as we possibly can. That is what we are setting ourselves to do.”
“The rest will take care of itself.”
On behalf of its membership, Australian Baseball Alumni wishes the squad safe travels, good times and every playing success at the 2015 Under 21 World Cup.
We will seek to bring updates and news during the Under 21 World Cup, which will be covered in full by Baseball Australia and the IBAF.