Bandits primed to relieve glory days?
28 January 2016
The dominant club in Australian Baseball League this season, Brisbane Bandits finished a clear competition leader and will play host to either Canberra Cavalry or Adelaide Bite in what should be a ripping Championship Series at Holloway Field.
While Queensland teams have won their share of Claxton Shield titles since entering the national competition in 1939, this season is their first appearance in a finals series since the Australian Baseball League was resurrected six seasons ago.
Commanding great local and corporate support – expressed through consistently high attendances - Brisbane Bandits faithful believe their charges have a real chance of replicating a memorable success of 1994, when the club snared its only Australian Baseball League title.
Players, managers and supporters who were around at the time will recall those heady days of the original Australian Baseball League from its inception in 1989. They were different times indeed, with the league at one point boasting nine teams across the land contracting to a minimum of six as the league lurched towards its unfortunate demise in 1999.
Clubs played at a variety of venues across the nation – some of them baseball stadiums, others makeshift fields or community facilities in suburban or regional centres. We witnessed the influx of international players and managers – principally from United States – and the sport was able to garner significant support, both at games and through the extensive coverage by mainstream print and electronic media outlets that were not yet inundated by the plethora of sporting options to which we have more recently become accustomed.
“They were exciting times for Australian baseball – and 1994 was a great year for Brisbane Bandits,” Australian Baseball Alumni member, former Bandits All-Star and dual Olympian Grant McDonald told me this week.
After its initial Championship triumph that year, Brisbane Bandits enjoyed a somewhat lesser degree of Australian Baseball League success throughout the nineties – losing to Waverley Reds in two games after finishing the season as minor premiers in 1996 before a league second to Perth Heat in 1997.
“What was memorable about 1996 was that both of the finals games went to extra innings – and the Reds just kept scoring,” Grant McDonald said. “As for 1997, the Heat beat us in the final at home over three games. We took an early lead in the decider, but made five defensive errors to open the door for them.”
Despite those subsequent playing disappointments when the club was well-placed to establish something of a dynasty in the Australian Baseball League, memories of the euphoric 1994 success have remained with McDonald and his teammates ever since.
Finishing third in the regular season in that remarkable year, the Bandits won their three-game Semi-Final series before going on to defeat Sydney Blues in the best of three Championship Series – 5-1 and then 10-9 in a cracking deciding game.
“1994 was David Nilsson’s first season with the Brisbane Bandits,” McDonald said. “We were playing out of the RNA Showgrounds and we always reckoned we were a chance after finishing third on the regular season (34-21) – but only 1.5 games out of first, with Sydney Blues on top.”
“Our Manager that year was Dan Raddison, who was the first Major League coach to manage in the Australian Baseball League. He was San Diego Padres’ first-base coach at the time, in Jim Riggleman’s team.”
“Dan gave us three great years as Manager of the Brisbane Bandits.”
Boasting three Major League players in David Nilsson, Cameron Cairncross and Homer Bush, the Bandits unsurprisingly had an impressive season, with a number of playing highlights – including a no-hitter thrown by John Boothby against Adelaide Giants at Norwood Oval on 22 January 1994.
Fellow Olympian, long-term Australian representative and later a respected baseball administrator, left-armed Bandits pitcher Kim Jessop has fond recollections of his side’s stirring win in the first round of finals that year.
“Our first playoff games were in Perth – against the Heat,” Kim Jessop recalls. “They were just so dominant during the early nineties and I guess we went across as underdogs because we had been there a number of times and not done well at all.”
“However, in the three-game set we managed to get our first series win over there. It came down to the wire with us going extra innings in the third game to win it 9-6.”
Heading to the oddly configured Parramatta Stadium for the best of three Championship Series, Brisbane Bandits took the first game 5-1 behind a complete-game outing from Andy Paul, a right-armed Minor Leaguer with Milwaukee Brewers.
“During the second game – adding to the drama – our Manager Dan Raddison got ejected for arguing a hit by pitch on Steve Hinton midway through the game,” Kim Jessop said. “The crowd was very loud and letting us know about things. From there Greg Wade took over managing the team.”
“Going into the ninth innings we were down by three,” Grant McDonald added. “We scored three runs in the top of the innings and held out Sydney to go into extras.”
“It was a great atmosphere – with heaps of tension – playing in front of 13,500 people who are recorded as attending that second game.”
“In the top of the tenth our own Ron Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to score Leon Glenn for the go-ahead run,” McDonald said. “In the bottom of that innings – with runners in scoring position for Sydney – Gary Nilsson, who was coming back from arm injury, was pitching to his brother David Nilsson, with Jason Dormer of the Blues fouling off to stay alive with a nine-pitch at bat.”
“It all ended in a checked swing to Steve Hinton at shortstop for the force out at second base and a 10-9 win for Brisbane.”
The Australian Baseball League Championship win was a Queensland team’s sixth win in the Claxton Shield/Australian Baseball League competition since the state entered in 1939.
“We had an incredible team that year,” Grant McDonald said. “David Nilsson was currently playing majors with Milwaukee Brewers. Homer Bush played in the majors with New York Yankees – and won a World Series with them in 1998 – then with Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins until 2002.”
“Cameron Cairncross played for the Cleveland Indians in 2000.”
Homer Bush won the Australian Baseball League MVP that season - along with the Batting Title - while Leon Glenn was deemed Championship Series MVP.
David Nilsson (catcher), Homer Bush (second base) and Leon Glenn (outfield) earned selection in the ABL All-Star Team for the 1993/94 season, a massive testament to their individual performances given the stellar quality of players suiting up for most clubs that year.
Australian Baseball Alumni salutes the Brisbane Bandits ABL Championship winning team of 1993-94.
Catchers: David Nilsson, Tony Thompson, Shane Bennett
Pitchers: Kim Jessop, John Boothby, Cameron Cairncross, Greg Suthers, Brian Hancock, Paul Wollin, David Gooda, Gary Nilsson, Stuart MacDonald, Andy Paul,
Infielders: Ron Johnson, Steven Hinton, Homer Bush, Stuart Roebig, Ken MacDonald, David Foxover.
Outfielders: Grant McDonald, Leon Glenn, Peter Buttrum, David Suthers, Sean Morris
“It was a fantastic team that I will always be proud to have been a part of,” Grant McDonald said.
While it is always hard, and it can be misleading to compare different players and teams from different eras, this current Bandits club has had an outstanding season and it surely deserves to be going into the Championship Series with a degree of quiet confidence.
“It has been a pleasure to see the Bandits winning and finishing the regular season on top,” Grant McDonald said. “Bringing the winning feeling back to Queensland has given the sport and our supporters a great lift.”
“Our current side has strength all over the park with hitting, starting pitching and relief pitching as well. Jarvis and Teasley have given themselves and the Bandits a good chance to win every game they start with solid outings. Both of them being high in wins and low in ERA has contributed greatly to the team success.”
“The late season acquisition of Travis Blackley has been a brilliant move that adds even more experience and depth to the pitching and the team,” he said. “A career starter, Ryan Searle moved to the pen this year as a closer and has been just great with seventeen saves and a .040 ERA.”
“All of the American boys have stood up this season, with Williams, Unroe and Lutz hitting well along with mainstays David Sutherland and Logan Wade – who are also hitting above .300.”
“I have really enjoyed seeing Mitch Nilsson develop this year into a good bat with pop and a capacity to drive in key runs.”
“I know a lot can happen in a game of baseball – and over three games of baseball – but this group of Bandits really does look good to win the title this year,” Grant McDonald said.
“It has been a while at this level. I sense that 2016 is our time.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Grant McDonald and Kim Jessop for their assistance in the preparation of this story. Whoever the Brisbane Bandits may meet in the Championship Series - Adelaide or Canberra – baseball fans can be assured of a titanic tussle between two quality and deserving Australian Baseball League outfits.
We look forward to a wonderful ABL Championship Series.
David Nilsson (left), suited up for Milwaukee Brewers 1994
Homer Bush (right), ABL Most Valuable Player 1994
A crowd of 13,000 attended the televised deciding game in Sydney
Bandits starter Rick Teasley on the hill in the ABL 2015/16 season