Baseball lifer moves into administration
25 July 2019
An Australian baseball identity with a wealth of experience in the sport, Melbourne Aces Assistant General Manager Craig “Frita” Kernick is relishing his new role in club administration and he is excited about the potential of the national league as it continues the transition to private ownership that commenced last season.
For many who have been around the sport in this country for a while, Craig “Frita” Kernick may be more readily identified as the committed bloke known to knock down outfield fencing while striving to take a fly ball – or as the versatile third-sacker who pursued an errant cap while simultaneously completing a defensive play in a vital ABL game many moons ago.
He will also be fondly acknowledged as a hard-nosed competitor, a coach, a manager, a baseball media personality and, for many, a mate who has truly earned the sobriquet of “baseball lifer” – one of those rare persons who can be entrusted with doing his very best for the betterment of Australian baseball when afforded the opportunity.
Trained as a greenkeeper in his younger days, Craig Kernick was apprenticed at Moorabbin Bowling Club and moved around Melbourne as head greenkeeper for some twenty years. He spent time working at the prestigious Metropolitan Golf Club and then progressed into golf course construction – helping build Moonah Links, Ranfurlie, Sandhurst and other facilities.
He was a driving force behind the former long-running Baseball Radio programme and he has worked on live broadcast of numerous baseball events including Australian Baseball League, Premier 12, WBSC Under 15 World Cup and Women’s World Cup – all of which have helped hone his skills as a baseball commentator with a fine grasp of the sport at all levels.
To our knowledge, “Frita” remains the only Australian to have held anchoring and special comment roles at major international baseball events.
More recently he was employed as a delivery driver for Jet Couriers, the Melbourne Aces franchisee which has seen fit to apply his expertise and baseball acumen to its club development.
“It is a pretty exciting atmosphere, really,” Craig Kernick told Australian Baseball Alumni of the administrative challenge that he took up at the start of July this year.
“This is a first for Victorian baseball – to have private ownership of an ABL team - and the freedom to make decisions and share ideas with like-minded enthusiastic baseball people to me is a real buzz, and it offers a real opportunity to contribute.”
It has been an interesting journey for Craig “Frita” Kernick to reach this point in his baseball life, with a broad range of experiences along the way.
“I started at Moorabbin Baseball Club (in south-east Melbourne) after seeing my cousin Jeff Howe play there,” Kernick said. “His father Clyde played back in the era when baseball was a curtain-raiser to AFL games. They moved to Cheltenham to live, and back then Moorabbin Baseball Club used to play where St Kilda AFL team currently call home in Linton St, Moorabbin.”
“I played the bulk of my career at Moorabbin and towards the end of my playing life transitioned towards coaching at Ormond-Glenhuntly Baseball Club, then Melbourne Baseball Club. I did sit out of baseball all together for five or six years with knee problems, then returned to coach the Bonbeach and Cheltenham clubs.”
“Now I help out the Frankston Tomatoes reserves in Dandenong winter league – which I really enjoy,” he said.
Acquiring almost cult-figure status in the old Australian Baseball League, Kernick has fond recollections of those times and he is very well placed to reflect upon where the resurrected league could and should be heading – notwithstanding the challenges that need to be addressed.
“The first ABL was a time in my life I will always cherish,” Kernick said. “It was the highest standard of baseball I had ever played, and I got to play alongside professional baseballers and guys I really looked up to as athletes. I recently saw old photos from those days - with crowds of over 10,000 people - and my hope is this new version of the ABL can generate that sort of support and excitement over time.”
“Personally, without a doubt winning the first ABL title ever played in Australia in 1989/90 with the Waverley Reds was a massive baseball highlight for me, but then I was fortunate enough to a part of the 1992/93 Melbourne Monarchs ABL title which was the most fun I ever experienced as a player.”
“I will always have fond memories of that team both on and off the field!”
And what of incidents – back then – such as the one involving a fence coming off second best and of an errant cap assuming a lead role in an infield play at Whitten Oval? Surely just baseball folklore nourished over a few too many jars of post-match refreshment?
“Afraid and embarrassed to say that, yes, both incidents did happen,” Kernick admitted. “They were among many other odd, bizarre and funny things during the old ABL – some of which we don’t speak about in decent company these days!”
The encounter with temporary fencing took place at a Melbourne Monarchs game in Adelaide. Usually a third-sacker, Kernick was on this particular occasion patrolling leftfield after the regular outfielder – who was having a dirty day - had been dragged.
“I was doing OK,” Kernick said. “Took a couple of fly balls and was on my bike tracking down another. I had an idea where the fence was, but there was no warning track and I was trusting on my good mates in the bullpen.”
“You’re clear, you’re clear!” they kept yelling out.
“Well I wasn’t, as it turned out, and the rest was history – as the fence went down in a screaming heap and me with it. Fortunately I didn’t suffer as much as I might have – other than to my pride.”
Craig Kernick would probably reckon that the less said about the cap episode the better, though baseball people do understand that we can become very much attached to a club cap. Should it be blown off on a windy day – even when you have just knocked down a hard-hit grounder – then of course there will be an instinctive effort to retrieve the precious headwear, even if that means placing a crucial defensive play on hold momentarily.
Then Herald-Sun journalist Adrian Dunn – an outstanding baseball media person in the earlier Australian Baseball League – clearly savoured his reporting on the incident, quoting Melbourne Monarchs Manager Jon Deeble in words akin to, “Here we are, already getting a belting, and I have some effing idiot chasing a cap in leftfield…”
All of that is in the past, of course, as the Melbourne Aces Assistant Manager settles into his work at Altona with great fervour and anticipation of where it may all lead.
“It is a different era now,” Craig Kernick said, “and while I remain optimistic about the new league there are challenges.”
“In a very real sense we are victim of our own success,” he continued. “Exposure from the first ABL brought an enormous focus from Major League scouts and it enabled a huge number of our players to sign professional contracts. That completely changed the baseball landscape in Australia and it altered the expectations of our athletes. In some cases playing for your country is not the pinnacle of achievement anymore – especially with the potential riches available in United States.”
“The goalposts have shifted, in a sense, and we as a country need to look differently at what the focus for our athletes is, and should be.”
“And while the landscape has changed here, it has also done so in United States, so we need to adapt our thinking as we go,” Kernick said. “What I mean by this is instead of making professional baseball our main focus, let’s get as many young athletes as possible into the college system and the professional path will take care of itself, then ideally that talent comes back to Australia to pass on their knowledge and experience.”
Having been in the job for just a few weeks now, and still finding his way as the club directs its attentions to compiling a squad, to building memberships and to further improving facilities at Altona Ballpark, Craig Kernick has a clear view of where his club and the Victorian baseball community should be heading.
“Winning games I feel should always be a priority, but this season the Aces will be very much a membership and fan-experience driven team,” he said. “The Melbourne Aces want all lovers of baseball to get behind this team and the ABL, as it is an important pathway – a vital pathway - for young players both now and into the future.”
“I have no doubt the Australian Baseball League can work if we all pull in the right direction,” he said. “There have been mistakes made in the past that we are committed to making sure will not happen again. We know we have a way to go, but we are working on a number of strategies to raise our profile and to improve on fan experience.”
“We genuinely hope baseball people, families and junior players around Melbourne – around the state and around the country – will share our excitement as we all work on building the Melbourne Aces and the ABL towards what we know both can be.”
Australian Baseball Alumni thanks Craig “Frita” Kernick for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish all ABL clubs our very best in their preparations for the 2019/20 season - and into the future - while the league strives to build further momentum as an important and innovative player in the Australian sporting landscape.