Bombers create Victorian baseball history
5 March 2016
One of the oldest baseball organisations in the country - and deemed Australia’s Best Sporting Club for 2015 – Essendon Baseball Club has earned another stunning accolade by breaking a long-standing league record for consecutive Division One pennants.
Benchmark of its Summer League Division One conference during the regular season of 2015/16, Essendon went on to win its best of three Semi-Final series over Geelong before dispensing with Cheltenham Rustlers in two games in the Grand Final.
It was the club’s fifth consecutive Division One title, smashing the previous record of four that it jointly held with Waverley Baseball Club after the Wildcats set that milestone a quarter of a century ago.
Winning its first A Grade premiership in 1918, Essendon played in various grades of Victorian winter baseball – with reasonable success - before becoming a regular Division One club when the league went to summer in the late seventies.
However, it was not until the 1988/89 season that the Bombers won their first Summer League Division One Championship - followed by another in 1995/96 that preceded a run of outs despite going close at the highest level until the 2011/12 season produced the first of the five Division One pennants culminated by this year's success.
In retrospect, that year marked the genesis of a now undisputed playing dynasty – a juggernaut that just keeps powering on, with little or no discernible sign of losing steam.
Assistant Coach Richard King – a humble and modest man – is himself in awe of a senior squad that has dominated the Victorian Summer League landscape over the past five seasons.
“There is an argument - certainly now - that this team is the best club side that has ever played baseball in Victoria,” he told Australian Baseball Alumni after the record-breaking triumph.
“I have played with and against some outstanding players over my time in the sport and I believe that this Essendon team would beat successful teams from other eras – and by a lot. Old stagers around the sport and around the club – like Leigh McIntyre – agree with me on that.”
“For most of the past five years we have had a side that hits one through nine,” King said. “Josh Davies is one of the all-time great ABL hitters and we had him at seven today. Tristan McDonald has an outstanding record with the club, yet has been hitting nine. That is one hell of a luxury, with players of their calibre."
“We had nine Division One pitchers available for us today. Dean (McIntyre) was fantastic in going the complete game, but if we had been challenged we had plenty of options – including a former Major Leaguer in Shane Lindsay.”
While the club was delivered a terrible shock with the tragic passing of Chris Lane in August of 2013, that blow seemingly brought its members even closer together as they rallied around with their now renowned “EBC Love”, a catch cry that has evolved through the hard work, the dedication and the care of many administrators, coaches, players, volunteers and supporters who have graced the club over the years.
EBC Love is an ethos that is unique and is genuinely valued by members. It goes some way to explaining why the club continues to strive for success and it is why those who support the club continue to make enormous personal sacrifices to ensure that success.
It also helps that the club has been able to develop such a deep and strong list of players, including many with professional or college experience.
“There are outstanding individual players in every club and every league,” King said. “What has helped us so much is that the players are all unified behind a common club purpose. They - and they club - have been a team in the true sense of the word."
While Essendon was the benchmark in its group – one of the two conferences that make up Division One baseball in Victoria – it by no means dominated the summer season early on, and it was again challenged by extremely tough opponents, especially Geelong, Melbourne and Cheltenham, who helped make up the final four for post-season play.
Qualifying for the Grand Final series by beating a powerful Melbourne outfit, Cheltenham Rustlers enjoyed a magnificent season under Club Coach Adam Blackley as they sought their first Division One summer title in club history.
Although it was always going to be a tough ask, the Rustlers had beaten Essendon earlier in the season and they gave their supporters real hope in game one of the Grand Final – a Wednesday evening clash - before the Bombers slipped into overdrive and scorched away for a comprehensive 13-5 result that served to tighten their pennant odds even further with just three days break until the Saturday game.
Game Two started in similar vein, with both clubs playing solid defence behind starters Bryan Kloppe (Cheltenham) and eventual Grand Final MVP Dean McIntyre (Essendon) as scores remained deadlocked at one apiece after four innings that had given no indication of the carnage about to be unleashed.
Seemingly impatient with the subdued, albeit tense manner in which the game had thus far been played, the Bomber offence decided that enough was enough, in the top of the fifth sending fourteen hungry hitters to the plate to smash a match-breaking ten runs that brought an unceremonious end to any Rustler hopes of forcing the series into Sunday.
It was a half-inning that will be talked about in Victorian baseball for many years to come.
“Their pitcher was good through four,” Richard King said, “but it was like our guys just hit the go button after we gave them some needle.”
“Since Christmas they have played the game like that. It seems that they need a challenge – and that is what they responded to during this finals series. And of course it helped that we were able to wrap up the Semi-Final in two games."
“The club has great depth and we used something like thirty players in Division One this season. That depth really showed out after Christmas when players from other clubs might have been getting tired,” he said.
“To an extent we have been lucky with our personnel in that regard. But we have also been smart in the way we managed players. I put so much of that down to Peter Giles, who I can honestly say is the best coach I have ever been associated with.”
“The likes of Ross and Lynn Straw were fantastic in other eras, of course,” he said, “but I think Peter has taken player management and teaching to another level with our group.”
To plant an exclamation mark on the dominance of the Essendon post-season performance – which saw them win all four games played – the Bombers plated another two in the seventh as the game was mercifully called at 13-2 after another offensively relentless and defensively flawless display.
While Head Coach Peter Giles and Assistant Richard King have been the front men for this runaway train over the past five seasons, Essendon Baseball Club has been blessed with a list of outstanding mature players and precocious younger talent nurtured by an administration and a coaching staff that continues to do a remarkable job at all levels in the sport.
Pressed on what might happen at the club over the winter break and how the record-breaking Bomber unit might line up next season, Richard King had no especially encouraging news for another eleven clubs who have valiantly been playing catch-up in recent years.
“None of us has spoken about the future just yet,” he said. “We are going to celebrate this season and let the achievement sink in for a time.”
“In saying that, we do not expect many – if any – retirements, or anything like that. Our senior group is in the prime of its playing career, and we are all loving it.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its congratulations to the Essendon Baseball Club on setting a record of Division One playing success that may never be emulated. We salute the club for its advancement of baseball as a community sport across all levels from Masters, mainstream and women’s competition through to its engagement with emerging young players and little tackers starting out in the game.
In so doing, we acknowledge that there are many, very many grassroots baseball clubs across the land who are achieving good things, often great things, through the dedication, skills and the ingenuity of members committed to the cause. Those achievements need not necessarily be in the form of playing success, club records or such, but may be of equal or even greater significance in terms of their contribution to the sport, to our young people and to our community.