Gripping times ahead for baseball devotees
16 October 2015
Australian baseball supporters are in the unique position of being exposed to the sport for twelve months of the year, through our own winter regional competitions, our various summer state leagues and the Australian Baseball League – all of that aside to the happenings at national and international level.
Over the coming weeks we will be treated to a veritable feast of elite baseball, as Major League Baseball builds towards its incomparable and time-honoured World Series and as interest is ramped up for the inaugural Premier 12 series scheduled to be played in Asia from 8 to 21 November.
Back home, Australian Baseball League action will commence on Friday 23 October, with four-game series played in Canberra, Melbourne and Perth to kick-start a new and expanded season that will be pivotal to long-term viability of the league.
At the time of this posting – with the division winners decided - Major League Baseball was at a fascinating point, with an underlying assurance that the World Series winner would be a club that has not achieved the ultimate for at least the past twenty years.
Toronto Blue Jays – which won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993 – made a remarkable recovery in its American League divisional series playoff and will face off against Kansas City Royals in a best of seven American League Championship Series starting on 16 October (United State time). The Royals have not won a World Series since 1985.
Winning its last World Series way back in 1908, Chicago Cubs took its National League divisional title and will meet New York Mets in a best of seven National League Championship Series starting on 17 October (United States time). The Mets' last World Series success was in 1986.
It will be a fascinating couple of weeks for supporters as they follow the achievements of players and clubs at the pinnacle of world professional baseball as four organisations strive for a berth in the 2015 World Series starting on 27 October.
The dust will have had minimal time to settle on World Series celebrations before the international baseball community keys up for the inaugural Premier 12, which will open on 8 November with a first-round clash between Japan and South Korea at the Sapporo Dome in Japan, selected nation to host the medals games on Saturday 21 November. Premier 12 hosting will be shared between Japan and Chinese Taipei, which has drawn the bulk of the first-round games.
Nations engaged in the inaugural Premier 12 are Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Italy, Dominican Republic, United States, Canada and Cuba. The teams have been in two groups for an initial round-robin series prior to quarter-finals, semi-finals and the climactic final day in front of a massive crowd at Tokyo Dome.
While Australia could consider itself unfortunate to not be playing in the Premier 12, our infrequent involvement in international baseball tournaments and the subsequent dearth of opportunities to accumulate IBAF ranking points proved damaging to our prospects.
With a potential television viewing audience of hundreds of millions, the Premier 12 will be a major international event that offers a purse of millions of US dollars to be split among the twelve nations contesting the series.
Given the coverage and the prize money involved, it is fair to suppose that the Premier 12 will surpass even the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics Games in terms of its reach, its prestige and the quality of the players that it attracts. While rosters for the tournament are not yet available, both the timing and the profile of the event suggest should guarantee the engagement of many of the very best players in the world.
Into its sixth season of reincarnation, Australian Baseball League will commence on Friday 23 October, with an expanded 56-game season providing extra value and increased interest for supporters. Shooting for its fifth Claxton Shield of the six series thus far played – the other winner being Canberra – Perth Heat is again expected to make the running.
However, news coming out of league clubs over the past several weeks has been sketchy and it suggests that we may need to see a few early rounds played before we can get anything like an accurate handle on the prospects of each team.
Team rosters are expected be posted by Australian Baseball League early in the week.
Although there are more questions about where the league is headed than there are answers at this stage, there is no doubt that Australian Baseball League has already enjoyed considerable success and has the potential to achieve far more. Facilities have been drastically improved in all states, positive relationships are being forged between ABL teams and the state associations, gameday experiences are being improved and the league has consistently been able to attract international coaches and players of high quality to augment our own developing personnel.
Attendance is clearly a matter that requires attention, although some teams have done exceptionally well in maintaining and building upon membership numbers.
Australian Baseball League has quite properly built its own media machine and its own communications presence to which we recommend all baseball supporters. While Australian Baseball Alumni will seek to provide some coverage of the ABL Season – particularly in the form of series previews and post-series summaries - we expect that coverage will be complementary in nature to the quality offerings that we can again expect from the Australian Baseball League and its media partners.
Australian baseball aficionados can of course look forward to the All-Star Game scheduled to be played at Melbourne Ballpark on 16 December 2015. We encourage all who might be able to come out in support of what is always a wonderful showcase of our very best local and visiting players.
Further down the track, Australian baseball can look forward with enthusiasm to the 2017 World Baseball Classifier scheduled to be played at Blacktown International Sportspark from 11-14 February 2016.
Our national team will locks horns with sides from South Africa, Philippines and an emerging New Zealand national team that may yet be a real surprise package.
Only one team will go through from this series to qualify for the prestigious World Baseball Classic in 2017. Given that baseball appears almost certain to be re-admitted as an Olympics sport for Tokyo 2020, it is crucial that Australian national teams exploit every opportunity to build our sporting credibility, to help secure increased funding and to accumulate the ranking points that will consistently earn us a berth at major international baseball events.
While much of our baseball focus over coming months will be on national and international events, let us never forget the legions of those who form the lifeblood of the sport in this country – grassroots clubs and earthy baseball people who continue to build the sport and make it such an attractive recreational option for our young men and women.
Although Australian Baseball Alumni will often focus on major events and the performances of our elite players in the sport, we are always on the lookout for news and for story ideas that are truly reflective of where baseball is at in this country.