Massive year in prospect for Aussie baseball

Kingsley Collins

14 February 2018

 

Now that the dust is beginning to settle on a thrilling Australian Baseball League season that saw Brisbane Bandits win a third consecutive Claxton Shield title, attention is already re-directing to events and developments with potential to make 2018 an ultra-exciting, pivotal year for the sport Down Under.

 

From projected expansion of the ABL next year to the possible entry of an Australia team in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, additions to our domestic programmes, the impending Japanese series, World Cups and a Cuban visit planned for later in the year, it is bound to be a hectic year as Australian baseball builds on its international standing.

 

With a vital interest in the positive growth of Australian baseball, Team Australia General Manager Glenn Williams is better placed than most to comment on what 2018 has in store – and on the benefits that might be delivered for our version of the sport.  

 

Over the past several months there has been widespread reporting on the proposed expansion of the Australian Baseball League, with at least another two teams projected for admission from as early as next season and the management of franchises being offered to private enterprise to conduct as business operations.

 

With Baseball Australia and Australian Baseball League officials putting in the hard yards, interest in expansion of the league appears to be spreading – suggesting we can reasonably expect that some difficult decisions will need to be taken in regard to franchises, location of any new teams, regulations pertaining to playing rosters and the like.

 

As momentum builds into the 2018 Australian baseball year, supporters can expect regular announcements of great interest – including a breaking story expected in a few days on an initiative that has been a long time coming and that will provide a great fillip for Australian baseball into the years ahead.

 

While looking forward to developments with great enthusiasm, Glenn Williams is more immediately focused on the national men’s trip to Japan in March, when Australia takes on the might of Samurai Japan. To be hosted by Fuchu City after a ground-breaking agreement was reached recently, our national team will play Japan in Nagoya on 3 March and in Osaka the next day.

 

“Fuchu City and the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have been amazing in their preparation for the series,” Williams told Australian Baseball Alumni this week.

 

“It is exciting to think we will be taking on the world number one team. It is advantageous for us that we are coming off the end of an ABL season and the players will have plenty of games under their belts leading in.”

 

“Obviously Japan will be a very strong club and we will be missing some of our MLB guys. However, we are thrilled about the challenge and the opportunity,” he said.

 

Participation of an Australian team in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is an initiativethat was for a long time advocated by former Australian Team Manager Jon Deeble – one that now appears distinctly feasible as negotiations continue between CPBL officials and Baseball Australia.

 

"This is something that we will feel will be of great benefit to the national team programme,” Glenn Williams explained. “This would be a place for players finishing college or their professional careers to continue at a high level and potentially springboard into another opportunity in an Asian pro league. There would be many benefits for the individuals who would be playing in the league and there would be an impact on our national team, as there would be an expanded number of players who would be competing, training and living as professional baseball players.”

 

On the domestic scene, two of the more significant events on the calendar are the Women’s Nationals in April and the inaugural Intermediate League Championship slated for Lismore during May.

 

“With Narrabundah undergoing construction, the women’s event will be held in Geelong,” Williams said. “It is a World Cup year, so all the players will be playing for not only a national championship but also a possible spot on the Australian team for Florida in August.”

 

“The Intermediate League is another exciting new age division with direct entry to the World Series for this age group. Creation of the league is testament to Mat Sundstrom’s commitment, as well as the work done by the states and Little League Charters across the country.”

 

“Australia is viewed very favourably by Little League International based on this hard work,” he added.

 

World Baseball and Softball Confederation, the governing international baseball body, will be delivering three of its marquee events in the second half of 2018 – Under 15 World Cup (Panama, during August), Women’s World Cup (Florida, August) and the Under 23 World Cup (Nicaragua, October). Australia will be a starter at all three events, facing a wonderful opportunity to improve our WBSC ranking as the 2020 Olympic Games draw near.

 

There will be a selection camp held over coming months to determine the final Under 15 World Cup team, which will attend a training camp in United States prior to travelling to Panama.

 

“We have a really exciting group of prospects for this team,” Glenn Williams said. “They had a great qualifying tournament down in New Zealand, where they had some convincing wins while being challenged in a few of their games. They dug deep, and they got the job done.”

 

“I think that trip to New Zealand – being the first qualifier for this age group – was extremely beneficial for the players. Playing for their country under pressure, and seeing what it means to compete in and win tough games will help the team prepare for and compete in Panama.”

Aiming to improve on their fifth placing in the 2016 Women’s World Cup, the Emeralds have been putting in plenty of preparatory work and can approach this year’s event with a degree of optimism.

 

“There is a lot of hard and often thankless work being done behind the scenes to help continue to provide quality opportunities for our women players,” Williams said. “I am really excited to see how the younger players from 2016 in Korea have developed and how well they perform at the World Cup in Florida.”  

The biggest World Cup on the calendar for 2018, the Under 23 event will be played in Nicaragua, where our young men have a serious chance of equalling – or even bettering – their stunning silver medal performance from 2016.

 

“Coming off that outstanding result, there will be a lot of returning players aiming to match and to better the effort,” said Williams. “Like the Under 15s, we will aim to have this team in United States for a while – hopefully playing some pro teams as part of their preparation for the World Cup. We have some exciting young professionals aiming to try and crack a spot on this team – along with some collegiate players and some ABL guys who performed well this past season.”

 

“It is a tough one to select - as the players are spread across the world – though I am sure we will be able to assemble another strong roster for this World Cup. With a solid preparation, I believe we will compete well again in Nicaragua.”

 

Phew. After contemplating all of the challenging initiatives on the agenda - and reflecting upon the degree of planning and preparation that will be required by baseball governing bodies and their staff during the upcoming nine months - I am inclined to take a Bex and lay down. No such luxury for former Major League player, Team Australia General Manager and all-round nice guy Glenn Williams – who can envisage other possible programming additions to an already burgeoning calendar.

 

“We are under two months into 2018 and it is already shaping to be another massive year,” Glenn Williams said. “Qualification of both the Under 15 and Under 23 teams for the World Cup – as well as the Emeralds competing – makes for a very exciting latter half of the year.”

 

“Those tournaments running in back-to-back months certainly creates a lot of work, but we have already started planning well in advance for those events.”

 

“There is plenty more on the agenda even before we get there,” he said.

 

“These are exciting times for Australian baseball.”

 

 

Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Glenn Williams for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish all Australian teams - and all squad aspirants – our very best wishes to achieve their baseball goals during a frenetic year of activity in 2018.