IN PROGRESS: National Youth Championships
NATIONAL YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIP LINKS:
National Championships to showcase emerging talent
3 January 2017
With each New Year comes a range of fresh challenges and unique opportunities – none more so than for the 320 teenage ball players who will be contesting the Under 18 and Under 16 National Youth Championships starting at Blacktown International Sportspark on 6 January.
The ten-day championships have drawn the very best of our emerging young talent from across the land, all intent on representing their state or territory with distinction whilst hopefully commanding attention from the legion of professional scouts, college interests and national team selectors who will be in attendance.
A staunch supporter of the tournament, Baseball Australia High Performance Manager Glenn Williams urges all participants to seize the moment and enjoy the experience as we enter another massive year for Australian baseball.
Winner of its first national title at Under 18 level last year, Country New South Wales will suit up against Victoria Blue (2016 runner-up), Canberra, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria White and Western Australia, while South Australia will be aiming to defend its first Under 16 title in thirty-seven years when it faces off against Canberra, New South Wales, New South Wales Country, Queensland, Victorian White, Western Australia and Victoria Blue, which finished second in 2016.
As always, it will be hectic and rigorous ten days of competition that is the culmination of months of preparation and hard work – by players, parents, coaches, officials and the army of selfless volunteers committed to delivering another wonderful showcase of baseball at Blacktown Sportspark.
“It has been a very long campaign for the players, the parents and the staff,” Glenn Williams told Australian Baseball Alumni this week. “A lot of effort goes into running the event and just as much into preparing each team that competes in it. Everyone is excited about the games and the chance to travel and live as a team. The months of hard work culminate in ten exciting days of baseball.”
“These championships are always a credit to the people who do the work behind the scenes and the staff who volunteer their time to give the kids a great experience – and of course to the parents who fork out the money for their kids to have a fantastic sporting time. The memories alone will last the players a lifetime – and for the kids it is a chance to showcase the hard work they have put in over the last few months.”
The Under 16 and Under 18 National Youth Championships remain an integral element in the Baseball Australia pathways programme and they provide an ideal opportunity for players to challenge themselves at a higher level.
“This is certainly a test for them, to see where they are compared to the rest of the country,” Glenn Williams said. “Importantly, though, it offers the chance for them to represent their states, to play with their mates, to make new friends and to experience a really intense ten days of serious competition.”
“Even with the emergence of Little League it’s still something players like to do, which is great.”
Several states have players currently signed to professional contracts and others – at both age groups – who are quite clearly on the radar for scouts and college interests, whether or not they are currently on Australian Baseball League rosters.
“Some MLB organisations have stopped players from participating previously, but they are generally very supportive of their signed kids playing,” Williams said. “The ones that are attending, that is.”
“The clubs who support them being out there see it as another opportunity for the players to get better – in the same way as with the ABL, which is a league and a project that the pro teams are very supportive of.”
“The changes in the limits this year have seen an influx of young players on ABL rosters. This is huge for the players. It is giving them a leg up in their development and it helps us with the national team programmes. There will be several players at the championships this year who have competed for ABL clubs and who will be playing for their country in the Under 18 Oceania qualifier,” he said.
“All together, these are great learning experiences that will help players in their baseball careers. Transitioning to pro ball is a very difficult one so any experience against quality competition is imperative to success when you have the chance to start your career.”
“Signed pitchers mostly will be limited by their professional clubs, but for any position player it is generally about getting as many at bats as possible,” he said. “There are some restrictions for rest placed by clubs on players who have already had a long season, but I do not expect that to apply at these championships.”
“An example of that for an older player would be Zac Shepherd, who came off a long season with the Tigers, played in the Under 23 World Cup and the first half of the ABL season before the Tigers asked him to rest prior to 2017.”
Image: Baseball Australia
While many view the National Youth Championships as vital to a player’s prospects of being exposed to professional scouts or to college interests, Glenn Williams does not see this as the be-all and end-all for any of the players selected for Blacktown.
“The major reason the National Youth Championships are there is for players to compete and represent their states, play with their mates and participate at a high level of baseball,” he said.
“The fact that the tournament happens at the same time of year and all the best players are in attendance naturally attracts the attentions of pro teams and colleges. It is the perfect chance for people to be able to see players and gauge how much they’ve improved and determine where they may fit into a college or pro system.”
“The national team staff also pay close attention to the tournament. With an Under 18 qualifier right at the end of the NYCs this year - and hopefully the Under 18 World Cup in September – it’s a chance to see those competing for spots in action,” he said.
Although the standard of competition at the championships will vary from year to year, Glenn Williams believed that there are increasingly more opportunities for our emerging players to compete at higher levels, which in turn has the potential to provide greater motivation to a greater number from grassroots through to elite level.
“The championships bring the best players in the country together, so we always expect the competition level to be very high,” he said. “There are always differing opinions on the standard of the baseball – mostly subjective. A lot of the time comparisons are made with previous tournaments where there may have been some outstanding playing prospects.”
“I guess only time will tell whether the 2017 National Youth Championships will produce players who go on to have outstanding college, pro-ball or national team careers.”
“When the motivation is there, the opportunity to play quality baseball is always something that helps developing players,” Glenn Williams continued. “There will be over twenty players at the championships who were at the MLBAAP last year, there will be seven or eight who were on the spring training trip, four who went on the college showcase trip with MLB, twenty who played in the Under 15 World Cup last year and others who have competed at Senior League, Junior League and Little League World Series.”
“All of these young men have had the chance to play meaningful international games – which is great for their development.”
“The carrot of future opportunities is definitely a driving force for players,” he said. “And the opportunities are continuing to grow for young players. Those who work hard, play the game hard and behave themselves on and off the field are those who will take advantage of these opportunities.”
“To help young players create and then maximise their opportunities – at these championships and anywhere else - my advice is to go and out and play for the reason they took baseball up in the first place.”
“To enjoy it.”
“Going out and playing solely for the chance to sign, or go to college or make a national team divides your attention,” he said. “Just keep working hard on the fundamentals of the game and putting in the effort and hard yards. Show perseverance and stick it out, even if you miss a few opportunities early on. Ultimately you can’t control whether someone is going to give you an opportunity. You just have to continue to work hard.”
Both the Under 16 and Under 18 National Youth Championships will be held at Blacktown International Sportspark, beginning on Friday 6 January and running through until Sunday 15 January. The championships will be the first of what Glenn Williams hopes will be several major events for under-aged baseball players in 2017 to complement our senior participation at the World Baseball Classic in March.
“Our Under 12 team will be heading to Guam for the Oceania Qualifier,” he said. “The Qualifier is worth ranking points and the winner of that tournament goes to the July World Cup in Taiwan – which is also worth points. Our Under 18 team plays the Oceania Qualifier in Sydney right after the National Youth Championships. It is worth ranking points and the winner goes to Thunder Bay to compete in the World Cup for even more.”
“We are only 75 points behind Italy for tenth spot. Wins at the Under 12 Qualifier (30 points) and the Under 18 Qualifier (50 points) will put us into tenth at the end of January.”
“The World Baseball Classic is massive for us. A second-round appearance is great for prize money for players and the federation but would also give us a huge boost for World Ranking points.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Glenn Williams for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish all teams, all players and all coaches the very best for what we know will be another outstanding National Youth Championship thanks to the selfless input of clubs, officials, organisations and our wonderful volunteers who invariably step up when needed.
Unlike in 2016, the National Women’s Championship and the Youth Women’s Championship will not be held during January. Both events have been rescheduled to Easter on a recommendation arising from the Women’s Baseball Forum held at the 2016 National Championship.
“This is something the women’s baseball community felt fitted better into their plans,” Glenn Williams explained. “It is going to be another exciting year for women’s baseball, with plenty going on behind the scenes and with programming being mapped out for the players. There will be several programmes domestically and abroad that players will take part in – both the current squad and projected future talent – in an aim to boost the numbers of quality players across the country.”
“The women’s baseball community continues to be supported by some very hard-working volunteers.”
Image: Baseball Australia