Opportunities abound in hectic baseball times

Kingsley Collins

1 June 2016

 

An already busy year for Australian baseball is poised to ramp up several more notches with a string of major events to be conducted at home and overseas during the next five months.

 

While pending international baseball events will create extra challenges for a sport with relatively modest financial support and limited human resources, the timing and the nature of those events could not have been more opportune as Australia looks to the longer-term – including World Baseball Classic, Premier 12 and a potential re-entry to Olympics competition.

 

Expansion of programmes at all levels and our participation at major international events are helping create an abundance of opportunities for players, coaches and officials, according to Baseball Australia High Performance Manager Glenn Williams.  

 

It is an exciting and challenging time indeed for Australian baseball, which already faces a jam-packed calendar for 2016 that will become even more crowded into next year and beyond.

 

To round off delivery of elite junior tournaments that have already included the Senior League Championship and Junior League Championship, the Little League Championship will be held in Lismore, New South Wales, from 8-13 June. 

 

“Junior and senior league have taken off,” Glenn Williams told Australian Baseball Alumni this week. “The new programmes were accepted right away and people are very excited.”

 

“It is always great to see the kids out there playing, and the level of baseball is really good. I think it has captured the imagination of the kids and the incentive to potentially travel overseas with their local team is a wonderful thing.”

 

“The rollout of the tourneys has been excellent,” he said. “”We understand that there will be teething problems with any new system, and there are areas that we will be working through as the new junior structures evolve over time.”

 

“There was obvious disappointment with the weather in Adelaide – for the Junior League Championship. I know, because I happened to be there on the Wednesday - wanting to see games -  but all I saw was black skies and persistent heavy rain. The other thing I saw that goes unmentioned by the critics, though, is the Baseball SA CEO, Baseball SA board members, national team reliever Matt Williams, Adelaide Bite player Landon Hernandez and Australian Baseball Hall of Famer Andrew Scott on their hands and knees in mud trying to get the fields up so the kids could play.”

 

“Not to mention the army of volunteers pitching in to try and get it done and the Glenelg Baseball Club – who were asked to host the finals - working through the night to make sure the fields were available for the kids to play.”

 

Following on from Senior League, Junior League and Little League Championships will of course be other major events involving many of our emerging players in coming months. The Senior League Asia Pacific Series will be held from 11-17 July, while the Junior League World Series and Little League World Series will both take place during August.

 

“Little League is dominating much of our baseball space at the moment - and rightly so,” Glenn Williams said. “It has already been very popular and if leveraged properly could be a game changer in terms of recruitment and retention in our sport.”

 

For the youngsters selected to play at the Cal Ripken Series, they will enjoy their trip of a baseball lifetime when they head off to Aberdeen from 29 June to 6 July.

For players invited to Major League Baseball Australian Academy Programme (MLBAAP), there will be the opportunity to gain invaluable skills and learning experiences from top-line coaching staff over four weeks starting on 25 June.

 

“Major League Baseball remains very supportive of that programme,” Glenn Williams said. “We will be making some adjustments and adding to the programme this coming year - again providing more opportunity for players and staff to get better.”

 

“We will have 51 athletes from Australia and we will again welcome overseas guests – four from New Zealand and two from China.”

 

Running concurrently with the MLBAAP programme from 2-6 July will be a selection camp for the Under 15 World Cup to be held in Iwaki Japan, from 29 July to 7 August. Forty players have been invited to the camp and twenty will be selected to represent Australia at the World Cup.

 

“We are well aware of the financial strain placed on families who have children selected for camps or who achieve national representative honours,” Glenn Williams said.

 

“Australian Baseball Alumni currently has a fund-raising raffle in place to help out with financing the Under 15 selection camp and the Under 15 World Cup.”

 

“I urge the players and their families to support the Alumni raffle. All proceeds – every cent - will go directly to help offset the cost of kids at the camp and those who will be travelling to Japan," he said.

Sanctioned by Baseball Australia and involving plenty of our emerging teenage baseball players, the Australian Schoolboys Tour of United States is scheduled for three weeks, starting with departure from Sydney on 15 September. Under Head Coach Peter Giles, the tour will include up to twenty games against high school and college sides and it will provide our players with invaluable experience by seeking to replicate the life of college or professional baseballers playing and travelling almost every day.

 

The Australian Schoolboys Tour has proved to be a stepping stone for players going on to represent Australia, to take up college offers or professional opportunities in United States.

 

While the Schoolboys Tour does not directly impact on all-important IBAF rankings of baseball nations, the Under 15 World Cup does, along with a number of other events in which Australia will be involved over coming months and years.

 

Those events include a range of tournaments recognised by the IBAF for world rankings that are absolutely vital for Australia to qualify for such occasions as the World Baseball Classic, Premier 12 and of course the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

 

“We are aiming to cram in as many international tournaments as we can,” Glenn Williams said. “The Under 15 World Cup is only two months away and we have the Under 23 World Cup scheduled for Monterrey, Mexico, in early November.”

 

“Of crucial importance to us is the Women’s World Cup that will be held in South Korea during September. Baseball Australia will be conducting a women’s team camp for that series in late July – and we are confident that our Emeralds team can head to the World Cup with good prospects of being among the medals, even after changes in playing personnel since our last campaign.”

 

While Australia has had periodic involvement in the series since 1988, most baseball people will know little about the Haarlem Week Honkbal Invitational to be held in the Netherlands from 15-24 July this year. Heading up an Australian squad that will be competing at the tournament, Australian National Coach Jon Deeble has provided Australian Baseball Alumni with details and insights that will be the subject of a feature to be published here after the final squad is announced.

 

“What we are dealing with at the moment makes for a very busy schedule,” Glenn Williams said. “The advantages – and the incentives - are enormous for Australian baseball. There are the added opportunities for us to gain world ranking points through Honkbal, Under 15 and Under 23 – which are all recognised under the current system.”

 

“Importantly there is also the chance to give more coaches an opportunity for development and for travel. The extra teams stretch the capacity of our coaching staff, which opens up the opportunity for more people to become accredited and to experience elite or professional baseball as coaches.”

 

“Much of our focus at Baseball Australia is on the 2017 World Baseball Classic – as it should be,” he said. “A lot of our guys are excited about the Classic and hopefully we will be in a position where many of our best are available. If you think Hendriks, Saupold, Moylan, Naylor, Blackley and Rowland-Smith – to name a few – then it is a pretty good start with an army of young pros and veteran guys vying for a spot on our national team.”

 

“These are exciting times.”

 

“Yes, 2016 is a massive year for Australian baseball - and it is likely to get even busier next year,” Williams said. “The opportunities for players have never been more abundant and with the potential for being on the 2020 Olympic calendar - after what we hope will be a favourable decision in August - we will continue to evolve our programmes and work with major stakeholders to help get kids more opportunities and make sure we are putting world-class national teams on the field.”

 

“The challenge will be having everyone working towards that national team success,” he added. “To have our Under 12, Under 15, Under 18 and Under 23 teams all working towards our world ranking and potentially our place in the 2019 Premier 12 and 2020 Olympics has to be the priority.”

 

“It is important to make sure we are putting our best kids on the field in these and other tournaments, because we know that sustained playing success not just creates opportunities for individuals but it also places the sport in a far better position to secure greater funding from government and other sources.”

 

“Financially getting all of our teams out there is tough. Being limited with resources we are reliant on others to help with all of this – whether as sponsors, supporters or volunteers.”

 

Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Baseball Australia High Performance Manager Glenn Williams for his assistance in the preparation of this story. The Alumni group will follow team progress with interest and, as always, we will seek to provide in-depth reporting on the performances of our teams at international tournaments.