Tassy baseball in revival

Kingsley Collins

10 December 2014

 

Just like the fabled bushland feline of our southernmost state, Tasmanian baseball has refused to acquiesce to extinction, with a recently reformed competition continuing to gather momentum.

 

Played in Tasmania as far back as 1913, the sport never gained serious traction until the formation of the Tasmanian Baseball Association in 1950, at a time when baseball was booming in the mainland states as the Claxton Shield remained the pinnacle of national achievement.

 

Although the Launceston Baseball Association had been in action for some time then, it was only when the Southern Association – reformed in Hobart after 36 years – entered the equation that baseball aficionados took great heart from the possibilities created by intrastate rivalry between the two leagues.

 

The new league, according to the Launceston Examiner in July 1950, would “control all matters relating as a whole to baseball in Tasmania, which will enter competition for Claxton Shield next year.”

 

“With new players coming forward each week, a great expansion of the game is certain in the near future,” the Examiner predicted.

 

“We are after new men, experienced or otherwise,” a league official said. “If they can’t play, we will teach them.”

 

While baseball in the Apple Isle never fully lived up to those lofty expectations, it flourished during the 1970s and 1980s, with the two leagues running concurrently.  However - by the late 1980s - the Launceston League began to struggle for players and it ultimately disbanded.

 

Fielding several teams in Kingston - a town just to the south of Hobart – Tasmanian Baseball Association continued to function successfully until the competition collapsed with financial problems and the sport went into recess in the early 1990s.

 

The rise of the sport from the Tasmanian baseball ashes was partly coincidental - although it is largely a testament to the commitment of some older persons who had previously been involved as players and administrators.

 

Arguably Tasmania’s best known baseball export, Ian Hubble – who achieved at the highest levels of Australian domestic baseball after crossing to Victoria in the late 1970s – had by the early 2000s become heavily involved in Masters baseball on the mainland.

 

Encouraged by Ian’s foray into Masters, his brother Peter become one of the guiding forces in the creation of a Tasmanian Masters team to enter the annual Victorian Masters Baseball Carnival - a remarkable, rollicking  event that will celebrate its nineteenth birthday in 2015.

 

For the past decade, Tasmania has been a regular, competitive and popular participant in the Victorian Masters, which returned to its Ballarat home in 2011 after several drought years at Geelong Baseball Complex.

 

Involvement in the Victorian Masters Carnival was more than enough to feed the enthusiasm of a group of Tasmanian players, who had already resolved to resurrect baseball in the island state.

 

In 2007, after a fifteen year hiatus, a baseball competition returned to Hobart under the banner of Baseball Tasmania. The competition continued under this name until the 2013/4 season when it was rebadged the Hobart Summer Baseball League, with Baseball Tasmania the governing body.

 

Supportive of the project since it was first mooted, Hobart Mercury ran a series of promotional articles encouraging players, former players and other interested parties to join. The Mercury - ir should be said - continues to promote baseball in an active manner that puts some of our limited mainland media coverage to shame.

 

The Hobart Summer Baseball League season runs from mid-October through to mid-March with a break over the Christmas/New Year period. Games are of an hour and a half duration with the majority played on two of either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, commencing at 6.00 PM.

 

Sunday games are played once a month and for the finals.

 

Games are played at Prince of Wales Bay Recreation Ground in Derwent Park, though in recent times they have also been played at Goodwood Primary School and Shoebridge Park in Claremont.

 

In the 2013/14 season, the competition expanded from four teams to five - with the welcome addition of the Dragons' Softball team – while some teams changed their names to represent regions of greater Hobart.

 

The 2014 summer season kicked off with a grand-final replay between reigning premier Eastern Athletics and Dragons in mid-October.

 

Hobart Mercury was there to cover the game.

 

“The Dragons led early,” the Mercury reported, “but the Athletics came home with a rush, scoring seven runs in the bottom of the fifth to produce a 15-13 win.”

 

In the earlier game, the Northern White Socks plucked the Blue Jays, jumping out to a 10-1 lead early, to eventually win the game 16-9.

 

Baseball Tasmania President David Searle said it was the perfect opener to the new season by returning to the sport’s home at the Prince of Wales diamond.

 

“After a two-year absence it is great to be returning to the home of baseball in Tasmania and with a number of new players originating from overseas and interstate, it promises to be an exciting season,” Searle said.

 

The new centre was a welcome sight after the competition had to find somewhere else to play for the past two years.

 

“They dug up the ground to put in stormwater drains so we had to play a couple of seasons at Goodwood Primary School and then out at Shoebridge Park, Claremont,” Searle said.

 

“So it’s great to be back at our redeveloped Prince of Wales diamond.”

 

This season the four-team league welcomes quite a few new players from overseas and interstate, hailing from as far afield as China and Canada.

 

“Games will be held each Wednesday and Thursday throughout the summer - with training on Tuesday nights,” Searle said.

 

“New players are encouraged to come along to a training session and try their hand at pitching, catching and hitting. We have players ranging in age from fifteen though to their late fifties, so everyone is welcome to join us,” he said.

 

“After completion of our domestic season, two Tasmanian teams will head to Victoria to compete in the Victorian Masters Carnival in Ballarat.”

 

Australian Baseball Alumni congratulates Hobart Summer Baseball League President David Searle and his hard-working committee for their vision and their energy in resurrecting Tasmanian baseball. May the league – and the sport – go from strength to strength in the Apple Isle.

 

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Image:   Hobart Mercury