Time Out to assess a frenetic baseball year
16 August 2017
The performance of our representative teams at major international events during an especially hectic 2017 is a reflection on the decisive advances that are being made in Australian baseball.
From a creditable effort at World Baseball Classic through the range of national under-aged tournaments, women’s programmes, Under 12 World Cup, another successful MLB Academy, Showcase Tours, Invitationals and the more recent, head-turning presence of our youngsters at Cal Ripken and Little League series in United States, it has already been a massive year.
With much more to come – including the Under 18 World Cup in early September – Australia continues to progressively build on an international standing that may conceivably see us improve on our current eighth in WBSC rankings..
Baseball Australia High Performance Manager Glenn Williams took time out from his busy schedule to reflect upon our national baseball year.
“There have definitely been a lot of extra opportunities and a lot of programmes being run during this year,” Glenn Williams told Australian Baseball Alumni.
“Some have a heavy high performance aspect – like the Under 18 and Under 12 qualifiers and World Cups, and the World Baseball Classic of course. These programmes contribute to WBSC rankings, so they are important to our overall national strategy.”
“The MLBAAP, spring training trip, and Under 14 MLB Invitational are all events that we partner with MLB on,” he said. "Their focus is on elite talent development around the world – more of an individual focus from the MLB perspective, but for us it involves enhanced player development that will contribute to our own improved national team performance.”
“When you add in development tours like the Cal Ripken programme and the Emeralds Asian trips, it has definitely been a huge year for the national team programmes.”
Just recently, Australia was wonderfully represented at the Cal Ripken World Series – where the squad created history by including its first female player – while Adelaide Armada acquitted itself exceptionally well at the Senior League World Series and our national team battled hard to win two of its games against tough opposition at the Under 12 World Cup in Taiwan.
Emeralds shine for Australia
Currently contesting the Junior League World Series in Taylor Michigan, New South Wales club Hills has already posted a stunning win over Puerto Rico at its tournament, while the Hills Little League team will have its chance to shine at the Little League World Series starting in Williamsport Pennsylvania later this week.
When we factor in the ground-breaking work overseen by Australian Women’s Head Coach Simone Wearne in delivering the enormously successful Diamonds in the Rough programme – that will include bringing a group of Indonesian girls to Australia during September for baseball activities and cultural exchange – it is abundantly clear that our promising younger players are being provided with increasingly more opportunities and experiences in the sport.
While delighted with the opportunities being created for emerging players – and thereby helping strengthen our baseball through a filter-down effect over time – Glenn Williams stresses that there is plenty of refinement still to come to produce the most desirable results.
“Opportunity is a great thing in baseball and there is definitely an abundance of opportunities in the game in Australia right now,” he said. “The experience of heading overseas to play baseball is something that a lot of people are after and get plenty out of. I think that there are enough players to make up rosters on these trips but we also see players maybe spreading themselves a little thin by committing to a range of different programmes at times.”
“From a Baseball Australia perspective we have been fortunate to have an influx of programme opportunities for players because of added support from MLB. Of course we are really grateful for that. However, some programmes and some opportunities have come into the calendar quite quickly. As time rolls on we need to consider where these programmes sit, in what frequency they run and how they can be directed in the best interests of the sport. ”
“Showcasing players is one thing,” he said. “Making sure there is ample time to refine and develop the tools that the people they are showcasing to is equally important. It is hard to do that with a full calendar and a lot of commitments to multiple programmes.”
“One of our biggest challenges at the moment is prioritising programmes and where they all sit. It is awesome that there are more and more opportunities, though we cannot be targeting the same group of kids.”
“There is a way to go in this space. It is something that it is worth working through.”
While the expanded schedule during 2017 has created challenges – not the least of which is the financial consideration relating to funding of programmes at all levels – Glenn Williams remains buoyed by the many positives that have emerged.
“Obviously the World Baseball Classic is our showcase event,” he said. “Even though the result wasn’t the one we were aiming for, I think that the team displayed a brand of baseball that Australians can be really proud of. International competition is never easy – we all know that – and the way our guys played on the field, and the way they conducted themselves off the field are positives that help set the tone for the remainder of our programmes.”
“Our Under 12 team has been great this year. In very trying conditions in Guam for the qualifier, they came through with a tournament win and ultimately a berth in the World Cup. The team staff were amazing through the entire programme and at that age I think the experience is something that is most important for the players in that team.”
“They had an experience of a lifetime – and that is in large part due to the staff members on that programme.”
“Competing at that age is always difficult,” he said. “The volume of baseball those other countries have experienced compared to our kids is a big factor, as is the population they have to choose from. Our kids went up against some pretty physically advanced players – and they competed every step of the way.”
Under 12 squad takes plenty from World Cup
Now in final preparations before heading to Canada for the World Cup, our national Under 18 squad is an impressive unit that includes playing professionals and established college baseballers among many who have come through the Baseball Australia development programme.
“As our programmes roll out through the age groups, the volume of baseball increases for our players and we get the chance to have some with a lot more experience under their belt,” Glenn Williams said. “One advantage we have over other countries is that often the players have played together before – especially in tournament baseball.”
“Our staff are very experienced in tournament baseball – which is also an advantage.”
“This Under 18 team will be competitive for sure,” he said. “They have a nice lead into the World Cup with a series of games against Team Canada in Toronto. They will get to play eight games together before heading to the World Cup in Thunder Bay.”
“The calibre of baseball at this level is always really good. We are hoping our guys will go out there and execute the way they can to give themselves a chance to advance to the Super Round.”
“From there, anything can happen.”
While 2017 has already been a massive year for Australian baseball – with plenty more potential excitement still to come – there will be little respite for our governing bodies and high performance staff as we move into the New Year, which will present some new and potentially thrilling challenges.
“The calendar includes the Under 15 and Under 23 qualifying tournaments and their respective World Cups if we get through,“ Williams said. “And of course there is the 2018 Women’s World Cup.”
Currently ranked eighth of baseball nations by World Baseball Softball Confederation, Australia continues to earn itself opportunities to qualify for major international events such as World Baseball Classic, Premier 12 and 2020 Olympics – about which information remains sparse on the nature of the baseball competition - notwithstanding the greater range of opportunities currently available to Central American and European nations.
“The Pan-American Games act as qualifiers for World Cup events, so there are some WBSC points available to participating teams there,” Glenn Williams said. “We have our regional chance in January and February next year with Oceania Qualifiers to gain back some points from those tournaments.”
“We are currently ranked eighth, but will gain some points from the Under 12 World Cup. The Under 18 World Cup will also give us the opportunity to gain points. With a good result there, we may end up in seventh spot by the end of this year.”
“Looking further ahead, there is still no clear Olympic qualification process just yet,” he said. “We understand that WBSC ranking will play some part in the scheme of things, but it will be more about opportunities to qualify than purely the top-ranked nations at a particular time going to the Olympics. The Premier 12 may be a part of the process, so preparation for that event is something we need to seriously consider.”
“It is definitely about being flexible, though – and being in a position to adjust to whatever the process may end up being.”
“In terms of helping create solid and sustainable Australian baseball programmes to move us forward, we are still very much a work in progress,” Glenn Williams said. “There have been some great developments and terrific opportunities for our teams and for our programmes, but we need to keep refining these, getting better and responding to domestic and external circumstances as they arise.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Glenn Williams for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We acknowledge and applaud the whole-hearted effort that Glenn, Simone Wearne, Baseball Australia coaching staff and state affiliates continue to dedicate for the betterment of Australian baseball.