All-Star clash a step towards baseball future
12 December 2014
A cavalcade of elite baseball players will wend its way into town to contest the fourth annual All-Star Game scheduled for Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday 17 December.
A mouth-watering contest between our national Southern Thunder squad and the cream of the international best playing in Australian Baseball League this summer, the All-Star Game has been a highlight of the Australian baseball calendar since its inception in 2011.
This will be the third time that the series has been held at the wonderfully revamped Melbourne Ballpark – now a jewel in the crown of Victorian baseball after losing favour as a venue when the earlier Australian Baseball League drew the curtain over a decade ago.
While the game promises to produce some outstanding baseball it will be more, much more than that as our emerging players seek to further establish their credentials against a group of international playing professionals equally hungry to enhance their own opportunities in the sport.
Although the likes of home-grown baseball products such as Lewis Thorpe, James Beresford, Daniel McGrath, Liam Hendricks, Peter Moylan - along with Travis Blackley and the visiting Grant Balfour - will not be available, Australia has assembled a strong 25 man squad that is match-hardened through recent engagement at Australian Baseball League level.
“Barring injury, we expect the named players to all be available and ready to go,” Australian Manager Jon Deeble told Australian Baseball Alumni.
“There should be no surprises.”
With Queenslander Ryan Searle slated to start, Deeble expects to call upon his full playing contingent in an effort to atone for a comfortable win by the All-Stars last time.
“We’ll be trying to get everyone into the game at some time,” Deeble said. “That’s the plan. We know we are missing some of our top players, but that creates opportunities for other guys to step up. We are always looking to the future – to the next generation of national players – and there are are a number of guys we’ll be having a good look at.”
“We know that these kids have real potential. Some of them – like Gibbons, Perkins, Holland, Wade and Sookee – have been super-impressive at under-aged level and now they will get their chance to perform against what we know will be a strong All-Star side.”
“Our squad looks pretty well balanced, with plenty of quality and experience at the highest levels brought by the likes of Harman, Huber, Dening, Hughes, Trent Oeltjen, Stefan Welch and the Kennellys.”
“We are expecting a close game,” Deeble said. “We’re going out there to win, we are looking to win and we are expecting to win. That is the mindset that we have every time an Australian side takes the field.”
With the World All-Stars holding a 2-1 winning break over the three games played, it will be no easy task against a star-studded squad boasting players from six different nations, including form Australian Baseball League pitchers in Cody Buckel, Markus Solbach, Chen Hua Lin and evergreen Dae Sung Koo, along with crowd favourites and offensive dynamos in Jack Murphy, Joey Wong and Kellin Deglan.
The 2014 All-Star Game is one of just a handful of occasions in recent times that our senior national team has competed on home soil. It is a situation that frustrates the Australian Team Manager as he and his staff seek to build the next generation of national representatives.
“I have to say that I am not sure – after this - when our senior team will be in action again,” Jon Deeble said. “I know there are some ideas in the pipeline, but it is very much out of our control.”
“We would love to have qualified for the Premier Twelve series later in 2015, but came up just short on points ranking. The way that countries qualify is really not fair on us because we play nowhere near the number of tournaments as other countries – especially in Europe and Central America. Our argument is that qualifying should be more fairly based on World Championship records. We finished fifth at the last two of those – our best performances ever.”
“Is a country likely to withdraw from the Premier Twelve to give us an entry? Probably not,” he said, “given that there will be so much money riding on the series.”
While the All-Star Game provides an opportunity for emerging players to demonstrate their talent, it is not yet clear when and how national representation might next be achieved. However, Jon Deeble remains upbeat about the possibilities that may yet be presented.
“There are a number of prospects on the horizon,” he said. “There is the 2017 World Baseball Classic coming up. Australia will have to qualify through a process still to be decided. We have had a problem in the past getting all of our best players available but, again, that creates opportunities for other players.”
“Looking even further ahead, baseball seems a real chance to be re-admitted to the Olympics in 2020. It sounds a fair way off but we need to prepare and we need to identify the next batch of kids. Some of the current crop of players will be still be around then, but we need to be looking at the even younger level – like the Under 18s who will represent Australia at the Oceania Series in New Zealand after Christmas.”
“The Oceania Series is another great opportunity for our kids, and it’s going to be a lot tougher than people might think. New Zealand has some very good pitching – including a kid who threw a one-hitter at the World Cup. We’ll have to defend well, and we’ll have to pitch well,” he said.
“The whole emphasis for us with this All-Star Game, the Oceania Series and all other tournaments in which we are involved is to identify the players who will lead Australian baseball forward.”
“It is an exciting time, with so many good young players coming through the system,” he said.
“Wherever the future might take us, we need to build and we have to be ready. And to be ready we need to be playing as much high-quality baseball as we can – including the All-Star Game – as steps in the process.”
“We’re looking forward to it.”
The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday 17 December, starting at 7.30 PM. Gates will open at 5.30, with pre-match entertainment – including a guest appearance by MLB pitcher Grant Balfour - from 6.30 PM.
The ABL All-Star Game will be broadcast live in Australia and New Zealand on ESPN.
It will also be available on delay to over 70 million households in the US through MLB Network and in 30 Asian countries on Fox Sports Asia.