World Cup to fill vacuum in elite baseball
9 October 2016 SCROLL DOWN FOR PLAYING SQUAD ANNOUNCED 17 OCTOBER
Australian high-performance staff are currently overseeing team preparation for the inaugural Under 23 Baseball World Cup that will be held in Monterrey, Mexico, from 28 October to 6 November.
Sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the Under 23 tournament is a logical extension to the Under 21 World Cup held in 2014 as a means of progressively raising the level of elite competition in the younger age groupings.
With the incentive of substantial world ranking points, Australia - under Head Coach Tony Harris - is one of twelve participating nations that will be seeking its share of the spoils.
The World Baseball Softball Federation has made clear in its documents and news releases that the Under 23 World Cup is designed to become a flagship event placed just behind Premier 12 and World Baseball Classic – tournaments that deliver enormous prestige and financial reward for participating baseball nations.
Further down the track for baseball nations is the 2020 Olympics, which it is believed will be limited to six qualified nations prior to potential expansion in 2024.
Undergoing its own domestic challenges with the scaling back of Major League Baseball funding support for our national league, Australian baseball has embraced the opportunity to impose its presence on the world stage while providing exposure to our emerging players.
Preparation of a squad for the Under 23 World Cup has posed a range of challenges – and has generated real excitement - according to Head Coach Tony Harris, who Australian Baseball Alumni caught up with recently.
“It has been difficult – a real balancing act - to finalise our squad when there is a number of variables coming into play,” Tony Harris said.
Those variables include the anticipated unavailability of players such as Dan McGrath, Lewis Thorpe, Lachlan Wells and Alex Wells – all of whom would be walk-up inclusions as left-arm pitchers for a tournament starting on 28 October and running through until 8 November.
“We have had to work around our professional players and the college commitments of others,” he said. “While finalising the squad has been no easy task without our higher-profile guys, the good news for Australian baseball is that there will be opportunities offered to other players.”
“We will go with what we have, and I am personally excited about the opportunities that the other young men will be given,” said Harris, a stalwart of Australian baseball and a long-time professional scout who will be assisted by an eminently qualified staff including Australian Head Coach Jon Deeble, who will serve as a base coach on this occasion.
Drawn in Group B for the tournament, Australia will play round-robin games against Japan (world-ranked number one), Chinese Taipei (number four), Nicaragua (eighteen), Argentina (twenty-seven) and Austria (thirty-three). Group A teams comprise Venezuela, South Africa, Korea, Czech Republic, Panama and host nation Mexico – which is sure to be tough on its home patch.
Australia’s first game will be against Austria, on Friday 28 October.
The top three teams from each group will proceed to a Super Round, with medals games to follow.
“I am a bit surprised that United States will not be playing,” Tony Harris said. “We thought they could have put together a college-type All-Star team. So that is a surprise, but there are no surprises about some of the other clubs, like Japan, Chinese Taipei and Korea.”
“They have been preparing for months and will obviously be tough opponents.”
Taking into the tournament a tough and uncompromising playing approach that has typified Australian national teams over many years now, the Under 23 squad (listed below) will suit up aiming to win each and every game in which it competes, although Harris is under no illusions about the dimension of the tasks ahead.
“Our hope – and our expectation - is to get to the Super Round and see where that takes us,” he said, “but we know we will have to be at our best.”
“Not all of these kids who we select will have even played a lot at Australian Baseball League level, so it is a great opportunity for them to be exposed on the world stage.”
“Some of them – like George, Sayers and Younis - were with us for the Honkbal tournament. They have had a taste of the team culture and they will have another opportunity to become immersed in the way that we seek to do things.”
“It is a great chance for us to see these and other less-heralded players again,” he said. “And it is an opportunity for all of the selected players to stake their claims for future national team selection – including the World Baseball Classic next year and the Premier 12 looking even further ahead.”
Expected to be announced this week, the Under 23 World Cup playing squad will get together in Sydney between 22 and 25 October and will have some competitive game time prior to departure for Mexico.
The tournament will be played on several fields in Monterrey and surrounds – including the Estadio de Beisbol, which boasts seating of up to 27,000 – a boon for passionate local fans who will baying for success of their own national team that is currently ranked eighth in the world.
“Our preparation will be fairly limited,” Tony Harris said. “We will play a game or two against Sydney Blue Sox, we will have a couple of workouts in Monterrey and will take it from there.”
“Even though international competition is different to domestic baseball and the ABL, we have a decent read on the other ball clubs and we know what we have to do to be successful.”
“Most of our players will have been through Academy programmes and we are well aware of their capacities,” he said. “They will come into the tournament refreshed and should not require a great deal of skills instruction.”
“Of course they will need some at-bats and there will be some tweaking of our defensive structures to get that where we want. We have an experience and feel for how other countries play the game, so our emphasis will be on intra-squad work.”
“We will have a number of meetings to ensure that the players understand our philosophy and embrace our approach to the game,” he said. “It is great to have Jon (Deeble) on board as base coach, since he understands our baseball culture and our players better than anyone.”
“In the end it is all about execution,” he said. “We have to apply our skills in key situations, we will have to do all of the team things right at all times – and we will have to play consistently high quality defence against teams that we know will be polished and ready for the tournament.”
“As we know from experience, one game can make all the difference in tournament baseball.”
“Every game is different, and every game offers another opportunity,” Harris said. “What we can be absolutely sure of is that the players on this club will bring that typically grinding, determined style of Australian baseball that will keep us in the competition against any odds.”
With a heavier weighting placed on the Under 23 World Cup compared with other under-aged sanctioned events, success at this tournament could be crucial to Australian chances of qualifying for the 2019 Premier 12 and a limited field for the 2020 Olympics.
“People have been doing the mathematics on this, and a strong showing this time will definitely help our prospects of qualifying for those events,” Harris said. “While I will leave the points analysis to other people, I can certainly say that the Under 23 World Cup is dealing with a vacuum that has existed in the sport for some time.”
“It is filling a void for our high-performance programme that existed from the late teenage years through the early twenties,” he said. “It is a great thing that that group has another genuine world-class event to which players can aspire. And it is certainly a brilliant opportunity for our players, with the exposure that they will receive.”
Australian Baseball Alumni thanks Tony Harris for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish players and management staff all the very best for a successful and fulfilling Under 23 World Cup.
Announced on Monday 17 October, the Australian playing squad is listed below. Congratulations and our best wishes to all men on their selection for this prestigious international event.
Brandon STENHOUSE (Victoria)
Brad SIMON (New South Wales)
Nick HUTCHINGS (South Australia)
Sam HOLLAND (Queensland)
Nick VEALE (Western Australia)
Lachlan MADDEN (Victoria)
Daniel NILSSON (Queensland)
Mitch NEUNBORN (Western Australia)
Chris HORNE (South Australia)
Josh HENDRICKSON (Western Australia)
Matt WILSON (Victoria)
Conor LOUREY (Western Australia)
Jye DEEBLE (Queensland)
Liam BEDFORD (Victoria)
Robbie PERKINS (ACT)
Guy EDMONDS (New South Wales)
Zac SHEPHERD (New South Wales)
Aaron WHITEFIELD (Queensland)
Connor MacDONALD (Queensland)
Sam KENNELLY (Western Australia)
Jacob YOUNIS (New South Wales)
Ben LESLIE (Victoria)
Jared CRUZ (Victoria)
Josh GUYER (New South Wales)
Image: Baseball Australia