World Select: a player's perspective
Named on a World Select Team of thirty emerging players from MLB Academy programmes across the globe, ten Australian teenagers are currently touring United States, where they will play a number of games – in Memphis Tennessee and at the iconic Arizona Fall Classic - in front of a legion of baseball scouts.
A wonderful opportunity for the playing squad, the World Select Tour will showcase emerging Australian baseball talent while providing a once in a lifetime experience.
Seventeen year-old Canberra resident Mitchell Edwards is one of the ten Australians on the playing squad. Mitch kindly shares with us some of his experiences and reflections.
I WILL TAKE SUN BURN IN PHOENIX OVER FROST BITE IN CANBERRA ANY DAY
16 October 2016
I don't understand why the two weeks leading up to our trip took forever and yet the two weeks over here have passed in a flash. We now only have one more game to play and then we pack our bags and head home to a season of club ball. The contrast in facilities will be pretty stark compared to what we have been spoiled with here but to be honest, I will enjoy getting a hit playing with Dad at our Indians home field nearly as much as I've enjoyed playing over here.
Since my last post we have played three games in the Arizona Senior Fall Classic. As I mentioned previously, all the games were played on the Padres/Mariners Spring Training fields. Our infielders didn't need to concern themselves with bad bounces - the ground maintenance crews have provided us with great playing surfaces. While the games aren't scored, it was good to see that we matched up well with the local players.
Our first game was played in front of a large crowd of College and Pro Scouts and we were given the type of exposure we could never expect in our home countries. As a result of this exposure a number of the Australians have already been approached by colleges interested in securing their services.
Our games go for two hours thirty minutes and each innings last 6 batters or 3 outs, whichever comes first. The umpires call a big strike zone probably to encourage the batters to swing the bat. With the 6 batter Rule we've found the games move pretty quickly. Most the guys in the Classic are a similar age to us and none of the World players have looked over matched. The three other catchers and myself have shared duties behind the plate and I had one game as Designated Hitter. Every day has been absolutely perfect baseball weather - a maximum of 35 and clear, blue skies. I think we all wish the trip would never end.
We play our last game tomorrow against an Arizona Team called T Rex Baseball. As it's our last chance to impress, we will all be looking to finish the trip with a bang.
A standout experience for all of us has been a tour of Salt River Fields - the Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Apparently Australian baseball great Craig Shipley arranged for us to have access to the facilities so hats off to him - it was amazing. Located in Scottsdale, Salt River Fields opened in 2011 and is home to both The Diamondbacks and The Rockies and was the first Spring Training Complex built on native American land. The Diamondbacks have 12 Fields, Major and Minor League Clubhouses, hitting tunnels plus the 11,000 seat Main Stadium. When then Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig first visited the Fields he is on the record as saying, "Everyone told me it was remarkable. It's even better than that." I agree completely with Mr Selig.
We got to watch an Instructional League Game there featuring Minor Leaguers working on improving their play for next season and it gave us all a good idea of where we have to aim to be with our own game.
Our Hotel here is perfect except for one thing - we can't find the League Championship Games on the TV. It seems like most channels are more focused on The Donald and Hillary than they are on baseball playoffs. I'm pretty sure we would all rather watch baseball than politics.
With tomorrow our last game, this will most likely be my last blog from the Home Of Baseball and I would like to thank Kingsley Collins of the Australian Baseball Alumni for asking me to record some details of our trip. It encouraged me to ask questions and see and record things that I otherwise might have missed. Also a massive shout out to Baseball Australia and Major League Baseball for giving us the opportunity to make this journey and to our coaching staff who've looked after us so well.
Additionally on behalf of all the travelling Australians, special thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this stage in our careers - our Junior Coaches, Academy Coaches, Club Coaches and especially our families. We can't thank you enough.
The two weeks here has been a real eye opener for all of us - we got a taste of what would be involved in going to College and the University of Memphis players showed us the level of play we need to aspire to. We all know that however hard we have worked on our game before, we have to work even harder in the future. There are thousands of young men over here with the same goals as us, so we need to keep getting better. Our trip here might be coming to an end but our baseball careers and the hard work are really just beginning.
EDITOR: Australian Baseball Alumni extends its sincere appreciation to Mitchell Edwards for providing us with updates on the World Select Tour. We applaud his commitment in helping out with this service and we echo the sentiments that he has expressed regarding the generous assistance of Major League Baseball, Baseball Australia, coaching and administrative staff in helping make the tour a reality. Our best wishes to all of the thirty young men who earned an invitation to what might well be a life-changing baseball tour. KC
The World Select Tour - especially the Arizona Fall Classic - was covered comprehensively by United States interests, including Phrake Photography, whose Facebook page images capture the essence of the experience for players involved.
BEING HOT HAS NEVER BEEN SO COOL (updated Thursday 13 October)
13 October 2016
I have finally found something about being a pseudo College Baseball player that I don't like - getting up at 4.30 am for a "road trip". Admittedly our "road trip" was actually a couple of Delta flights from Memphis to Atlanta and on to Phoenix but you know what I mean. The 4.30 wake up call really sucked but it did ensure we were all ready for bed nice and early early for our first night in Phoenix.
We were greeted in Phoenix by clear blue skies and a temperature pushing a scorching 35'. After checking into our Hotel we were taken to the fields that will be our baseball home for the next 5 days. It is The Peoria Sports Complex and is the Spring Training home of the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. The complex was built in 1994 and was the first centre built specifically to accommodate two Major League Teams. The Mariners use the west side of the complex and the Padres the east side with both Teams sharing the 12,000 seat main stadium.
The centre cost US$32m to build and the bulk of the construction cost was funded by a Tax on Rental Cars.
There are 12 Major League size fields all in immaculate condition, three "half fields" for infield and pitcher drills and numerous indoor and outdoor batting tunnels. Both clubs have massive clubhouses and I can only imagine how much their power bills would be to air condition them. The players gymnasium is, as you would expect, enormous with state of the art equipment and there is a fully equipped Physio Room. The Arizona Fall League which features the top prospects from all the MLB Teams play games here during October and November. The biggest draw card in the League this year isn't a top prospect though - it is the College Heismen Trophy winning quarterback, Tim Tebow. I read that there were 1,700 people at his game yesterday compared to a normal attendance of 500.
Just like in Memphis, our hotel here is great. Major League Baseball have really spoiled us with where we are staying. It is a short drive to the fields and is across the road from a shopping mall. We have voted the nearby Buffet Restaurant the best Buffet In The World.
We had a cruisy day today and were left to amuse ourselves until we left for the field at 3.00 pm. We had a 5.00 pm Pro Showcase for the College and Pro Scouts and this time there were many more eyes on us than there were in Memphis. We all seemed to perform a lot better here than we did last week. Even though we had many, many more Scouts watching us we seemed to be more relaxed and able to perform at our best. Playing so many innings last week obviously helped us, as did the fact that we had been through a similar process in Memphis.
It was back to the World's Best Buffet for dinner with their offerings of all varieties of drinks on tap, every type of food you could imagine and a BIG desert platter. What more could growing baseballers ask for.
Tomorrow is going to be fun as we play our first game in Arizona in the Senior Fall Classic. The games will give us all a great opportunity to show the hundreds of College and Pro Scouts in attendance just what we can do under actual game conditions. Virtually every college in the country has representatives scouting the tournament and of course all the MLB Clubs have their scouts here as well. The Senior Fall Classic is renowned as the best Showcase Event in the entire USA and we are extremely fortunate to be one of this year's invited teams. There are no winners or losers in the games, with each team sending up 6 hitters in their half of each innings. The purpose is purely to "see what we've got".
Great weather, outstanding fields and playing baseball with my mates. With apologies to Shoeless Joe Jackson - "Is this heaven"? I think it is.
Editor's Note: Check out this link......ARIZONA SENIOR FALL CLASSIC
A YOUNG AUSSIE ABROAD
11 October 2016
Oh my what a day!
With only one game today all the guys were pretty happy to have a bit of a sleep. The day's schedule was a bit of Memphis sight seeing, a trip to the Nike Clearance Store (woohoo) and then a game against the University Of Memphis Tigers.
The highlight of our sightseeing was to travel past some famous old singer's house. It was an absolute mansion with a private jet parked across the street. There were tourists everywhere so I guess he must have been popular back in the day. His name was Elvis Presley! Only joking Pop - I know he was a hero of yours.
Eventually after a long drive that gave us the chance to see a lot more of Memphis, we ended up at the Nike Store. With all due respect to The King, the Nike Store was more popular with my Teammates than Graceland.
We were all blown away by how cheap their stuff was. According to Dad, I was on a strict budget but our governments have demonstrated that budgets are meant to be broken so I followed their lead. Two pairs of cleats, a Ken Griffey Junior jumper (hope his sweet swing rubs off on me) and numerous other bits and pieces later, I may have just exceeded my allowance. Only bought essential stuff though Dad. 😉
Once we'd finished cleaning out the store we headed to the University of Memphis baseball ground. Their entire complex is simply unreal.
When we rocked up Memphis were already taking BP and from first sight we knew it was going to be a battle. They were crushing the ball. While they were hitting we went on a tour of their facilities prior to taking our own batting practice. Their gym was fully equipped with everything you could need plus more. There were at least 3 squat racks and countless benches and weights. The fridge was stocked with hundreds of bottles of chocolate milk presumably to be used as a source of protein after the players finish pumping iron.
Adjacent to the weight room was a small artificial turf, soccer pitch like area. The tour guide said this room was used for taking ground balls and for throwing in cases of bad weather and also for some football activities.
Before the game a few fans were asking for signatures from the guys and some of the other players were signing their posters. Deep down I was probably a little bit envious that locals were asking for their autographs and wanted someone to ask for mine. A couple then asked specifically for Mitchell Edwards and I was called over. Somehow they have read my previous blog posts and wanted to meet me, so a shout out to them!!!!
I've been pleasantly surprised just how many people are taking the time to read my posts so thank you for that.
We started the game and from the start the Tigers set the tempo. It was clear how much of a difference there was from Division 1 Junior colleges to Division 1 four year schools. From the first out until the last, they made some of the hardest contact I've ever seen. When I was catching it seemed impossible to get them to swing and miss with all of them seeming to make good contact.
Their pitching was just as impressive. All of their pitchers were hard throwers with the ability to constantly throw strikes. They got us to hit ground balls and the fielders picked them up. The biggest adjustment I've had to make when facing their pitchers is that I haven't been able to just sit on a fast ball. They can, and will, throw any pitch at any time and that's something you don't often see in Australia.
After the game we had a a photo taken with the Memphis guys and were able to spend a bit of time with them. All of them were really good guys and they were just as excited to talk to us as we were to talk to them.
Afterwards we had a more extensive a tour of the baseball complex. It was amazing that a college could have such goods facilities. Next to the home dugout they have two full sized cages equipped with pitching machines and mounds. The Executive Officer said that they can adjust the cage and make enough room for hitters to face live pitching.
They also had a full rack of metal bats. They must be sponsored by Axe bats since there were so many of them on display. I've known about Axe bats for a while and always wanted to get hold of one. In the hand they feel natural and quite cool but I think it might take some time to get used to swinging them though. All over their walls they had all the ex big leaguers from the school and some other ex pros. Their most famous alumni is Tim McCarver - a two time All Star Catcher and legendary broadcaster.We got to see the players lounge where they can relax and it was equipped with a big screen tv and a bunch of recliners and couches, or sofas as they called them.
We got to ask a few questions about College baseball life. I asked, "What days do you play and how does that fit in with school?" and I was told they play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Some weeks they may also play Tuesday and Wednesday. To allow the players to catch up on school, Mondays are always baseball free days. Also when the exams are on, they don't have any weekday games at all to allow players to focus totally on their studies.
When we got back to the hotel it was BBQ for tea and no white shirt this time! While eating dinner we watched the Boston - Cleveland game and sadly my favourite team lost. Our whole team got into the game and it was that loud I'm surprised the hotel didn't tell us to quieten down. It is sad knowing I'll never see Big Papi take another MLB At bat. He was so impressive every time he went up to bat and leaves the game with a record few can match.
It is a travel day tomorrow. Much like college life we have a 5 am wake up to catch a 7.30 plane to Phoenix.
Memphis was an experience I'll never forget and I hope this isn't the last time I'm here.
See you soon Arizona.
10 October 2016
We are now four days into our trip and we have all had an introduction into what life might be like if we are lucky enough to get a position at College over here. After talking to the guys we have been playing against and observing the way the coaches interact with their players, it is pretty clear College Ball is a different game to the Club Baseball we have all played back home.
The travel schedule for instance is something we never have to deal with at home. In Canberra a long "road trip" is 20 minutes but some of the Junior College teams we have played undertook a 10 hour round trip by bus to play against us. The players said bus trips of this length are not unusual.
Another eye opener has been watching the way the College coaches let their players know that they have failed to live up to the team standards. They don't sugar coat their message. If players failed to meet the team's expectations, they were told about it in no uncertain terms. I could imagine players in Australia taking their bat and ball and heading home if our Club coaches used the same communication techniques.
The Colleges had playing squads of approximately 30 and all seemed well drilled in fundamentals. All College teams still swing metal bats and the Junior College players are generally 2 to 3 years older than us but we've competed with them really well and haven't been over matched at all.
From the four games we've played so far, all against Division 1Junior Colleges, we have won 2, drawn one and lost one. The loss was against a School that has produced in excess of 20 Major Leaguers to date including the 2011 World Series MVP, David Freese.
In one of today's games (against Dyersburg State Community College) we faced a legitimate prospect on the mound. He topped out at 92 mph with 3 other quality pitches that he threw for strikes. It was a terrific contest and finished in a 2-2 tie. Our Coaches are always looking for quality "at bats" and Coach Zac was pleased with a success rate of 66% in our early game today.
Our normal day so far has consisted of an early breakfast in our Hotel then the pitchers/catchers get together for a brief meeting with the Coaches. We leave for the Field at 9.15 for 10.00 am pre-game hitting with the first game of double headers starting at midday. It has been pretty cool having the stadium speakers playing music while we take our BP.
We have lunch at the field and I can personally recommend the subs the Coaches are providing.👍 By the time we get back to our Hotel we are pretty well done for the day.
Our meals have been great to date and I have learned a valuable lesson about what to wear when you are eating at a BBQ place - don't wear a white shirt! Sauce stains from ribs and brisket really stand out on a white top.
Finally our families at home don't have to worry about us losing weight over here. Apart from the previously mentioned meals, Mathew Beattie, Oliver Dunn and myself have made a Walmart run to stock up on the essential food groups for everyone. I was pleasantly surprised at the quantity of seeds, bubble gum and Beef Jerky we could buy buy for $50! 😉
9 October 2016
As I settled back in my seat on our Virgin Australia flight from Sydney to Los Angeles I actually pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Thankfully that pinch hurt, and confirmed that I really was actually heading off to the Home Of Baseball for two weeks of playing with and against some of the best young players in the World.
It took just on 29 hours from the time I left my home in Canberra until we arrived at our hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. At the hotel, the ten Australians on the trip met for the first time, the twenty other young men chosen in the World Select Team.
From the early discussions with my new teammates it became pretty apparent that we all have similar goals - be the best we possibly can for the next two weeks to try and attract the attention of the Scouts to help us get to College in the States.
Our first day in Memphis consisted of a training session followed by a tour of the University Of Memphis. The University facilities blew me away. They have approximately 30,000 full and part-time students and the University is like a small city. In their sales pitch to us they pointed out that 68% of the student population are girls - which sounded pretty good to us.
We were given tickets to the University of Memphis - Temple University football game. Watching a Gridiron game live for the first time was terrific and with our support Memphis went on to win 34-27. Football is the major sport at the University and their stadium holds 59,000 people. We play the University Of Memphis Baseball Team (The Tigers) on Monday at their Baseball Field.
After leaving Canberra with temperatures in the low teens the weather here was a bit of a shock. I'm not complaining at all though - I can get accustomed to 32 degree days with clear blue skies pretty easily.
We trained at the USA Stadium and will play our first four games there. The Stadium has an interesting history having been built in the 80s as the home of USA Baseball - a role it filled from 1986 until 1996. They told us that Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire both played tournaments there and that in excess of 300 Major Leaguers have competed there over the years.
I had my first look at our pitching staff at training and they were really impressive. Most of them threw hard and one of them topped out at 93 mph. We have four catchers in our team so we will be sharing catching duties each day.
Day Two of our Trip consisted of Training and a Showcase session for the Pro Scouts. There were approximately 20 College and Pro Scouts watching us throw, hit and run sixties. Obviously we were all anxious to impress and the session was great.
Tomorrow we play a double header and it can't come quick enough for all of us. We play against St Louis Community College in the morning and Lincoln Trail College in the afternoon. Both schools are Division 1 Junior Colleges with strong baseball programs so it will be interesting to see how we compete against them.
I will let you know how we go tomorrow night.
USA Stadium, Millington
World Select Team
Image: Baseball Australia
Image: Mitchell Edwards
Image: Baseball Australia