Blog: It's Not Just Rugby and Cricket
- Published on Sunday, 12 February 2012 16:12
- Written by Melissa Couto
New Zealand is entering into a love affair with America's pastime, and international influences are helping it along.
For the past year, Dewald de Klerk, the catcher of New Zealand's 18U national team has been developing his skills at the celebrated Chaffey Baseball Club near Seattle, Washington.
Having spent time playing baseball in both countries, the 17-year-old can attest to the differences between American and New Zealand player-development.
"What I have noticed in the US is that most of the kids playing here at a high level look amazing on the field because they play so much," he said. "In certain situations they don't have to think 'what should I do now?' They just react."
The New Zealand native learned about Chaffey while playing them on a 16U US tour two summers ago. Chaffey's head coach, Jim Stewart, was so impressed by the athletic ability of de Klerk and another Kiwi, pitcher Joe Boyce, that he asked them both to move to Washington and play at his distinguished baseball club.
De Klerk and Boyce accepted the offer and are now living and breathing baseball every day in their new home.
"Even when we are not on the baseball field or at practice, we are either talking about baseball or something to do with it." The talented Kiwi catcher said.
Aside from being completely submersed in baseball, de Klerk is also experiencing a North American coaching style that is "much more firm" than its New Zealand counterpart.
"The coaches here are very blunt," the Kiwi said. "They'd rather be blunt and have you get better than be nice and have you suck all your life."
Both de Klerk and Boyce traveled to Guam earlier this month to play for their country in a qualifying tournament for the 18U [Baseball World Cup], to be held in Korea later this year. Their second-place finish in the tournament serves to highlight the improvements that international forces have already made to baseball in New Zealand.
While in Guam, de Klerk, Boyce, and the rest of the Junior Diamondblacks trained under the tutelage of Canadian head coach, Matt Mills. Having had previous experience with the Hamilton Ontario native (he was on the coaching staff of the 16U team that traveled to Seattle), de Klerk sees parallels between Mills' methods and those of his American instructors.
"[Mills] is similar to the coaches in the US," de Klerk said. "When he's coaching, he's focused on you."
The Canadian believes that de Klerk's exposure to the North American baseball system has helped him immensely.
According to Mills, players on the 18U national team who have spent time playing ball in the US are much more receptive to his own coaching simply because they understand that "this is a high level sport."
Mills also commented directly on the Chaffey baseball system itself.
"It's one of, if not the top baseball program in the pacific northwest." The Junior Diamondblacks manager said, adding that his starting catcher was a "major contributor" in Guam.
De Klerk hit 5-for-16 in the tournament with seven RBI. He recorded two doubles, walked eight times, and struck out only twice.
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Taken from Throwin' Smoke post by Melissa Couto |
Photos: Craig Malcolm
Melissa Couto is a budding sports writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @throwinsmoke
This story was not subject to the approval of Baseball New Zealand or its affiliates.