Kiwi-born San Jose Giants Manager returns to fulfil dream of leading Diamondblacks in World Baseball Classic.
It's a dream come true for homegrown San Jose Giants manager Andy Skeels as he returns to his birthplace after being successfully recruited as manager to lead the Diamondblacks to their first ever World Baseball Classic, baseball's marquee international event and true world cup.
Paraparaumu-born Skeels is technically the first New Zealander to have ever been drafted by, and play for, a Major League Baseball organization, and the first, and only, to have managed a professional baseball organization in any major league around the world.
As Kiwi kids spent their Saturday mornings scoring tries on the rugby field, Skeels was scoring runs on the diamond in America's favourite game, baseball. An All-American at the University of Arkansas, Skeels a former catcher, went on to play 12 years of professional baseball with the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
After hanging up his cleats, Skeels-still passionate about baseball-made the switch to managing and, after a short spell at the now defunct Montreal Expos, was signed by the Giants for the short season A level team in Augusta, Georgia. Skeels led his team to a championship win that year, earning the Kiwi born manager a promotion to the High-A San Jose Giants team. Another championship followed a World Series ring in 2010, leading Skeels and his troops to be honoured as the Class A Advanced Team of the Year in 2011 after a 90-win campaign that once again resulted in a playoff berth.
Skeels attributes his successes to the Giants commitment to the development of their coaches which has seen them voted baseball's Organization of the Year 3 times in the last 5 years and also his Wellington-born father, a man he says who "truly enriched the world with his gifts of poetry, music and his dedication to humanity and was always my inspiration for excellence."
The invitation by Major League Baseball to compete in the World Baseball Classic is a major coup for baseball in New Zealand and recognition of the exploding popularity of the summer sport across New Zealand as well as the recent signings of three teen age baseball players by Major League Baseball teams and a dozen more by colleges across the United States. The opportunity to step onto the world stage and mix it up with the best of the best will be a huge challenge for New Zealand's young national team, but Skeels is quick to point out the country's long history of world class athletes and sees this as an "epic chance" for baseball in New Zealand.
Skeels believes it's the perfect moment for the nation's baseball program to develop its own world class baseball talent, gain valuable experience and most importantly, "give the Diamondblacks a view from the mountain top to dream bigger than they ever imagined and ultimately inspire a whole new generation of kids to embrace the great game of baseball."
With the Qualifying Tournament taking place in Taiwan in November, pitting New Zealand against the host nation, ranked seventh in the world, as well as Thailand and the Philippines, Skeels is in the country this week to conduct a nationwide search for New Zealand's top baseball talent. Auckland hosts the first trial on Saturday, 22 September followed by Wellington and Christchurch on Sunday 23, September.
"We will work very hard and come into this tournament prepared to put a winning team on the field," Skeels said. "We won't just "show up" because we got invited. No, be assured that we will play hard, all 27 outs, with courage, passion and purpose because that's inspiring and respect for the game demands it".