U23 Development team Adelaide bound
- Published on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 02:48
- Written by Melissa Couto
From April 6 through 9, New Zealand's under-23 Diamondblacks Development Team, selected from talented ball players across the nation, will travel to Adelaide to compete in Australia's National U23 Championship tournament against five teams of highly skilled Australians.
They're not too worried though.
Among those heading to Adelaide this weekend is the confident Jamie Wilson, a pitcher on the New Zealand squad who has experienced this kind of competition before.
"This year the tournament is going to be awesome!" Wilson exclaimed when asked about his hopes for what will be his fourth appearance at the Australian contest (and his second at the U23 level). "We have a great squad with a great amount of skill, great pitching and our sticks are alive!"
Head Coach John Fellet, who is also the manager of the National Championship-winning Howick Pakuranga baseball club on which Wilson plays, believes his pitcher could emerge as one of New Zealand's shining stars.
"Jamie Wilson is a multi-dimensional talent. He is a talented pitcher, a great catcher and can hit the ball, but more importantly, he is a team player," Fellet said.
The 22-year-old certainly has a lot more to look forward to this time around.
"At the last U23 Tournament, Jamie's pitching debut was rained out. He had a good tournament as a hitter and catcher but did not get a chance to pitch," Coach Fellet explained. "The other teams will not be that lucky this time."
Since last year's competition, Wilson has gained a significant amount of pitching experience while playing for the Beenleigh Hawks, a team in the Brisbane Major League.
"I loved playing ball in Australia. It was great to play against new faces and to hear from different coaches," he said of his time with Beenleigh. "The coach of the Hawks used to be a Triple-A pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, so I got a great opportunity to improve my pitching.
"Having the chance to start every week was also important," the right-hander added. "In baseball more game-time is the key to getting better."
In accordance with this sentiment, Wilson elatedly expressed his desire to get on the mound in Adelaide.
"I am most excited about getting on the bump over there and proving myself on the larger stage," the Auckland native said. "I want to compare my skills to the best of the Australians."
As the only non-Australian team in the competition, New Zealand will be playing for a lot more than the Oliver Shield once it touches down at Christie Downs Baseball Complex.
"Baseball New Zealand has worked hard to develop a career path for our players," Fellet said of the significance of the tournament. "One of our future goals is to have a team in the Australian Baseball League. A series of successful U23 campaigns will be the best indicator of our ability to compete with them at that level."
A respectable performance in Adelaide may also spark personal benefits for the players themselves.
"This tournament led to several of our players getting picked up by Australian teams last year, and though our roster is young, they are a group who want more out of the game of baseball," Ryan Flynn, CEO of Baseball NZ said. "Quite a few of the players expect to go to colleges in America and Canada to play baseball, and some of them will naturally trial for our WBC qualifying team heading to Taiwan in November."
Although New Zealand's performance in last year's Australian National Tournament was less than ideal, finishing with one tie and four losses, the Kiwi team did manage to bask in some satisfaction.
"A definite highlight last year was seeing everyone's faces when we tied the first game of the competition against the favourites [Western Australia]," Wilson said. In that game, he recorded one hit and one run in three at-bats.
With a crew of hugely talented players by his side, including a 22-year-old ABL pitcher (Andrew Marck), an 18-year-old Auckland Baseball Association champion and MVP (Scott Drinkwater), and a 19-year-old outfielder slated to join the Perth Heat training and development team on its 30-game USA tour this June (Dan Bradley), Wilson is confident in New Zealand's ability to perform better this time around.
"It's a great competition for us. We are a young group of guys and we'll be much more competitive [this year]," Wilson pledged. "Being a minority in this game is great; the underdog label is nothing but motivation!"
Coach Fellet also assures that his team, whose progress can be tracked on the tournament's official website, won't be discouraged by the stiff competition awaiting them in Adelaide.
"I have been coaching Kiwis for 20 years," he said. "They may get beaten but they are seldom intimidated."
By Melissa Couto |
Melissa Couto is a budding sports writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @throwinsmoke
This story was not subject to the approval of Baseball New Zealand or its affiliates.