Dancing between victory and heartbreak is a baseball routine Daniel Lamb-Hunt continues to learn.
Recently, two days before he was due to fly out to Germany, his aspirations of a smooth travel were marred by an expired passport and a last-minute dash to Sydney making for "a very stressful day and a lesson learned" says Lamb-Hunt with a sign of relief from his adopted home in Bonn, Germany.
Back just in time to commence his third European stint, now with the Bonn Capitals, the Auckland-born righty is grateful to be right where he is. "The Northern League here in Germany is pretty good, the past few years the north has caught up with the Southern League, which has more money and more established clubs, and the game is a little bigger down there; it's definitely catching up" referencing their success last season, three out of the four teams in the finals hailed from the north. "The level of play here in Germany, is similar to the same level as the old Claxton Shield, with American imports pitching for almost every team. The level is a good challenge."
Although missing the beach-going Australian lifestyle, Lamb-Hunt was happy to spend his recent birthday at a place where he has quite the following, which the modest 25-year-old is hesitant to detail. Lamb-Hunt secured the affection of the passionate Europeans back in 2010 where he concluded the season leading Germany's Baseball-Bundesliga 1st division. The utility infielder batted .411 with seven homeruns, three triples, five doubles, 29 runs and 22 RBI in 28 games with the Pulheim Gophers, who resigned him in 2011 where he walked away, again, with best batter honours.
Lamb-Hunt's foray in to professional baseball was delayed but by no means accidental. Growing up, Lamb-Hunt identified himself as a fast pitch softballer and at age 17 made the fluid transition "I believe softball gave me a good base, and working at a high level with people like Nathan Nukunuku and Donny Hale, prepared me with a good work ethic, the game also provided me with the basic skills."
"When I was growing up I didn't have baseball, the only other Kiwi I knew playing the game was Travis Wilson with the [Atlanta] Braves, and he was overseas so I didn't know much about him". By lucky coincidence in 2005, Lamb-Hunt was signed by the Braves organization and credits Academy coaches Damien Shanahan and Brent Phelan with preparing him for this development.
"I don't think it's (softball) hampered me in anyway, just meant making a few more adjustments that a player coming up playing baseball wouldn't of had to deal with." The success of fellow New Zealander and Boston Red Sox prospect Te Wera Beau Bishop, who also made the crossover from softball, is a testament to this seemingly natural progression, a link Baseball New Zealand will no doubt be looking to invest in to grow.
The story of Lamb-Hunt and Baseball New Zealand runs parallel - although they are late to the table, they're rapidly progressing, eternally grateful for their achievements so far. "I'm living a dream - not the dream, as pro in the US would be the dream, but this lifestyle is very nice, this experience is a gift to see the world; it's always a good time".
Lamb-Hunt was the first player of New Zealand heritage to migrate to the Australian Baseball League and is fortunate enough to have the complete ABL experience, starting at the ACT Academy of Sport then the MLBAAP. Lamb-Hunt has competed for the coveted Claxton Shield and joined the Brisbane Bandits for two seasons. During his 2011/2012 stint, Lamb-Hunt was reunited with Auckland pitcher Andrew Marck.
This year will see Lamb-Hunt spread across the globe which started in Australia, now Germany and hopefully, will conclude in Taiwan for a World Baseball Classic qualifying shot as a Diamondblack; a busy schedule for a baseballer who started his career in adulthood.
"When I signed and made the switch to baseball, the game in New Zealand was very small, so I had to move to Australia to get what I needed. Now, I am proud to see the New Zealand game coming up in leaps and bounds. I am very excited to get back involved with my country of birth, a chance to represent them in November is very exciting and something I am working towards."
Reflecting on his success so far, his positivity is tinged with sadness "I'm always looking for an opportunity, but I have come to the fact that that time for me has passed, I would love to get over to the US and play a season but the game over there is so cutthroat. I am really happy doing what I'm doing now." Lamb-Hunt referring to potentially missing the metaphorical baseball boat to the Big League "Of course I'm always working towards it, it's still the main goal, I'm always looking for that opportunity to prove my worth."
In line with their development, fortunately for Lamb-Hunt and Baseball New Zealand, the opportunities to showcase their talent are a plenty; starting at the WBC qualifiers. Their future in the game is promising because already they've learnt the most important lesson of all: in between all of the heartbreak and victory in baseball, there's faith and a whole lot of hard work.