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- Published on Sunday, 29 July 2012 23:37
- Written by Anna James
Players returning from all corners of the globe to make Baseball New Zealand history
In what is already shaping up to be a monumental year for Baseball New Zealand, three former Australian Baseball League (ABL) players could be important components in making 2012 even more successful for the sport of baseball in the country.
Currently playing on different continents across the world, Daniel Lamb-Hunt, Tim Auty, and Boss Moanaroa will be looking to reunite on their family's home turf of New Zealand in September to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) qualifiers later this year.
2012 marks the first time New Zealand has been invited to qualify for the WBC, and the first time a New Zealand men's team, the Diamondblacks, will compete at the international level, and for those men chosen, an historical honour.
Auckland born and bred, Mt Albert-native Daniel Lamb-Hunt's transition from softball to baseball began as an adult, yet despite his late start, he has received some well-earned breaks and accolades over the years.
"I hadn't touched a baseball before being signed" said the 25-year-old slugger who was signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and that began a three-year career with the well-respected Major League Baseball organisation.
Lamb-Hunt is currently mid-season and gaining some experience from fellow teammate Bradley Robert-Huber, who spent time with the New York Mets.
"I'm working with him daily to build on a consistent swing... It's been a tough ride [in Germany] but I feel I'll be good for the playoffs and then the qualifiers."
"I'm really working on my outfield skills. I've been playing all season out in left for my team, getting good at taking routes and tracking the ball, and my arm is getting a lot stronger every week I'm out there."
Off the field, Lamb-Hunt is in the gym 3-4 times a week, focusing on leg work and trimming down slightly "I'm focusing on gaining strength and speed coming up to the latter end of the year."
Lamb-Hunt is ready to add another highlight to his playing portfolio.
"I've represented New Zealand before with junior softball teams and it's a great feeling, but to do it at this level [in baseball] will be unreal."
"Hopefully all goes well and I'll be there, to represent my family, my friends, and my country on the world stage."
"What an honour it would be".
Sydney-bred Auty's shot at the black jersey on the other hand is in part to prove his development to himself and his New Zealand relatives.
"My dad was born there, so [the qualifiers] would mean a lot to his side of the family" said Auty.
While having established a successful career in construction management, baseball will always be a constant for the right-handed slugger who at only 26 years of age has years of solid baseball experience under his belt.
"I've been playing baseball for 20 years. I started when I was five, playing for my local team Thornleigh; I played with all my school friends from the area which essentially was the reason why I started."
Auty represented New South Wales throughout the junior and senior grades, taking the field twice for Australia, and was signed twice to minor league contracts, first in 2003 with the Seattle Mariners, and in 2006 with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007 Auty joined the Evansville Otters Frontier League independent team.
Signed to the Sydney Blue Sox in the inaugural season of the newly revived ABL, Auty concluded the season with disappointing results, and many of his supporters commented that his final statistics weren't indicative of his true potential, giving Auty the motivation to prove his worth once again.
The WBC tryouts are the perfect opportunity.
"I'm just focusing on getting my body ready for the qualifiers. I took a summer season off last year for work and uni, so getting back into baseball shape is my number one priority" said Auty, whose participation in the Quakers Hill Pirates Sydney Winter Baseball League team is assisting his transformation.
"There are quite a few guys that have been team mates of mine before, so I would have to say the Moanaroa brothers, Richard Olsen, and (former San Diego Padres minor leaguer) Riki Paewai," Auty said of the possibility of being reunited with some of the New Zealand players in September.
"I am also looking forward to see some of the other baseball talent that New Zealand has to offer."
"This is an exciting time for baseball, especially in New Zealand."
Boss Moanaroa, who recently turned 21, is also looking forward to seeing Auty and the other boys he grew up competing with, especially playing ball with his brother Moko once again. Both Moanaroas were signed by the Boston Red Sox only months apart several years back by top regional Red Sox scout Jon Deeble.
Born in Belmont, NSW, Australia, Boss is spending the season in South Carolina in the US, manning first base for the Red Sox High A minor league affiliate Greenville Drive.
Moanaroa's father, hailing from Ngaruawahia in the Waikato, and his mother, born in nearby Hamilton, supported him as he joined his first baseball team at age 9, the Toronto Tigers. Now, with his family thousands of miles away, Moanaroa relies on the support of his team.
"I'm working on my whole game right now with the coaching staff on my team; they are really helpful and I've been improving a lot as the season goes on.
"My fitness right now is good as I'm in season, and post-season I'll have a little time off, then I'll get ready for the WBC qualifiers" said the determined Maori role model, who cites Albert Pujols as his favourite MLB player.
"It's not my birth country but it will mean a lot to my whole family in Australia and New Zealand."
"I'm really proud of getting a chance at the qualifiers; it will show that New Zealand has some good players."