As our baseball programme grows, we will inevitably receive more recognition both domestically and globally. With this recognition comes more invitations for our national teams to prestigious tournaments. We have recently received such an invitation to the International Baseball Federation's (IBAF) 15U World Championships to take place later this year in Mexico.
The exact location and dates of this event are Chihuahua, Mexico from 16 - 26 August, and this represents the first ever invitation to a world championship event for our programme-a hugely important event for the present and future of New Zealand Baseball.
We were selected based on a number of criteria, including, but not limited to, New Zealand's profile, our ‘unique situation and continental balance', all of which we've been told were considered in the final selection process. The current list of 15U national teams participating in addition to New Zealand are Chinese Taipei, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Indonesia, Venezuela, Bahamas, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Lithuania, Ukraine, Uganda, Germany and Italy.
In a year when our 18U national team, the Junior Diamondblacks, finished with the silver medal in the Oceania Championships in January/February of this year and with our participation in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Taiwan in November - arguably the most important event in our programme's history - this invitation to Mexico represents a significant milestone.
However, the tournament in Mexico also presents something of a dilemma at the present time. The region in northern Mexico has been a recent hotbed of drug cartel-related violence, and we've learned that Australia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have pulled out of the tournament due to security concerns and their respective government warnings.
Currently, the Japan Baseball Federation is in the process of making a final determination about whether they will send a team, and the Americans are working with Major League Baseball and the Mexican Baseball Federation to send a security detail to Chihuahua to determine if the measures put in place would allow for an American team to travel to this tournament as well.
Other nations are waiting on this report, and the IBAF has recently sent us a letter from IBAF President Ricardo Fraccari that outlines ongoing meetings and planning session to ensure that proper security is in place for this tournament. We have been told to expect more documentation in the coming days or week that will be more detailed as far as security measures that will be implemented to ensure a safe and enjoyable tournament.
Still, the decision to send a delegation of 20 players, four coaches, a team executive officer and others is a very serious one for Baseball New Zealand's board of directors, and our organisation's leadership does not take this decision lightly.
The plan for this team was to once again select the top coaches in the country, hold national and regional tryouts for any and all New Zealanders who are eligible to represent the country, and go forward with a national team that is truly up to the task of competing in this nation's first ever baseball world championship.
However, due to the seriousness of this matter, we are obviously in a holding pattern. We are continuing to plan as if the team will be leaving for Mexico in mid-August; however, we are also preparing several additional scenarios that will include participation in another high profile tournament or competition, and the possibility that we will not send a team at this age group to a tournament this year.
The Baseball New Zealand board meets this coming week, and will continue to place a high priority on this decision-making process to ensure that we make the proper decision for our baseball programme - a decision that first and foremost will be based on the safety of our young people.
For your information, Australia's trip advisory to this region in northern Mexico was a warning level of 3 on a scale of 4, with 4 being most serious or dangerous, according to Australian Baseball Federation executives. New Zealand's government indicates on their web site that there is a ‘high risk to your security in the city of Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua due to the high level of drug-related violence and we advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel.
Additionally, our government web site indicates that the worst affected areas are the northern states of Mexico bordering the United States (Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas), including the cities of Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana, Mexicali, Matamoros, Nogales, Monterrey, Piedras Negras, Tampico and Reynosa. New Zealanders travelling through these states are advised to be vigilant about personal security at all times, stay alert to their surroundings, avoid any travel by road at night, travel in convoy where possible and avoid isolated areas. When driving, it is advisable to keep car doors locked and windows up at all times.
On behalf of Baseball New Zealand, thank you for your patience in this difficult process. We'll be in touch with everyone shortly about our final determination for our 15U National Baseball Team and our invitation to Mexico in August.