PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL LEAGUE LOOKING TO EXPAND WITH EMPHASIS ON ATTRACTING A NEW ZEALAND TEAM TO THE COMPETITION
Baseball in New Zealand is on the short list to enter a team in the Australian Baseball League (ABL), a major development in baseball’s quick ascent in New Zealand that would establish a domestic pathway for the country’s growing ranks of top collegiate and professional prospects.
The latest edition of the ABL opens this week with games across Australia, and with clear indicators now from Baseball Australia that an opening exists for a New Zealand-based franchise to gain entry in the near-term, Baseball New Zealand officials and stakeholders believe the timing is perfect for the sport and the country.
“This is something we have been working towards for a very long time,” said Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn, who received the official letter from his Baseball Australia counterpart Cam Vale last week. “To have a professional minor league-type set up in Auckland will give thousands upon thousands of baseball players in this country something to aim for domestically to prepare them properly for their next steps in the game. And for fans of the sport, and many new fans coming to this great game, they’ll be able to see world class competition up close—and this is a world class league, make no mistake.”
Baseball Australia is announcing their expansion plans for 2018/19 season and beyond, and in the letter to Flynn, Vale said, “This letter represents formally and officially that we would like Baseball NZ to consider being one of the expansion teams. NZ teams in Australian competitions has occurred frequently over the last decade with great success. I would like Baseball to now start that journey,” Vale indicated.
“Whilst our desire is for you (Baseball New Zealand) to be part of our 2018/19 expansion, we will work closely with you on a longer term if it was deemed to be too soon for this first round of expansion,” he added, ensuring that the door is open for next season or beyond, based on New Zealand’s ability to put the pieces in place to properly host a professional team for several months each year.
“This will undoubtedly be one of the tipping points for the sport in New Zealand,” said Flynn, who added that he has a great deal of faith in Baseball Australia’s leadership to strengthen a league that is dotted with Australia’s best professional talent and import players from Major League Baseball and the top professional baseball leagues in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. “With a professional pathway right on our doorstep, this will open doors that many locally based players have never been exposed to and we will be doing everything we can to make this happen.”
Flynn said this next generation of Kiwi ballplayers would now be able to begin training at a national facility and prepare for world class competition at home during our summer months, something that has not existed until this offer was extended. “We’ve had a difficult time locking down our talent during this extreme period of growth,” added Flynn. “With a professional franchise in place, like the Breakers or Warriors, we’ll be able to properly encourage and train the next generation of Kiwi baseball players, and we know that we have Major League talent in this country. Australia has developed 33 Major League Baseball players while we have similar talent here, we are certain, and this is the game changer for the program.”
Proposed entry in to the ABL has come at a time when the organisation is in lengthy discussions with Auckland Council and Regional Facilities Auckland to identify land for a facility capable of not only hosting ABL games, but also international baseball, camps, clinics, national championship events, including Ripken (Babe Ruth), Pony Baseball, Little League and World Baseball Softball Confederation events, all of which Flynn said will become a distinct possibility with this ‘boutique’ facility in place.
“We need a proper minor league standard facility to be able to showcase the sport as it should be to sports fans in this country, and to provide fans with a great environment to watch the best baseball this part of the world has to offer,” Flynn said. “I’m confident we can raise the capital to fund the design and construction of this venue. All we need is the land now, and I’m confident this will be available soon, too.”
“The timeline looks aggressive, but we’ve been diligently and quietly building up to this point behind the scenes for many years now, and if we can all (baseball community and sports fans in general) get behind this, we can do a lot in a very short period of time—and change a lot of lives in the process for our talented young baseball players.”