By Alexis Brudnicki / Melbourne Aces
The countdown to the Australian Baseball League season is dwindling down and with Opening Day not far away, the Melbourne Aces are looking forward to what could be the most exciting season in the history of the franchise.
With top-level talent from a number of professional affiliates rounding out a roster of Victoria’s best, the team is as competitive as ever, and club officials are enjoying what they’re seeing on paper as they look toward summer.
“This is an exciting time to be an Aces fan,” Melbourne General Manager Windsor Knox said. “We have a fantastic new manager in Tommy Thompson here to lead a great team of high-calibre affiliated prospects to join the talent we already have from around the state. We are all looking forward to what they can do and it’s not hard to have Claxton Shield hopes.”
Thompson has an extensive coaching and managing resume, with significant time in the Chicago White Sox organization, where he just finished up his North American season as the skipper of the Winston-Salem Dash in the Carolina League. He’s spent previous off-seasons around diamonds in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, and is looking forward to a winter down under.
“I’m excited for me and my wife to see the country of Australia and to have an opportunity to coach and manage and teach baseball, which I have been blessed to do all my life and I love doing it,” Thompson said.
“I’m excited to get this group of guys together – a lot of Australian players, a couple Japanese players, and some affiliated players from the Rangers, the Phillies and the White Sox – and try to mould and get them to play as a team, compete and win games. Hopefully we get to the playoffs and eventually win the championship.”
Melbourne’s roster is certainly not short on talent. Along with the Aussie staples Aces fans have become accustomed to cheering on at the ballpark, including but not limited to Brad Harman, Darryl George, Sam Gibbons, Dan McGrath, Lewis Thorpe, Aaron Sayers and Ryan Dale, the team is joined by several high-round MLB draft selections and prospects.
Former first-rounder Kyle Heckathorn will lead the Aces pitching staff after finishing up his most recent season in Triple-A with the Nashville Sounds, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. He’ll throw to Chace Numata, a Philadelphia Phillies prospect who will catch the majority of games after an injury-plagued year.
Fellow Phils farmhand and second-rounder Dylan Cozens will spend time in the outfield at Melbourne Ballpark this season. The Texas Rangers are sending former first-rounder and slugger Kellin Deglan and second-round hurler Cody Buckel.
Thompson hosted two tryouts at Melbourne Ballpark on the 17th and 18th of November where his dedication and passion for the game was on display both nights. The 57-year-old manager certainly doesn’t lack fire, but has a jovial demeanour that aids his teaching prowess, and keeps the game light-hearted for the players.
“Windsor Knox has put together a good bunch of players and now it’s up to me to manage them and mould them and help them win,” Thompson said. “The pressure is a little bit on me…I’ve talked to most of the guys who are coming and I’ve got a pretty good rapport with them right now. We’re going to have fun, we’re going to compete, and we’re going to win some baseball games.”
The team’s new manager is looking forward to getting to know both the players and staff he will be working with for the fifth season of the league, and will look for assistance from the locals as he attempts to figure out the lay of the land.
“I’m going to lean on some of the Australian players who have been there and have some experience,” Thompson said. “I’m going to use the people I know over there and talk to them a lot to get information to help give me experience. Baseball is baseball; so when the game starts, I’ll feel comfortable.”
Thompson has already read up on the history of the league and is looking forward to potentially unseating the reigning champions and starting a new dynasty in Melbourne.
“I heard Perth has been the best team for years,” Thompson said. “I’ve learned about the league a little bit already, the competition; the level of play. But we have good players here and I want us to be competitive, and I want us to win.”
“Best seven weeks of my life,” says women’s athlete star, Leigh Godfrey.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Success with Australia’s women’s national baseball and softball teams at the world championships this summer has entered Leigh Godfrey into the history books as the first player ever to medal at a baseball world championship and a softball world championship.
Godfrey was a representative of Softball Australia’s squad, which captured the bronze medal in the XIV Women’s World Softball Championship that was held in Haarlem, Netherlands in August. A few weeks later, Godfrey, a native softball player, won a bronze medal as a member of Baseball Australia at the Women’s Baseball World Cup in Miyazaki, Japan.
“I’m just trying to get both sports connected and have the opportunity to do it at an international stage,” Godfrey said, “and I am glad to represent my country in doing so.
Godfrey said the whirlwind experience of competing and medaling in two world championships was “fantastic” and the “best seven weeks of my life”.
With baseball and softball completing a historic merger to form the World Baseball Softball Confederation back in May, Godrey was keen to point out the potential benefits and synergy of the union.
“With baseball and softball working together, there will be more opportunities to develop and grow the sport than if each sport were to do it alone,” according to the 25-year-old. “Together there are twice as many resources.”
The Australian star believes baseball and softball are very accessible and easy to learn sports that “can be played by anyone”.
As a young girl, Godfrey was attracted to the bat-and-ball because of the team environment, good values, fun and enjoyable atmosphere of being at the ballpark.
Regarding baseball/softball’s potential return to the biggest stage on earth, the Olympic Games, Godfrey was hopeful.
“It’s the pinnacle for any athlete,” she expressed.
While the Australian slugger hasn’t yet had the honour to represent Australia at the Games, she confirms it’s a target.
“Hopefully we´re back for Tokyo and I can experience what everyone envisions.”
Speaking about the excitement that baseball and softball could bring to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and having just won the bronze medal in Japan, Godfrey was as confident in her remarks as she is on the baseball and softball fields.
“It´s massively important and the biggest sport in the country. [For Tokyo 2020, baseball and softball] would attract great crowds and leave a mark and influence on the game.”
Matt Kennelly, who is entering his age-26 season, has been re-signed by the Atlanta Braves.
Matt was with the Braves’ organisation since 2007 before being released and signing with the Reds early in the 2013 season. He was then re-signed by the Braves last year and spent the whole season in AA where he hit .266 in 68 games.
In 8 minor league seasons he is a lifetime .246 hitter with 19 HR and 172 RBI.
ABL fans can expect to see him with the Perth Heat again this season.
The blazing bat of Jake Turnbull has swung the Perth teenager’s life dreams into a Major League Baseball reality.
By STEVE BUTLER/The West Australian
Turnbull signed a contract yesterday, believed to offer a six-figure sum, to join the Cincinnati Reds – a move that also triggered a deal to play this season with reigning Australian Baseball League champions Perth Heat.
It will pitch the Koondoola 16-year-old, rated by Perth Heat coach Steve Fish as having the best batting swing he had ever seen in an Australian junior, to the brink of stardom in the sport he has loved since he was nine.
He will join Heat’s senior squad for the new season that starts on Friday week and will also play for his local Wanneroo club before heading to the Reds in March.
“It’s an awesome opportunity and I just can’t wait to get over there and start a career in what I love doing,” Turnbull said, suggesting Year 12 studies and any thoughts of plying a trade as an electrician were now finished.
“Baseball became the choice when I really didn’t like anything else and I seemed to be pretty good at it. Apparently, Cincinnati is an awesome place to be and I’m super excited.”
Turnbull said a positional move, changing from being a middle-infielder to catcher in the past two years, had been instrumental in his fielding offers from six MLB clubs before deciding on the Reds deal.
Fish, who first started grooming Turnbull when he was a “pee-wee”, said his protege was a serious talent.
Wealth of experience at every level mirrors a staff from the “Show”
By Dan Vaughan / Perth Heat
The number 674 may mean absolutely nothing to fans of the Perth Heat. Yet those random figures are what give the Heat coaching staff as “Big League” of a makeup as any in baseball world wide.
When the Heat take the field to defend their Claxton Shield they will be led by Manager Steve Fish and a staff at his side of pitching coach Graeme Lloyd with 568 Major League games under his belt and Hitting Instructor Luke Hughes with 106 games played in the “show”. Then you factor in long time Minor League coach Jim Bennett with 16 years of dugout experience and you have a carbon copy of a Major League staff all be it smaller in size.
Taking a look at the coaching staffs around the Big Leagues it is common to have Major League alums holding down key coaching positions on the bench during the season. That does not mean that all managers and coaches are former Big Leaguers. Most MLB staffs have a mix of former Big Leaguers and former Minor Leaguers who make up the staffing needs of the “big clubs.”
The two teams who are squaring off in the American League Championship Series in the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals fit the mold that coaching staffs are in the MLB today. There is no shortage of former Big Leaguers leading the teams in the post season but Baltimore “Skipper” Buck Showalter never made it to the Big Leagues. But Showalter can draw on 793 games played in the minors and a staff full of service time at the games highest level to round out his staff.
Of the 10 coaches the two top spots are held by Hitting Coach Jim Presley 959 career games and Pitching Coach Dave Wallace with 13 games in the Majors and another 363 in the Minors. Of the remaining eight on staff three are career Minor League players with the other six having time in the Majors. That is basically on a smaller scale what Heat fans will see in their coaching staff this season.
The Heat field staff will have a total of 674 games in the “show” to draw experience from and to pass on down to the “Boys from WA”. That number includes a blend of old and new staff and a philosophy in place making a spot on the Perth bench the best in the ABL. “We work collaboratively with the Baseball Operations management to assess staffing and look to what we need from a leadership and instruction point of view and we think we have achieved this for the future,” said General Manager Lachlan Dale on the Heat staff.
The names of Fish, Lloyd and Hughes have been a part of the Heat in some form or fashion since the rebirth of the ABL. Continuity is something the Heat share with their partners the Orioles. The Showalter staff is heading to their fifth season together in 2015 in some form or another. “(Continuity) Is very important. We need to keep a consistent high level of expectation across coaching staff and players. If we lose sight of this, our programs suffer. We are confident our processes are strong and will look to continue to develop other coaches from state programs such as Mark Pettit, Andy Kyle and Rod Drew for the future,” added Dale.
There is a monumental task at hand in replacing long time Hitting Instructor Greg Jelks who took over for Carine in the State League. The Heat did not have to look far to find a voice that will need no introduction in Luke Hughes. Steve Fish saw firsthand what kind of addition the man who homered in his first Big League game would be this season as a player/coach for Perth. “We are extremely lucky in the fact that we have a player with such vast experience. Luke helped us in our Elite Winter program this year and does a fantastic job with the young guys, and we have several of them coming through soon.” Fish added for good measure, “Of course, and he garners the respect of the older guys as well.”
Hughes who is eight games shy of 100 career ABL games played will inherit a cupboard that is not bare. With a roster full of returning faces including his own bat the veteran leader will take over an offence that was tops in the ABL hitting .275 with a total of 34 homeruns just one behind Melbourne who led the league. The Heat were the only ABL club to reach 400 hits last season for a total of 419 and with 222 runs also was first in runs scored. “Luke will be great in this role going forward as he has been working with many of the young players over the past few seasons. His professional experience and enthusiasm is infectious and will prove valuable throughout the season,” said Lachlan Dale.
The WA Hughes native hit .337 in 2010 for the Heat and followed that with a .344 clip in 2011. In 2012 Hughes hit .247 with a career high for Perth 22 RBI but was banged up for most of the year and never really was able to hit his stride. The former Minnesota Twin then followed that up last season at full strength hitting .269 and was the heart and soul of the club as the Heat claimed another title.
The thinking among the Heat brass is that this is a natural move for Hughes career according to Chairman Geoff Hooker. “We saw with Greg Jelks how significant a focus on mental approach can be. Luke is going to bring a new generation of mental approach to the entire line up. I think he also made a few physical adjustments that contributed to his success in reaching the big leagues. Even more importantly, he’s been able to articulate the flaws in his game that contributed to his occasional struggles at the big league level.”
From a Perth perspective the sky is the limit with what Hughes can bring to the organization and to the type of impact he can have going forward. “Over the next year or two, he’s going to figure out how all this knowledge can impact our elite players. It’s really exciting!'” exclaimed Hooker. “Luke is a very personable guy and this will again continue from his playing role in the clubhouse to the coaching role,” added Dale.
The Heat will once again welcome a true Australian sports legend to guide the pitching staff in Graeme Llyod and his pair of World Series rings with the New York Yankees. [More...]
Fifteen players from four different countries look to find spot on Aces roster
To begin the first stage of their two-day open tryout process, the Melbourne Aces had 15 impressive participants from four different countries show up at Melbourne Ballpark on Friday evening.
Led by new skipper Tommy Thompson, the Aces field staff welcomed a dozen pitchers, two position players, one catcher and a hybrid two-way player in the first wave of participants looking to play professional baseball in Melbourne.
For Thompson, most recently the manager of the Winston-Salem Dash (single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox), day one of tryouts showcased a group of talent that far surpassed his expectations coming into the process.
“We saw a lot of arms, a lot of potential,” said Thompson. “The talent seen tonight not only impressed myself but John Hussey, Scott (Wearne), Mick (Wearne) and the rest of the staff.”
According to Thompson, quite a few players have been circled down to be followed up with, and the team intends to contact them in the future.
With a handful of local products at Friday’s tryout, lefty Andrew Chesterton headlined the list of players who were able to showcase their talents to the Aces field staff. Hailing from right here in Melbourne, the southpaw standing 6′ 3″ didn’t start pitching until his was 18 because of a late growth spurt. The 25-year-old currently pitches for the highly competitive Doncaster Dragons baseball club in Victoria.
As one of the few American imports at an Australian Baseball League tryout open to the public, corner infielder Jordan Liester’s play on the field was just as impressive as his overall background. Born and raised in the United States, the Colorado native came over to Australia on his own dime to pursue professional baseball across the world. While playing primarily first and third base, the tall righty also impressed on the mound, pitching for the first time since his college days at Division II Colorado Mesa. Since trekking to Oz, Liester has been playing for the Malvern Braves.
To round out the potential prospects, outfielder Nick Rossell, along with left-handed pitchers Daniel Chircop and Andrew Petri, also impressed the staff.
Overall, Thompson and the rest of his staff have high hopes for the crop of talent coming through Melbourne Ballpark over the weekend.
“Usually, in some tryouts, you don’t sign guys,” said the Aces manager. “This one was valuable enough that you will see some participants playing for the Melbourne Aces this season.”
With the majority of pitchers and catchers concluding their tryouts on Friday, the Aces also welcomed a second day of tryouts on Saturday afternoon. Slated primarily for position players, the final day of tryouts featured three position players from the Sandringham baseball club.
The Aces will open up their home slate of baseball in Melbourne on November 7th against the Brisbane Bandits. First pitch is at 7:35 PM.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Aussie legend Graeme Lloyd it seems. He tells much about his career in Nicholas Henning’s latest literary offering, Aussie Baseball Musings, but perhaps the most surprising thing was to learn that in his early days with the Yankees he tells of seeing himself on the back of the local press as “The Blunder from Down Under” and “The Graeme Reaper”. Clearly he wasn’t pitching so well for the Yankees at that stage when the playoffs were just starting in 1996 and in typical NY fashion he was earmarked for abuse. It says a lot about the man that he overcame those initial misgivings to pitch in four games in the 1996 World Series and not give up a hit.
Nicholas has written about the two ABL’s and also focusses on many of the players who have left Australia for the MLB, ‘chasing their dream’. He explores their trials and tribulations in the ‘slave labour’ environment of the minor leagues. His conversations with and about players range from those who were in the vanguard of our attempts to get an Aussie into the big leagues like Phil Dale, Paul Elliott, Matthew Gourlay, Brendan Kingman, Craig Lewis, Mark Marino, Brett Roneberg and Adrian Meagher up to the youngsters who are currently plying their trade in the minor leagues and independent leagues like James Beresford, Daniel McGrath, Ryan Searle, Lewis Thorpe and the Kennelly clan.
Australia has experienced mixed results on the world stage including the Olympics and Nicholas outlines the problems faced by teams over the years including when ex pros were excluded from selection by the then anachronistic rules of the International Baseball Federation up to our unexpected but more than welcome Silver Medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004. The description of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 by Aussie Jason Hewitt is personal, descriptive and dramatic.
Of course our former and current Aussie Major Leaguers are mentioned but there are also many players who have slipped under the media radar that Nicholas has tracked down, Players like Matthew Fawcett, Alex Johnson, Richard Olson and Trent Schmutter talk to Nicholas about their personal journeys through college and/or the ABL which has, among other things, become a fertile field for ex pros to get another opportunity; players like Steve Kent and Todd Van Steensel for example. It’s the personal stories that Nicholas has obtained that makes his book such interesting reading as he clearly has personal access to many of the players and his passion for the game permeates every chapter.
It’s well worth the read. The only criticism is the lack of an index making it hard to pinpoint the sections on individual players.
- Please refer to this link to purchase a copy of Aussie Baseball Musings.
Morgan Coombs (P)
26 year old Coombs represents the Gary SouthShore RailCats in the American Association, and has represented the RailCats since 2011.
Coombs made 23 starting appearances for the RailCats in 2014, finishing with a record of 7-9 and an ERA of 5.40. Coombs proved his worth as a durable option for the RailCats, tossing an average of just over 6 innings per start.
He undertook Tommy John surgery and also had to surgically repair a torn ACL before returning to baseball in 2011.
Adelaide Bite Coach Brooke Knight was looking forward to the prospect of working with Coombs again, “I had Morgan at Corvallis, and he’s a quality guy. He’s got a solid arm which we expect will be a mainstay on the mound for us this season.”
Source: Adelaide Bite
By Tom “Sparrow” Handley / Sydney Blue Sox
Blue Sox fans saw some fresh new faces take the field when they kicked off their 2014/15 season at Blue Sox Stadium Saturday night in an anything but normal exhibition game against the Penrith Panthers State League side which ended in a 2-2 tie.
The two sides flooded were with current and future Blue Sox players as Sydney Manager Jason Pospshil used the opportunity to give playing time to some of the young and prospective Blue Sox.
The game was a pitching duel with both starters locked in from the beginning, Sox starter Craig Anderson and Penrith ace Aaron Sookee kept the game scoreless until Alex Howe scored the opening run in the fifth.
A lead-off walk and stolen base saw Howe move to scoring position before he was finally singled home by Cameron Power who lined one into right field, giving Sydney an early 1-0 lead.
Penrith didn’t say die, testing the professional side scoring two runs in the eighth inning to capture a late 2-1 lead.
Jacob Younis led off the eighth with a sharp single, advancing to third on a steal and throwing error from Sox catcher Alex Howe, who started the game in left-field.
James Vergos tied the game scoring Younis from third, Penrith scored their second run of the inning when John Collins singled scoring Alex Johnston from second, giving Penrith a 2-1 lead.
Sydney retaliated in the home half of the eighth loading the bases with no outs following a Trent D’Antonio single and back-to-back errors from the Penrith defense. D’Antonio would then score from third on a Jordan Lindsay sacrifice fly off Dae-Sung Koo, tying the game at two.
Both teams failed to get anything started in the final frame, ending the closely contested exhibition in a tie.
The Blue Sox take the field again next weekend in a two game exhibition series against the State League All-Stars at Blue Sox Stadium
Former coach of Heat Manager Steve Fish
By Dan Vaughan / Perth Heat
When the Perth Heat needed to round out their field staff for the 2014-2015 Australian Baseball League season Manager Steve Fish dug back into his own playing career to fill that spot. The Heat will welcome long time Minor League coach Jim Bennett to complete the coaching staff. Bennett will be taking over for Greg Jelks as an assistant/Bench coach and will join Pitching Coach Graeme Lloyd and Hitting Instructor Luke Hughes on the Perth bench.
Making his first stop in the ABL Jim Bennett comes to Perth after working stateside in the US Minor Leagues from 1992-2007. Bennett has served on the staffs of minor league affiliates of the Angels, A’s, Rockies, Padres and Giants during his career including serving as Pitching Coach for the 1998 Cedar Rapids Kernels where Heat Manger Steve Fish played during the same season.
“Jim (Bennett) has coached in the minor leagues for 20 years now in the Angels and Rockies organizations. Nobody is as lucky as we are to have such a wealth of experience,” said Heat Manger Steve Fish. General Manager Lachlan Dale said, “We work collaboratively with the Baseball Operations management to assess staffing and look to what we need from a leadership and instruction point of view, we think we have achieved this for the future.”
Bennett took a few years off to watch his own boy play baseball and worked at the local college level but has plans to get back into the US Minor Leagues next season following his first season in WA. The veteran of 16 seasons in the Minors began his coaching career in 1992 with Lethbridge of the Rookie level Pioneer League. He then followed that with six seasons as a pitching coach in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim system, making stops at Rookie level Mesa (1993-94), Short A Boise (1995-96), Single A Lake Elsinore (1997) and Single A Cedar Rapids (1998).
Bennett spent one season with the Oakland A’s Single A club Visalia in the California League in 2000 then moved on to the Colorado Rockies organization with stops at Short A Tri-City in 2001, Single A Asheville in 2002 and Single A Visalia in 2003-04. In 2005 Bennett spent the season with Rookie Level Peoria the San Diego Padres rookie team of the AZL.
The most recent stop for Bennett was as the pitching coach of the San Jose Giants the San Francisco Giants entry in the California League in 2006 and 2007. He played four season as a professional concluding his career in Florence, Italy.
Dan Vaughan is the “Voice of the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat” and co-host of Talking Baseball Australia. Based in D/FW, Texas and working hard to return for 14-15 to Perth he keeps Australia posted on all things between the lines world wide with the Heat. DV can be found on Twitter at @DanVaughtwitter or @tbaustralia