The fairy tale continues for John Holdzkom

Understand this.   The Pirates are in a race to the play-offs and every win is crucial.   At the beginning of this game against the Braves their magic number was  3 as they battle to be one of two wild card teams in the National League play-offs.holdzkom3A

The score is 1-0 in their favour and its the 8th.   Pressure, pressure!  So who do they now turn to?   John Holdzkom of course as his unique and remarkable story continues.   Well he did the job, facing 4 and whilst allowing a 2 out single never looked out of place on the mound in this pressure cooker game.   You will need to go a long way back into the history books to find a story like this one.   From Independent Ball to possible Major League post season, its unlikely that there has ever been such a story.

The Pirates won the game, John earned his 4th Hold, and their magic number is now down to 2.   John Holdzkom could well be suiting up for post season play next week.   Stay tuned.

Umpire Jon Byrne called back to the Majors

byrneIt’s been quite a good year for Perth umpire Jon Byrne.   He became the first Australian Major League umpire when he was sent up briefly back in May.

He then was chosen to umpire in the AAA Championship series and now has been sent back up to the Majors for today’s Twins/D’Backs game at Minnesota before finishing the season with the Mets.

Opportunities like this don’t come around for too many people.

There is only a small number of umpires required in the Major (74) and Minor leagues (30 in AAA).

Plus because of the financial windfall (full-time MLB umpires can earn more than the majority of AFL footballers) that can come with regular appearances behind the mound at the top level, umpires don’t tend to hang up their face masks too often.

Australian women’s bronze – first fully-funded women’s national team

emeralds7By Alexis Brudnicki/

As the host team of the sixth-ever IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup, Japan was on a mission to not only win the tournament but to leave an impression on the home crowd in the hopes that many young women might be influenced to pursue the male-dominated sport further.

Winning its fourth consecutive World Cup championship and keeping the gold medal in its own country, Team Japan did just that. In her 12th year with the squad, Risa Nakashima has played in all six world competitions and will retire satisfied after the one that took place in Miyazaki from Sept. 1-7.

“There aren’t many differences from the last World Cup, but the manager has been telling us that we need to be a good team, not just great players, and that more of a team effort is important … and we did that,” Nakashima said. “I think this is my last one so I’m hoping that more young girls will start playing from watching this tournament.”

Team USA lost 3-0 to Japan in the final game for its second consecutive silver finish, adding to two bronze medals and two golds in previous competition. American manager Jonathan Pollard was dissatisfied with his team’s result but is looking forward to what the future might hold.

“Although I’m very disappointed that we lost, I’m very happy with the talent base we have and the team we put together,” Pollard said. “Knowing some of the players that we cut to get to our top 20, who are in our future plans, personnel-wise we are in a very strong position.”

Canada finished without a medal for just the second time in six World Cups, losing to Australia in the bronze-medal matchup, but Canadian skipper Andre Lachance has confidence that his team will bounce back from the disappointing finish ready for the next tournament.

“We have some young players who had their first World Cup experience here and they did very well for their first time,” Lachance said. “We still have a core group of athletes who are very solid, so that’s not an issue. We’ll build around those players, the core players, for next year and make sure we surround them with players who are committed to helping our team win.”

Heading into the tournament in Japan, Team Australia added two new coaches to the staff with some big league service time. Former Minnesota Twins infielder Luke Hughes was an assistant coach while 10-year veteran Graeme Lloyd took on the role of the pitching coach and came away impressed with the experience.

“I didn’t know there was much baseball going on for women in Australia until about five years ago,” Lloyd said. “In Perth they had a six-team league and I went and saw some of it and thought, ‘wow these girls are playing full-on baseball, and wow some of these girls are pretty good.” ‘

The event was a huge milestone for the Aussies, and not just because they earned their second World Cup medal. The trip was also the first fully-funded national team tournament for players from down under after the women made a strong push to raise funds in order to get the entire squad to Australia.

Fundraising happened through various grants, donations, and several Night to Shine events across the country where players and staff ran silent auctions for items including autographed memorabilia from a variety of sports, tickets, paintings and other donated goods.

Pollard was impressed.

“Women’s baseball is getting to a better place day by day,” Pollard said. “I was told this was the first time ever that Australia did not have to pay their own way. We had a competitive game with them, we had a really competitive game with Canada—which we typically do—and that top four is very strong. It’s always going to be a battle and that’s great for women’s baseball.”

Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Netherlands rounded out the tournament’s teams, but typically the aforementioned four teams are at the top of the championship pool.

“I’m a big believer when you have two great teams playing each other rarely does one team beat the other; typically you beat yourself,” Pollard said of Team USA’s game against the home team. “You make a mistake, the other team capitalizes, they win, you lose, and that held true to form.

“You can’t take anything away from Japan. They’re a great team; they play the game the right way. They play a very clean game, an aggressive game and they respect the game. They do things the right way and my hat’s off to them. It’s not a surprise they’re four-time champions.”

Nakashima pointed to the fact that the Japanese squad played errorless baseball and executed routine plays as the reason for its continued success.

“We didn’t make any mistakes fielding, and hitting as well, with bunting and executing squeeze bunts and everything,” Nakashima said. “The pitchers did well and didn’t walk anyone really and that was really important in the games. Other teams walked two or three at least and we didn’t do that. That’s what helped us win.”

Lloyd, the former Brewers and Yankees lefthander, was impressed with what he saw from the women’s team.

“It was certainly different working with the women’s team,” Lloyd said. “Working with the men’s team I’ve known the guys a long time, a lot of them I’ve grown up with and coached since they were juniors and through the senior teams.

“The team was cohesive, got together and formed a great unit. All the girls wanted to learn and they work as hard as the guys. They really work very hard at their craft.”

The opportunity to give back to the sport that gave Lloyd and Hughes so much, and to bring major league experience to another national team was big for both men, and something they hope to continue to do in the future.

“That’s key for us,” Hughes said. “There haven’t been a lot of Australians who have played in the big leagues and Graeme is very heavily involved with the men’s junior and senior Australian teams. He’s lucky enough to have the ability to do that through what he’s done and where he’s at in his life so he will be involved a lot.

“We have the ability to talk to them about different things and a lot of them have learned. It’s a different format from what a lot of them are used to with the coaching staff. It’s been great.”

The next biggest tournament for the Team USA and Team Canada women will be the Pan American Games in July 2015 in Toronto, before the seventh World Cup competition takes place in Korea in 2016.

Pollard is looking forward to seeing the sport on the bigger stage, hoping it allows outsiders a chance to see what women’s baseball has to offer.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” the American manager said. “And anybody who’s involved with women’s baseball, especially the male coaches who come from a male background and coach guys, whether it’s college or pro, we’re all in.

“The more this game develops and the more exposure it gets and the more it’s put on the main stage, the more people will be in and realize that the women play a great game of baseball.”

Olympics-OCA president backing baseball’s 2020 return

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait speaks during the opening of the 28th OCA General Assembly in Singapore July 3, 2009. CREDIT: REUTERS/TIM CHONG/FILES

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait 

By Peter Rutherford/

The president of the Olympic Council of Asia has thrown his support behind baseball’s bid to return to the programme at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who also heads the powerful Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), told Reuters in an interview that Tokyo had all the infrastructure and facilities in place to fit baseball into the programme.

Baseball and softball were on the Olympic programme from 1992 to 2008 but voted out in a secret ballot in 2005, becoming the first sports to be removed since polo in 1936.

They joined forces to bid against wrestling and squash for the one available berth at the 2020 and 2024 Games but missed out after the IOC voted to reinstate wrestling.

“In my personal opinion, yes,” said Sheikh Ahmad when asked if baseball should return in Tokyo. “The Olympics as a sporting leader and Tokyo as the hosting city would be happy to see baseball at the Games.”

Baseball enjoys huge popularity in Asia, particularly in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, who won the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic.

Currently a sport needs to be voted in seven years before making its Olympic appearance but Olympic chief Thomas Bach has said he wanted to get rid of the rule in order to refresh the programme and tap into potential new viewers and sponsors.

He also wants to increase the number of sports to more than the current 28 by cutting disciplines and events of other sports to keep the total athletes figure at 10,500.

Sheikh Ahmad, who is in South Korea for 17th Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, said the Olympics had to take on a greater degree of flexibility without betraying its ideals.

“The water is moving in the Olympic movement,” he said. “We have to maintain the concepts, the ideals, and the roots of the movement, but also modernise with this new world.”

Among the changes Bach hopes will be adopted in an IOC session in Monaco in December is making it easier to include and exclude sports from the Games to make them more attractive to spectators, broadcasters and sponsors.

“We have to respect the rules, mechanisms and procedures of the IOC, and therefore I don’t want to be in a hurry to decide,” said Sheikh Ahmad. “Let us wait for the December session in Monaco and the picture will be more clear.

“But yes, Tokyo has big potential to have baseball as part of the Olympic programme.”

John Holdzkom gets his first Major League Win

The fairy tale continues

Gets his 1st Win

Gets his 1st Win

John Holdzkom, as the Pirates reliever against the Brewers, earned his first Major League win after picking up for sharp starter Jeff Locke with a scoreless eighth.   Facing only 4 he took over from Locke in the 8th with the Pirates 2-0 down.   With a 4 run bottom 8th thanks to a 3 run home run from catcher Russell Martin and the final score remaining at 4-2 John added a win to his Major League stats sheet.

With their fifth straight win, the Bucs reduced their magic number for clinching a postseason berth as at least the National League’s No. 2 Wild Card to 5. Their lead over Milwaukee grew to 4 1/2 games.   Pittsburgh and John Holdzkom are looking good for some post season play.

Balfour tosses scoreless 9th in loss to ‘Sox

balfour12aGrant Balfour was once again called on to throw the 9th, this time with the Rays 4-3 down to the Chicago White Sox.   Apart from the one walk he was pretty much in control getting 2 fly outs to CF and a strike out to keep the Rays within 1 run.  It was a 15 pitch outing, 10 being strikes.

In his last 10 outings he has allowed runs in only 2 encounters.   As we have said before, that augers well for next year.

Hendriks redeems himself and perhaps shows where his future lies

We hope to see more of this from Liam as a reliever

We hope to see more of this from Liam as a reliever

Let’s face it.  The game was well lost by the time Liam Hendriks went to the mound in the 6th inning.   League leading Detroit were winning 10-0 so if the game was being played in Australia it would have been called with the ‘Mercy Rule’.   However, perhaps the game was significant for Liam in that it might have given us a glimpse of what his Major League future might be.   As a starter he has consistently failed at the Major level, despite impressive stats at the AAA level.   So perhaps his career is as a middle reliever.   He certainly did the job today against Detroit.

In his 2 innings he gave up a hit early in each inning but they were not hard hits and in the 6th he followed up with a double play and good strike out and in the 7th he almost had a mirror image of the 6th, giving up an early soft single followed by a fly ball out, strike out and an infield out.

He stopped the offensive onslaught by the Tigers and settled things for his team which it must be remembered started this game only 1/2 game behind the Tigers – so a lot is riding on this last week for the Royals – as well as for Liam.

Tu’ivailala becomes first Tongan to play in baseball’s big league

Tuivailala-2Sam Tu’ivailala has become the first Tongan to be promoted to American baseball big league.

The 21-year-old pitcher from San Mateo started the season at Class A Palm Beach before joining AA Springfield and then moving to AAA Memphis.

This week he was called up by front rankers the Cardinals.

Tu’ivailala tweeted earlier this week about how he received the great news.

“Greatest feeling in the world telling my mom “I did it, I’m going to the big leagues!” Thank you everyone for all the love & support!” he tweeted.

“It was just a crazy feeling as soon as I heard it,” Tuivailala told the American Daily Journal.

“I knew in the back of my head … maybe there’s a chance, but obviously I didn’t want to look into the future and get my expectations up there. I knew if I just competed one day at a time, maybe I’d get my chance.”

Tuivailala only began pitching professionally two years ago.

He was originally an infielder.

The Journal has described him as having “an electric right arm” and he has been recorded at pitching up to 160kmh.

After his major league debut on Tuesday, Tu’ivailala told the Journal:

“I felt good,” Tuivailala said. “I was relaxed a little bit, just kept breathing. I was just trying to soak it in and just trying to have fun out there. I feel like I pitched well. I was just glad to get my feet wet.”

His mother Julie is Hispanic and his father Sione Latu Tu’ivailala comes from Houma, Tongatapu and Matamaka through his father, Samiu Tu’ivailala.

The main points

  • Sam Tu’ivailala has become the first Tongan to be promoted to American baseball big league.
  • The 21-year-old pitcher was called up by front rankers the Cardinals this week.
  • Tuivailala only began pitching professionally two years ago.
  • The American Daily Journal has described him as having “an electric right arm”


Lloyd, Hughes help in Emeralds triumph

Perth coach, star infielder aid in women’s World Cup bronze

Perth Heat pitching coach Graeme Lloyd (left) helped lead the Emeralds to bronze. (Alexis Brudnicki)

Perth Heat pitching coach Graeme Lloyd (left) helped lead the Emeralds to bronze. (Alexis Brudnicki)

By Alexis Brudnicki / Special to the ABL /

When Luke Hughes and Graeme Lloyd return to the Perth Heat for the Australian Baseball League season this year, they’ll each be carrying an extra piece of hardware.

To add to both of their various individual national team and big-league accomplishments, the pair are set to come back to Western Australia from the IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup in Japan with bronze medals as first-time members of the coaching staff for the Emeralds.

“I didn’t know there was much baseball going on for women in Australia until about five years ago,” Lloyd said. “In Perth, they had a six-team league, and I went and saw some of it and thought, ‘Wow, these girls are playing full-on baseball, and wow, some of these girls are pretty good.

“Like Christina Kreppold and Lee Godfrey, they can really play. They play ‘A’ grade in Australia against the men, and they hold their own. I’m happy to be a part of this and it’s really been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed it very much…To play for Australia and be a coach for Australia, women or men, it means a lot to go out there and win a championship.”

Team Australia manager Simone Wearne and assistant coach Dean White, who played five seasons in the Atlanta Braves minor league system, knew how involved the Heat’s pitching coach is with a number of different men’s teams and wanted to capitalize on Lloyd’s patriotism and generosity with his time to see if they could help the women’s squad.

“I got involved because Dean White and Simone Wearne asked me to come on last year at our baseball awards,” Lloyd said. “I told them I still wanted to be a part of all the men’s teams, but if I could help out I would love to go and see if I can help the girls improve.

“Right from when I started working with them, it was awesome. There were just little tweaks here and there I could help with that they might not have been coached before with. I saw progress very quickly, and the girls listen very well. It’s amazing. They actually stop and turn and look at me and listen to what’s going on.”

Hughes was helping out with the 15, 17 and 18-year-old boys at the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program facility on the Gold Coast when White asked if he might be able to stick around for a couple of extra days to work with the Emeralds.

“It was awesome,” the infielder said. “It worked out pretty cool that I could stay for that while they ran a three-day mini-camp selection. They played a few games against each other and it was really cool working with the girls and being able to talk to them about hitting and positioning and stuff like that. We had a lot of time and we’ve got really good facilities [at the academy]…

“The girls were awesome and they were all listening when they had [Lloyd] and [White], who played minor league baseball as well. They sat there and just listened. They absorbed every little thing we had to say so I really enjoyed it. And when I got back to [Perth] Dean called me up and said, ‘Do you want to come to Japan and get it done?’ I told him I would love to.”


Balfour bounces back

balfour12aNo sooner than we lament another poor outing by Grant Balfour 3 days ago against the Blue Jays than he comes right back out in his next appearance and throws a blinder against the Yankees.

He faced 4, coming on in the 7th with 2 out and the Rays down 3-2 and Derek Jeter up to bat.  It was Jeter’s last appearance at Tampa, with Grant getting him to ground out on his 1st pitch and then coming back out and going through the 8th in order.

It was controlled and effective and he was able to stay ahead of the hitters.   Once again he gives the Rays’ faithful every reason to hope that 2015 will be better for them and for Grant.


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