by Alexis Brudnicki/BaseballAmerica
When the International Olympic Committee approved a new bidding process in December—abolishing the limitation on sports and allowing host cities to propose the inclusion of one or more additional events—it opened the door for baseball and softball to return to the Games in Tokyo in 2020.
One issue with baseball’s previous place in the Games was that it included only men. To solve that problem, the World Baseball Softball Confederation was formed, the two sports bidding together to return to the pinnacle of international competition.
“The bid is in conjunction with IOC direction,” said Justin Huber, the sole baseball athlete representative on the WBSC Executive Board. “It’s not a publicity stunt; it’s legit. … They’ve got support from all of the professional leagues, including Major League Baseball, (which) wants baseball reinstated into the Olympic Games.”
As the host country for the Games in question and a baseball nation, Japan is doing everything possible to see the bid come to fruition, setting a new standard for campaign management.
“It (revolves) around Japan’s involvement,” Huber said. “They really want baseball and softball in, and they’ve got the infrastructure, they’ve got the fan base, and they’ve got the TV networks ready to go.
“They’ve even gone so far as Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe put together a focus commentary group dedicated to trying to help the campaign—help the bid … it’s quite unprecedented really. So there’s an awful lot of support and it makes sense in a lot of ways, and it’s not without foundation.”
Everything about the initiative makes it seem as though baseball and softball are on the right track to return, but Huber is quick to caution people not to get too presumptuous. The general manager of the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League acknowledges that baseball has addressed the issues the IOC brought forward, but there is no guarantee that any sports will be added, though there should be a decision made in July at their next meeting.
“It’s definitely not guaranteed, and baseball or softball are not saying, ‘This is in the bag and we’re going to be there,’” Huber said. “That would be really arrogant and shortsighted. It wouldn’t be in line with the Olympic movement.
“They’re very conscious of that and the whole focus is around the core values of the Olympic Games, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about life through sport, and this is a great opportunity for baseball and softball to be on the world’s biggest stage again.”
By Michael Hurcomb/CBSSports.com
Rays reliever Grant Balfour is eyeing a return to the closer’s role in 2015 after being removed from the job in 2014, mostly due to control problems. Balfour pitched exceptionally well down the stretch last season, posting 12 scoreless appearances in his final 13 outings.
“September was good,” Balfour said, per MLB.com. “I sat down and worked on some things. I think that last five weeks or whatever it was, I felt like that was me and it showed with the numbers I put up. I was happy with the way it ended. You always want to finish strong, particularly how everything else went. I’m just looking forward to this year.
“Every year I look forward to going out and having a good year. Some years, it works out and some years, it doesn’t. But I try to do everything I can to make it happen. Maybe last year things got to me a little bit when things weren’t going well. I learn from new experiences. I’ve had some really good success in my career. And I can feed off that.”
Balfour admitted he is pitching with a chip on his shoulder after enduring some struggles in 2014. The closer’s role is up for grabs with Jake McGee expected to miss the start of the season due to an elbow injury.
“As long as everything is in shape and I feel good, then I believe in myself that I can go out there and do what I want to do,” Balfour said. “As long as my body is allowing me each day to go out there and do what I want to do. Hey, I’m going to give everything I got and I totally believe in what I can do.”
By Kristine Tarbert/Penrith Press
Penrith Baseball and Sydney Blue Sox star Aaron Sookee is proof that hard work pays off.
Sookee, who has spent the past two seasons working on his pitching, has been invited to spring training with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He knows what it takes to make it in the US minor leagues, having spent four years with the LA Angels.
After reaching a top velocity of 154.5km/h, Sookee, 23, of Emu Plains, is one of the fastest pitchers in the country. He will join the Diamondbacks next month.
“I was surprised at first, it happened so fast,” Sookee said.
“I fly out on March 7 and then spring training starts on the ninth.”
“It was really good having guys like Trent and Koo in the squad, because I got to work with Koo for a few months before I went to Taiwan for the under-23 World Series.
“He thinks about pitching a different way and he was just getting me to use my legs differently and that was the key.”
Spring training is a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular baseball season. It allows new players to try out for roster and position spots.
“It will depend on how good I go in spring training to what level I go to,” Sookee said.
“Every day from 6am to 3pm you train and then you play a game. Pitchers will probably throw three times a week, and that’s it, it’s a month trial to see what team you make.”
Having made the playoffs with the Blue Sox, and helped Penrith to it’s first playoff berth in a decade, Sookee said his goal for the US would be consolidation.
“I want to have a really good spring training, make a full season team and just have a solid season, where I can consolidate the season I had here, that’s the goal,” he said.
“I think you can mentally prepare just by being physically ready, so if I’m fit and healthy there’s no reason I wouldn’t be mentally ready.”
As he prepares to play upwards of 140 games during the minor league season, Sookee credits his continued growth to the club that had always given him a chance.
“Even before this season there was always an opportunity to play at the highest level in this state, they always gave me a chance,” he said.
“On top of that bringing in guys like Koo and Oeltjen that I can be around, guys that have had the success over there, on top of everything else was perfect.”
A former major leaguer for the Diamondbacks himself, Trent Oeltjen had one piece of advice for Sookee.
“He tells you to have fun with it and believe in yourself and what you can do, so I’m just going to enjoy it while can.”
Jon Byrne began umpiring in 1998 with the Western Australia Baseball Umpires Association. In 2001 he attended an umpire’s school in Adelaide which led to national umpiring opportunities with the Under-16s tournament in 2002 and 2003, and the Under-18s in 2005 and 2006.
After taking up a US Minor League Umpiring role in 2005 he continued to umpire in Australia in the off-season with the Claxton Shield from 2007 to 2010 and the Australian Baseball League in 2011 and 2012.
In his nine professional seasons he has officiated at all levels from Rookie and Advanced Rookie, to Low-A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A.
Most recently Jon became the first Australian Major league Umpire when he officiated his first Major League Baseball game between the New York Mets and the the Washington Nationals on May 16, 2014. Since then he has umpired a total of nine MLB games, three of which he plate umpired.
He worked as an umpire for Minor League Baseball from 2003-2012, starting in the Gulf Coast League and moving up to Triple-A. Since 1995 Robson has conducted and participated in the Western Australia Baseball Umpires Association Seminar.
For the past five years Robson has been crew chief for the ABL Perth Heat and most recently was Australia’s representative at the inaugural 2014 IBAF 21U World Cup.
James Shields has worked at all levels of Australian baseball since the mid-90’s and has been a regular contributor to umpire seminars and courses. In 2000 he was a student at the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpires and has since instructed for the New Zealand Baseball Federation’s umpire school, Queensland Baseball Umpires Association and the Victorian Baseball Umpires Association.
Shields has been an umpire since 2011 for the Australian Baseball League and the Queensland State League. Since 2012 he has also been a integral part of the Gold Coast Baseball Association. A well regarded umpire Shields has been invited to umpire at various invitational tournaments and most recently Australia’s representative at the 2015 18U Oceania Championships in New Zealand.
Kerry Jackson scored her first game of baseball in 1977 after only scoring cricket. She then became involved in the original ABL with the Sydney Blues and the Sydney Storm and served as league statistician for several years. She was the Sports Services Manager for Baseball at the 1999 Intercontinental Cup and Sydney 2000 Olympics, as well as tournament director for national championships in both Sydney and Canberra.
She currently serves as competition manager for the New South Wales State League and has been vice president, secretary and competition manager for the Sydney Winter Baseball League since 2000.
Kerry is a long-standing volunteer and supporter of baseball, she works tirelessly around the clock, and is an extremely dedicated volunteer.
At 78 years old William “Spider” Sinclair continues to show his dedication and selflessness with the amount of time he puts back into baseball at all levels. He is currently the president of the Masters League of WA, a position he has held for twenty years.
William has played, umpired and been involved in all levels of the sport for over 60 years. He started playing baseball in 1954, and represented Western Australia in the Claxton Shield four times.
He began umpiring in 1963 and still continues umpiring today for his great grandson. Highlights of Williams career include umpiring at the Goodwill Games in China, winning Gold at the 2001 Australian Masters Games and fundraising for grassroots baseball in WA.
In 2000 he was awarded the ‘Australian Sports Medal’ for services to the sport of baseball, as well as the Australian Government Sports Achievement Award for Outstanding Commitment to the sport of baseball.
Named volunteer of the year at Pine Rivers Rapids Baseball Club in 2012 and 2013, Geoff Wade has lived and breathed baseball since he was 6 years old. Well known in the baseball community, he has played and volunteered at numerous Queensland baseball clubs over the years. His enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and willingness to help has helped Geoff rebuild Pine River Rapids Baseball Club
An umpire and coach, he encourages the players and their families to take ownership of the club, becoming proud members who take pride in the fields and their surrounds.
Geoff is the current President of his club, has introduced a Winter Masters team, as well as secured numerous grants. He is well respected by his peers and the community; and he hopes to share his knowledge while continuing to give back to the game he loves.
By Marc Topkin/TampaBayTimes
Grant Balfour left Rays camp to fly home to Australia as his cancer-stricken father took a turn for the worse.
“Grant’s trying to get back there and see him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday.
Balfour last visited in December and said that when he left, he knew it might be the last time he saw David, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. The cancer has spread to his stomach, neck and brain.
“This is something that Grant has been dealing with for quite some time now,” Cash said. “I talked to him (Tuesday) night, and he seemed okay.”
The Rays told Balfour to take as much time as he feels necessary, figuring he will be away from camp at least five days, especially with the lengthy travel factored in. (Balfour was to leave Tampa on Wednesday afternoon and arrive 21½ hours later.)
“We’ll give him what he needs,” Cash said. “It’s so early (in spring training) right now, it shouldn’t affect (his preparation) too much. Grant does a good job keeping himself in shape.”
David Balfour, 62, has been instrumental in his son’s career and promoting pro baseball in Australia, serving as owner and general manager of the Sydney team while helping many players sign with major-league organizations.
In tribute, officials are taking the unprecedented step of inducting Grant into Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame while he is an active player so David can attend and represent Grant. That ceremony is scheduled for Saturday.
Bite outfield star Ben Lodge has signed with the Frontier Greys of the Independent Frontier League for the 2015 season. The team is based out of Highland, Illinois. Fellow Bite player, import Colin Feldtman has also been signed by the Greys.
After being named ABL Rookie of the Year in 2012/13, the 23-year-old was rewarded with a call up to the National team for their games against the Dodgers and D’Backs in Sydney last March. In his 4th season with the Bite Ben hit .247 and a career high 6 HRs and 26RBIs.
Ben is not the 1st Aussie on the Grey’s roster as Perth’s Cameron Lamb was on their pitching roster in 2014.
Michael Collins, aka Tubby, has managed the Canberra Cavalry for the past three seasons. In his first year at the team’s helm, Collins led the Cavalry to the Australian Capital Territory’s first Claxton Shield by winning the 2013 ABL title, and helped them become the first Australian team to win the Asia Series, taking home that title in 2013 as well.
The Canberra native also played professionally for ten years in the minor leagues, advancing as high as Triple A. Prior to being named manager of the Cavalry, he caught for Canberra for the first two seasons of the new ABL, leading the team with a .360 batting average in the inaugural 2010/11 season.
In 2015 Collins enters his fourth season as a coach in the San Diego Padres organization, and will take over as manager of the Class-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm for the upcoming minor league season in the USA.
Jon Deeble was most recently the manager for Team Australia at the 2014 Team Australia Challenge where he helped Australia defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0.
He guided Australia to a fifth place finish at the 2011 IBAF World Cup, to equal their highest ever result at a World Cup and he piloted the team to a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Jon managed in the Minor League systems of the Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins before he became a coach at the major league level with Boston in 2005. He is also the current Boston Red Sox Coordinator of Pacific Rim Scouting.
One of Australia’s most decorated players, he pitched 16 years with the National Team and was inducted to the Baseball Australia Hall of Fame in 2005.
Former professional baseball player and coach from the United States, Steve Fish has been in charge of the High Performance programs in Western Australia for the last five years. During this time Western Australia has dominated in all national events; winning tittles in Little League, Under 16, Under 18, Women’s and Men’s National Championships. He continues to work with young athletes across the state in order to improve their baseball knowledge and skill level.
He has been the manager for the ABL Perth Heat for the last three years, during this time the Perth Heat have won two championships, including this past season, and was runner up in the 2012/2013 season.
Sydney Blues star outfielder David Kandilas is about to join fellow New South Welshman Mitch Dening in Japan. David has announced that this week he has signed with the Niigata Albirex team where Mitch played last season.
James Beresford, a left-handed hitter and middle infielder, came through the Waverly Baseball Club where he was named Most Valuable Player before being signed with the Twins organisation in 2005 at the age of 16.
Highly valued by his coaches and teammates for his competitiveness and toughness. In 2009, he was named in the final Australia national baseball team squad for the 2009 World Baseball Classic and was again selected for the 2009 Baseball World Cup in September. That same year he was also named the Beloit Snappers Player of the Year.
After reaching as high as the AA level, he spent the 2014 season with the AAA Rochester Red Wings, hitting .276 in 507 at bats during 131 games. In an 8-year minor league career he has compiled 2976 at bats, scored 379 runs, with 838 hits and 283 RBI’s.
Queenslander Chris Oxspring’s professional career has spanned decades and continents and he remains active on the mound in Korea. He started his professional career in independent baseball before signing with MLB’s San Diego Padres in October 2000. He made his MLB debut for the Padres on 2 September, 2005, and finished the season in the Majors, posting a 3.75 ERA and striking out 11 batters in 12 innings pitched. After the Padres released him that December, he spent the 2006 season with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, and spent the next several seasons traversing the globe, playing with the Milwaukee Brewers, Korean Baseball Organisation’s LG Twins, Detroit Tigers, independent Somerset Patriots, and Lotte Giants of KBO.
In international play, Oxspring has been an anchoring force for the Australian national team, helping the Southern Thunder win the silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and participating in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics. Oxspring pitched for the Blue Sox for three seasons, compiling a 12-8 overall record with a 2.64 ERA, and the righty still plays in Korea.
Right-handed pitcher Liam Hendriks’ signed with the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 2007. He played for Australia in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, making two appearances. In 2010 Hendriks joined his hometown Perth Heat for the inaugural Australian Baseball League season. The righty made eight appearances (six starts) for the Heat, going 1-4 with a 6.49 ERA but striking out 25 batters while walking just six in 26 1/3 innings pitched.
The following American professional season, Hendriks made his MLB debut on 6 September, 2011, starting the Twins’ ballgame against the Chicago White Sox. He earned the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2011, and earned a spot in the 2012 Twins rotation.
He earned his first MLB win on 19 September 2012 with the Twins, and spent one more season with them before being picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays. Hendriks earned another callup and made his first start for the big league team on 23 May 2014. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals and dominated in his Royals debut, pitching seven innings and allowing one run on four hits and earning a no-decision in a game the Royals would go on to win, 6-1. He stayed with the Royals through the end of the season, before he was traded back to the Blue Jays in late 2014 for the 2015 season.