By Rachel Monroe/draysbay.com
Grant and Angie visited the children’s charity Smile Train to create some smiles of their own.
Grant and Angie Balfour headed to Mexico this month to visit the Smile Train charity. Smile Train is an international children’s charity dedicated to repairing cleft lip and palate. The procedure is very simple (taking around 45 minutes), inexpensive at $250, and changes a child’s life. The surgery not only gives children smiles, it also helps them to eat, speak, and breathe much easier.
Nearly 170,000 children are born with cleft palate a year and most in developing countries cannot afford the procedure. Grant and Angie have been long time supporters throughout his career in baseball, going back to Grant’s first stint with the Rays.
The Rays and Athletics have each previously organized Miles for Smiles charity events with the help of the players’ wives and friends of the teams, partially inspired by the Balfour’s interest.
Grant and Angie have worked with the Rays to use funds from auctions, raffles, and ticket sales to aid Miles for Smiles in its mission to give children free cleft surgery.
Grant and Angie recently visited the charity to meet with some of the children they support to see the transformations firsthand. On the trip to Mexico, they also met with some of the parents and friends of the children to spread some happiness. Real Housewives of New York star Kristen Taekman and actress Sammi Hanratty joined them on the trip.
Smile Train is the largest children’s cleft charity and has provided more than one million free surgeries since it was founded in 1999. The charity is dedicated to providing training to doctors in 85+ countries to make the surgery more available and universal.
We got to briefly catch up with Grant regarding his visit to the Smile Train partners in Mexico regarding his passion for this charity, and the effect it’s had on him.
“What the head makes cloudy, the heart makes clear. The most sincere smile is the one that struggles through the tears. We’ve seen the before-and-after photos of those kids and how can that not make you feel better? You see the magnitude of what this organization does. You see kids smile, and they’re so innocent.”
With the biggest week of the year for the Australian Baseball League [behind] us, the Brisbane Bandits would like to reflect on a year that brought many thrills, changes, and successes. In Spring 2014, Bandits players united on the hollowed grounds of AFA Stadium at Holloway Field with little knowledge of what may lay ahead for the mightly Bandits in the 2014/15 ABL Season. Some had donned the Bandits jersey for years, while others traveled from all corners of the globe for the chance to play alongside and against the best in Australian baseball. What united them was a fighting spirit, a commitment to supporting each other, and a focus on putting on a great season of baseball for the Bandits’ dedicated fans.
We asked the players to give the fans an insider’s perspective of the 2014/15 ABL season and recount, in their own words, some of the greatest moments from the season that truly was “the year of the Bandit”.
JOHNNY FIELD (OF) relives the catch-seen-round-the-world:
“With the catch, I knew the hitter (Wong) liked to hit the ball the opposite way so I had him shifted over in the gap. When he made contact I got a good jump and didn’t think it was going to go as far as it did because he’s a smaller guy and the wind was blowing in. However the ball just kept carrying and I just timed it right and jumped up and got lucky and made the play.”
MAXX TISSENBAUM (C) on the Australian Experience:
“Our ABL experience began long before our Qantas flight from LA to Brisbane. It began in mid July when our manager with the Charlotte Stone Crabs told us we’d been chosen to go to play in Australia. We were very hesitant to say the least, it was far from home, it was our whole off-season, and we had no idea what to expect from the league. When we finally arrived in mid October, we had an action packed first day to help us get adjusted to Brisbane time. Little did we know this would be a sign of things to come.
We met our teammates at training a few nights after we arrived and quickly found out how welcoming the Australian guys were. The team quickly came together as a very close bunch, which was cool considering we had players from five different countries, speaking a total of three different languages. It was awesome to play with this group of guys, and I always looked forward to the start of every series to get back out on the diamond with them. We especially looked forward to coming home every second weekend, because even though Queensland is primarily a rugby state, the fans adopted us and welcomed us home with loud cheers and a great atmosphere. They cheered when we had our big offensive innings, and stuck with us during the games that got away from us. No matter the result the fans always came out and shook our hands, asked for an autograph and thanked us for our efforts. They made playing at AFA Stadium really feel like home. Even though our final results were short of our goal to make the playoffs, it was truly a pleasure to fight for every run, and every out with the guys, and to share those big moments with our loud stadium.
Our experience off the field was just as wonderful as our playing experience. We made a promise back in July that we’d do as much “Australian stuff” as we could during our time in Brisbane. We wanted to make the most of being in Australia, and I think we even surprised ourselves with all of the adventures we packed into three months. We traveled south to the Gold Coast beaches and north to the Sunshine Coast beaches. We made a day trip to Moreton Island, and went snorkeling at the Tangalooma Wrecks. We made several afternoon trips the beach at South Bank, a perfect spot to hang out before training. We spent three days at Hamilton Island exploring the Great Barrier Reef. We toured Melbourne with our friend Darryl George of the Aces. He took us to see Rod Laver Arena and the Eureka Tower. We spent a morning walking around Sydney when our girlfriends were visiting and had a great lunch in the Sydney Tower. We watched as much AFL on Fox Footy as we could, and even learned the rules of cricket so we could rally behind the Australian team during the Boxing Day Test. Being able to immerse ourselves in all that Queensland, and Australia has to offer, while being able to play in 46 high quality games gave us a winter ball experience we will all remember forever.”
DREW NAYLOR (P) on getting back on the field after Tommy John’s:
“It was fantastic getting back on the field and competing at a high level again. All my hard work and rehab has finally paid off. I love wearing the Bandits uniform and we had a great bunch of guys on the team who played hard. So it makes the experience even better. Now I’m hoping to go play baseball overseas and further my career. But am looking forward to helping the Bandits next season.”
By Duncan Johnstone/Stuff.co.nz
John Holdzkom’s immediate future in Major League Baseball has a question mark over it with the Pittsburgh Pirates adding two relieving pitchers to an already crowded bull pen.
The off-season acquisitions of Arquimedes Caminero from the Miami Marlins and former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Radhames Liz has put some added heat on Holdzkom as the new campaign looms.
The lanky New Zealand representative quickly became a Pirates folk hero with his late signing from nowhere last year, as his cool work off the mound helped Pittsburgh to the playoffs.
The Pirates now have a full 40-man roster for 2015 and Holdzkom is secure on that front.
But there are suggestions the 27-year-old might be sent back to AAA to hone his skills.
Sports Illustrated reports that while Holdzkom was hugely impressive on his limited showings last year – he threw just 123 pitches in nine innings, conceding only two earned runs and four hits – his coaches want him to expand his armoury.
Holdzkom restricted his pitches to a dominant fast ball and an occasional cutter, relying on his height and unorthodox style to secure his remarkable success that included claiming a win and a save.
“Holdzkom also possesses a changeup, slider and two-seamer but those were rarely seen,” noted Sports Illustrated writer Jason Rollison when weighing up Holdzkom’s 2015 chances.
“His velocity is so good that the changeup clocks in at about 85 mph. The stuff is definitely there, we just haven’t had a chance to see it all yet.
“With the additions of Liz and Caminero all eyes immediately turn to Holdzkom as a strong choice to be bumped back down to Triple-A. Through no fault of his own, the Pirates still have options with Holdzkom, so he can be sent back down to the minors safely.
“That may sting Pirates fans, but the truth is, we didn’t really see his full arsenal last year. ”
“Based on the great unknown, the lack of minor league options for others, and the fact that Caminero and Liz can throw just as hard, I wouldn’t buy that John Holdzkom jersey just yet.”
Holdzkom has taken a realistic approach to his overnight success, admitting his tortured road to the major league made him realise how easy it would be to drop out of the MLB.
That has spurred him to work extra hard in the offseason, determined to prove his worth and hold his place.
By Marc Topkin/tampabay.com
His 2014 season had been mostly a mess, and that’s more politely than he would put it. Concerns about the massive makeover his Rays team was undergoing heading into 2015 would have been natural.
But nothing was anywhere near as tough for Grant Balfour as wrapping up his December trip home to Australia by saying goodbye to his father, David.
“It killed me. I can’t even talk about it now,” Balfour recalled last week, voice cracking, eyes glazing. “He dropped me off at the airport and I looked at him, and I thought, ‘This might be the last time I ever see my dad.’ … That was tough.”
David Balfour was supposed to be dead already.
When first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010, he was given 1½, maybe two years to live. Remission brought a temporary reprieve, but the cancer returned in 2011 and has since spread to David’s stomach, neck and brain, where two tumors were found last year. He has endured several surgeries, plus multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and is down to less than 120 pounds. His doctors say he is the longest-surviving pancreatic cancer patient around.
“He’s been through a whole lot,” Grant said. “He’s lost a lot of weight. It’s eating his body away at the moment. You can see it. It’s tough. You look at him, it’s tough to look at.”
Grant was scheduled for a December trip Down Under. But when he got word that David, now 62, might not make it until then, having been hospitalized with blood clots and other complications, he took his wife and two daughters in November in case that was goodbye. David wouldn’t have it.
Grant, 37, went back for the planned MLB Ambassador program visit, and the highlight was joining David on the field for a pregame ceremony staged by the Sydney Blue Sox to honor his contributions to growing the game in Australia.
The public address announcer detailed how David was a professional rugby player, how he fought in the Vietnam War, how he got involved first in youth league baseball (teaching himself enough about the game to coach Grant’s teams) then became the owner and GM of the Sydney team, how he worked tirelessly to help other players get signed by major-league organizations, and how much he did to lead the growth and expansion of the pro game in Australia.
David was presented a Blue Sox jersey, and Grant threw out the first pitch in his honor.
“A special day for me,” Grant said.
Now there is another special day coming up: Feb. 28.
That’s when Grant will be inducted into Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame. Players don’t typically get that honor when they’re still active. But special dispensation was granted so that David could see it happen.
“Ten years service in Major League Baseball makes Grant Balfour’s Hall of Fame induction inevitable,” the Hall said in statement. “Exceptional family circumstances has led to the heartfelt decision to bring that honour forward for his father to see.”
Grant was touched by the acknowledgement — and the accommodation.
“I thought it was pretty cool they did that,” he said. “They realized the situation that he’s in, just not knowing. It was kind of respect for him that they wanted to do that.”
Grant is clearly proud of what his father meant to their country. He gets emotional when trying to describe what meant most to him, what lessons were most lasting: “Just be tough. Never give up. You know, never back down from a challenge.”
Grant isn’t planning to go back for the induction ceremony since it’s during spring training and such a long haul. But he is counting on David to represent him.
“He’s been great,” Grant said. “He’s got a real good mind. He’s really focused. He gives himself goals. ‘I want to get to June, I want to get to this date.’ And he really pushes himself to get to this date. He’ll tell himself, ‘I want to live until January.’ And he’s still going. Now it’s February. …
“I think he’ll definitely be there.”
By Alex Malcolm/AFL.com
COREY Adamson knew the transition from professional baseball to professional football would be a challenge, but he didn’t think an AFL pre-season would be as hard as it has been.
The 22-year-old has been an interesting case study since he was plucked from left-field – literally – to be drafted as a rookie by West Coast last year.
He was an under-15 All Australian footballer and has loved the game since the age of five but six years of professional baseball in the United States left him unprepared for an AFL pre-season.
“I’m loving the experience,” Adamson told AFL.com.au.
“But it’s a whole lot of hard work. I got told it was going to be hard work, but I didn’t think it was going to be like this. Just the amount of running we do every day is just completely different to anything I’ve ever done before really.”
His body shape has changed significantly. He has lost seven kilos from his lower body, a crucial power source for baseballers, and his upper body shape is unrecognisable from six months ago.
“I feel like I’ve got a completely different body now,” Adamson said.
“It doesn’t feel or look like the same as it did before.
“There have been a couple of issues with that. Just getting sore and what not. But nothing major at all. Just the regular things coming from a sport where the most I would run would be 30m and then coming here and running 10-12kms a day.”
Not that baseball is a walk in the park physically. Adamson’s throwing shoulder still clicks when he rotates it, a legacy of playing nearly 300 days a year during a six-year professional career that took him all over the world.
But he wasn’t leading the glamourous life of a major league player.
Despite being a member of the San Diego Padres organisation, he was playing in the minor leagues for a very low wage, so when West Coast came knocking with an offer to come back and play football in Australia, none of his teammates begrudged him the chance.
“They all loved it,” Adamson said.
“Minor league baseball is a grind. You play 150 games in 155 days, so there’s a lot of talk about guys wanting to do other things in minor league baseball … whether it’s go back and play college football or go do something else.
“So when a positive opportunity arose for me, where it’s going to be another professional sport and straight into a professional team, they all said, ‘I think you should do it, go see what it’s about and change it up a little bit’.”
Despite numerous moments of doubt, Adamson said he felt part of a family already at West Coast compared to getting lost in the segregated machine of a major league club.
“It’s completely divided,” Adamson said.
“The major league team never has anything to do with the minor league team.
“When I got here that was what surprised me most – the first day I rolled out and I was training with all the boys I’d watched growing up, like Beau Waters. That was kind of surreal to me.
“But also with the Eagles I feel like I can form a relationship with everyone. From the top, the CEO down to all the players, even the physios, just everyone. It seems like a real family bond that we have here, which I love.”
Adamson said he has no placed no ceiling on what he could achieve in 2015. He is being groomed for a role at half-back and has been given the mammoth task of playing on star forward Josh Kennedy in practice matches to accelerate his learning.
“Just relearning the game is a massive one for me,” Adamson said.
“That’s going to be my first priority.
“I’m going out there every day and I’m going to work to play in the AFL, but then in saying that I’m also realistic about my chances and knowing that I’m going to really have to perform well at East Perth level to be given a shot.”
By Reece Homfray/The Advertiser
ADELAIDE Bite coach Brooke Knight returns home to the US today where he will consider his future which may involve committing to another year with the club.
Knight yesterday gathered with players at the Arkabar Hotel less than 24 hours after their championship series loss to his old side Perth at Norwood Oval.
“It’s what you’d expect, everybody is very disappointed and we felt like we had a great side and real chance to win this thing, but fell a bit short,” he said.
“They played well on Sunday, we didn’t, but this group is going to go on for years as far as guys that were on the team. We’ve got lots of momentum, lots of energy and guys who really wanted it.
“People are stinging, it stings, but I’ve never been a part of a team like this where you lose but you can enjoy it and that part is pretty unique.”
Knight today begins the journey home to San Diego where he will consider whether he signs on at the Bite for another season.
“I’m going to wait a bit, I’ve got to get home and talk to (wife), she’s been very supportive so I want to give her a moment to help me make that decision,” he said.
But without naming names, he said some of Adelaide’s American imports would be keen to return next summer.
“I didn’t want to put any pressure on these guys especially after a loss,” he said.
“But I would say there’s a chance because of the energy here in Adelaide and the team that the imports are going to want to come back.
“We’ve just got an environment that everybody wants to come to the park every day.”
Rays reliever confident he’ll bounce back after down year in 2014
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Grant Balfour had just finished throwing in the Tropicana Field bullpen when he talked to reporters on Friday morning.
“I feel good, threw 40 pitches just then,” said Balfour, before joking, “I’m ready to take the ball Opening Day. I’m ready to start. I’m going to challenge [Alex] Cobb.”
Clearly the deposed Rays closer is ready to make good on what he set out to do in 2014, when he returned to Tampa Bay for a second tour of duty via a two-year, $12 million contract.
The 2014 season did not go well for Balfour, as the 37-year-old right-hander from Sydney, Australia, went 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA in 65 appearances, notching just 12 saves after finishing 2013 with 38. Along the way, he lost his role as the team’s closer.
Balfour, who was among a large contingent of Rays players working out on Friday, is confident about rebounding this season.
“I kind of like the fact that people doubt me sometimes,” Balfour said. “I want to show them that, ‘Hey, I’ve got something to prove.’ I’ll just keep my mouth shut and go about my business this year and see what happens.”
Balfour wants to improve in 2015, but he’s not feeling any more motivation due to what happened in 2014.
“I go into every offseason thinking I’m going to have a good year,” Balfour said. “Last year wasn’t what we wanted as a team. And personally … wasn’t what I wanted. But it’s 2015 now. We’ve turned the page. [There have been] a lot of changes here, and we’re excited about it all.”
Helping to fuel Balfour’s optimism is the fact he finished last season strong. He went 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and a save in 11 September appearances.
9/12/14: Grant Balfour strikes out Dioner Navarro swinging for the final out of the 9th inning, securing the save for the Rays
“Got back to my numbers I’ve had the last four or five years,” Balfour said. “That builds confidence, too, when you’re going out there getting people out all the time, too. So when you’re not, it’s tough. It’s a tough game. It’s not meant to be easy. Not everyone is doing it. There are a lot of people on the sidelines wishing they were doing it. Until you go out there and do it and go through it, it’s not easy.
“I had a good run. I had some good times. It’s easy when you’re doing that. When you face a battle and face some tough times, it was nice to finish strong at the end of year and know that I came out on the good side of it.”
Balfour pointed out there were “a couple of things” — both physical and mental — that led to his turnaround. Of the physical problems, he noted: “Just a little thing in my mechanics that I found comfortable. I was able to repeat my delivery, execute and make the pitches I wanted to. The results showed.”
Balfour downplayed the idea that he put too much pressure on himself last season due to his contract.
“You always want to do well,” Balfour said. “You’re in a persona, you want to go out there and perform and do well for your team and your teammates. And if you don’t, then you feel like you’re letting guys down. And when you do, it’s a great feeling. That’s the game. A lot of this game’s about failure. When you go out there and do well, it’s like you don’t want to ride the horse too high, either. It’s a long way when you come down. [You have to] try to keep that even plane in this game.”
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.
For the fourth time in five seasons, Perth reigned supreme atop the pedestal of the Australian Baseball League. Theerth Heat beat the Adelaide Bite 12-5 in the third and final game of the ABL Championship Series to take home the Claxton Shield for the second consecutive season.
The series victory had historical implications beyond Perth taking home its fourth title in the five-year existence of the new ABL. With the win, Western Australia moved into a second-place tie with South Australia on the all-time Claxton Shield premiership list. The victory also came one night after Perth leveled the championship series with a tenth-inning win.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,” Tim Kennelly said. “We’ve done that for years, so it was good to bounce back with that win.”
Perth scored early and often in the ballgame, beginning from inning one. After Joey Wong walked to lead off the ballgame, Tim Kennelly lashed a two-run home run to left field to put the Heat ahead 2-0 before the Bite could record an out. Kennelly drove in three runs over the nine innings, and went 2-for-6 at the plate. Perth pulled away further in the next frame, putting up a four-spot on RBI doubles from Brian Pointer and Tim Kennelly, and a two-run home run off the bat of Tim Smith.
Despite trailing early, the Bite still showed sharp teeth as the contest wore on, clawing back for three runs in the bottom of the fourth frame. Tom Brice laced a one-out double to right field, and advanced to third on Dening’s subsequent two-bagger. Craig Maddox then smashed a three-run bomb over the centrefield fence that scored Brice and Dening.
But Perth kept pouncing ahead, preceding Adelaide’s three-run fourth with a three-run half-inning of its own, led by a two-run single by Allan de San Miguel, and another trifecta of runs crossed the plate in the top of the seventh inning. De San Miguel went 1-for-4 on the night. The veteran catcher earned the series Most Valuable Player award for his consistent production both at the plate and behind it in the three games, including the game-winning hit in the top of the tenth inning in Game 2.
“It’s a pretty special moment for my career out here in Australia,” de San Miguel said. “It’s been a hell of a year. We’ve had our ups and downs and adversity, and to come through with that clutch hit last night and win tonight, it’s a special moment.”
Adelaide added another run in the bottom of the eighth inning, on a solo shot off the bat of Dening, who finished the game 4-for-4 with a double, a pair of home runs and three RBIs. The Bite also put two runners on with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before Perth moundminder Scott Mitchinson got Tom Brice to fly out to centre field to end the game.
“Perth got the job done tonight,” Adelaide manager Brooke Knight said. “It’s a shame to end on that note but take no credit away from our guys. They’ve fought and fought this season and their character as a group is undeniable.”
After going 10-13 prior to the 17 Dec. All-Star Game, the Heat went 19-7 the remainder of the season, including the postseason.
“These guys have battled back from so much,” Perth manager Steve Fish said. “It’s an incredible feeling.
Extra innings and a clutch hit off the bat of Allan de San Miguel in the top of the tenth inning led the Perth Heat to a 5-3 Game Two win over the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League Championship Series.
The tenth-inning victory leveled the series at one game apiece between the Heat and Bite, forcing a deciding third game in the series. De San Miguel delivered the big hit for the Heat in the top of the tenth inning, hitting a two-run double off Bite reliever Will Mathis with two runners on and two outs.
“I had a conversation with him before his at bat and he said if [Mathis] leaves something up, he’s going to crush something and he sure did,” Heat manager Steve Fish said. “You could just tell, [de San Miguel] was ready to go from his last at bat against Matt Williams, and he got a pitch to hit and crushed.”
The chance of extra innings became evident as the back-and-forth battle waged between the two teams. Adelaide struck first, scoring one run in the bottom of the first inning on a Stefan Welch solo shot. However, Perth jumped ahead in the top of the third inning on back-to-back solo shots from Matt Kennelly and Brian Pointer. The Heat added another run in the top of the seventh inning on an RBI single off the bat of Joey Wong, building a 3-1 lead late in the game.
The bottom of the seventh once again was good to the Bite, with the home field of Norwood Oval erupting as a solo shot from Chris Adamson evened the score with two frames remaining. But strong defensive plays and quality pitching from both sides in the late innings saw the ballgame all tied up heading into the ninth inning. A clutch double play turned by Chan Moon in the top of the ninth kept the Heat from scoring, but Perth closer Jorge Marban held the Bite at bay until de San Miguel’s clutch hit in the top of the tenth.
“I had hit a few balls hard earlier in the day, and I was just looking for something out over the plate again. I got my fastball and made sure I didn’t miss it,” de San Miguel said.
The Perth win pushed the series to a deciding third game, a challenge that both sides feel prepared to tackle.
“There’s nothing wrong with game three, it makes it extra special when you get the job done,” Bite manager Brooke Knight said. “It’ll take a little while for the sting to go away but the guys are going to show up tomorrow fired up and ready to go.”
“We’ve been in this situation a lot so we know what it takes to win and us veteran guys have done really well in making sure we have an even keel,” de San Miguel said. “We’ve got the team and the staff to win another championship.”
The final game of the series is scheduled for tonight, 8 Feb. at 7:00 p.m. ACDT.