-League Structure & Player Recruitment-
What is the Australian Baseball League (ABL), and how will its competition be structured?
The Australian Baseball League is the country's premiere professional baseball competition and will engage fans across the nation. In its inaugural 2010 season, six (6) teams will compete in the ABL: the Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The league will play in the summer season from November until February, featuring an action-packed 40-game schedule. The majority of games will be played on Fridays and Saturdays with occasional games on Sunday and during the week. At the conclusion of the 10-week season, the top four (4) teams advance to the three-round playoffs with the final winners laying claim to the historic and prestigious Claxton Shield.
What players will compete in the ABL and how are they sourced?
You might be surprised to learn that Australia is one of the world's largest producers of professional baseball talent. To date, over 300 Australians have played professional baseball with Major League Baseball affiliated clubs in the United States. For decades, Australian baseballers have excelled on the global stage. The ABL will provide an opportunity for these immensely talented athletes to showcase their talents on home soil. As such the vast majority, approximately 70% of roster spots, will be held by Australian players, drawn from other professional leagues around the globe. In baseball, the player list is referred to as the "roster," and ABL rosters will feature 22 men, with nine, including the pitcher, competing on the field at any one time. The ABL works closely with Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball to identify talented players in each club system who would benefit from the coaching, training and development provided by the ABL. In addition, the ABL will source import players from other premiere international leagues.
How are players assigned to teams?
The Australian Baseball League prides itself on being the most fan-friendly and accessible code in the nation. As such it seeks to embed its clubs in the fibre of their communities. A key part of these efforts will see the ABL strongly encourage Australian players to play for the club in their local area of origin. This approach serves both players and fans well. In addition, ABL coaching and management staffs will play a key role in finalising rosters with an eye toward maintaining a parity that will ensure an exciting fan experience and competitive landscape throughout the league.
How does baseball's art of pitching compare to that of bowling in cricket?
While radar guns are a relatively new advent in the cricket landscape, Australia's most elite players including Brett Lee, Shaun Tai and Jeff "Thommo" Thomson can all bowl at a lightning fast 150-160 Kms/hour. By contrast, baseball pitchers are throwing every bit as fast, with the speediest topping out around 160 Kms/hour. Furthermore, unlike bowlers, baseball pitchers are pitching from a stationary position without the benefit of a running start.
How were the six markets selected for the ABL's inaugural season selected?
Baseball has a distinctive Australian identity and a long and rich heritage in the country, with roots dating to the first game between Richmond and Collingwood in 1857. Therefore, an overarching objective of the ABL is to maintain, develop and grow a league that is truly national in scope. As such an ABL team will be located in each of the five major capital cities. A decision was made to locate a team in Canberra following an overwhelming show of vigorous support, commitment and passion from the baseball, corporate and civic community in the Australian Capital Territory. These six locations furthermore reflect the traditional strongholds of baseball in Australia.
What are the possibilities for expansion to other domestic and international markets?
Expansion is a natural progression for any national sports league or business venture otherwise, and as such may play a role in the future strategic development of the league. That said, the objective of the ABL and its leadership team is to firmly establish a strong foundation in its early years: grow the sports' fan base, provide unparalleled family entertainment value and ensure the league's brand and financial health remain robust.
What is the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program and how has it changed the landscape of the sport in Australia?
The Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) is now in its tenth year at the Palm Meadows Radisson Resort on Queensland's Gold Coast. Initiated in 2001, the MLB Australian Academy prepares 65 of the best young players (amateur and professional) for collegiate, professional and national team careers. While most participants are native to Australia, each year MLB clubs also send recently signed European and Asian players to the Academy to prepare them for the rigours of Minor League Baseball.
For seven weeks each winter, the MLB Australian Academy aims to improve the quantity and quality of young baseball players coming out of the region. Consequently, over the past 10 years, the number of Australians playing professional and college baseball has increased 40 percent. In 2000, Australia counted 48 professional and 32 collegiate players; there are currently approximately 75 Australians active with Major League and other professional league teams including 61 Academy products. A full 80% of all Australian professional players have come out of the Academy program. Three Academy alumni have made their Major League Baseball debuts: infielder Western Australia's Luke Hughes (Academy 2002) debuted with the Minnesota Twins earlier this year; New South Wales' Rich Thompson (Academy 2001) debuted with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2007 and infielder Brad Harman of Victoria (Academy 2003) debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
Coaching is provided by former Major League Baseball players and Australia's baseball elite. Leading the Academy coaching staff in 2010 was Australia's national coach, Jon Deeble, who additionally serves as the Far East Scout for the Boston Red Sox. The rest of the staff offers a world of experience and includes former Major Leaguers David Nilsson, Graeme Lloyd, Rene Gonzales, Glenn Williams and Phil Stockman.
-Governance & Club Business-
Who owns the ABL clubs? What is the governance structure of the league?
The ABL represents an unprecedented investment in developing the game in Australia made by two of the world's peak sporting bodies, the Australian Baseball Federation (ABF) and Major League Baseball (MLB) along with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC). As such the ABF, MLB and the ASC will serve as the lead partners in the league and leverage their significant and extensive resources in baseball business management, operations and marketing. The ABL is committed to a sustainable future, and becoming an enduring part of the sporting and cultural landscape in Australia. It represents a long-term investment made in developing and reshaping the sport in Australia. The partnership between MLB and the ABF is a long-standing one, and the launch of the league the continuation of a long-term strategic vision which has at its cornerstone the establishment of the MLB Australia Academy Program (MLBAAP) ten years ago. The immense success of the MLBAAP in dramatically elevating the quality of coaching and breadth and depth of playing talent has laid a strong foundation for launching a national league.
The ABL will operate under a single entity structure. Each Team will operate as an independent business.
What about officiating? How are umpires trained and selected in Australia?
The Australian Baseball Federation maintains a strong stable of domestic and international umpires. ABL umpires undergo an extensive training and certification process that is among the most rigorous in the world. In fact, the ABF's Technical and Officials Manager, Geoff Robertson, was the umpire who called the first strike in Olympic baseball history in a game between the USA and Spain at the 1992 Olympics.
-General Baseball and Fan Questions-
What achievements has Australian baseball enjoyed outside of the country?
Australia has excelled on the international stage and staked its claim as one of the premiere producers of baseball talent in the world. The Green and Gold captured the Silver Medal in the 2004 Olympic Games defeating global powerhouse Japan and dethroned international juggernaut Cuba in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, a competition of baseball's elite from around the world. In addition, 11 Australians have been selected for Major League Baseball's XM Futures Game, with nine of those going on to big league careers. Over 300 Australians have played professionally in the United States for Major League Baseball club-affiliated teams, with 28 ultimately playing in the big leagues.
Why does Australia need a professional baseball league?
From Olympic glory to the elite professional leagues of the United States and Korea, Australians players have succeeded on the global stage for decades. Youth participation in the sport has been on an upward trend in Australia, and one of the world's best high-performance, training and development centres for baseball has existed in Australia since 2001 at the Major League Baseball Australia Academy on Queensland's Gold Coast. However, junior players have lacked a professional league here in Australia to which to aspire. In addition, the absence of a professional league has left Australian youth baseballers without baseball sporting heroes who could serve as role models and sources of inspiration to continue the drive toward becoming a professional baseball player. Catalysing youth baseball participation will be a major goal of the new professional league to ensure the sport has a long-term, sustainable presence. When previous professional baseball leagues existed in Australia in the 1990's, youth participation numbers skyrocketed. The ABL will further provide a vehicle to showcase Australian professional talent on home soil, and allow for Australian baseball players to continue their skill development and be involved with local grassroots baseball during the ABL season. The arrival of the Australian Baseball League is a natural progression and part of a larger strategic vision for the growth of the sport in Australia.
What distinguished the ABL from previous efforts to start a professional baseball league in Australia and what will make it succeed?
The new Australian Baseball League is a continuation of a long-term strategic investment made by two of the most respected and well-managed sporting entities in the world in Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation with the Australian Sports Commission to significantly grow the game in Australia. The ABL is keenly aware of previous attempts to support a professional baseball league. Together, the ABF and MLB have joined forces to dramatically enhance the infrastructure necessary to support a league, taking a long-term, longitudinal approach. In addition, to an unprecedented commitment to prudent financial management, the two entities recognized a need to elevate coaching, training and development and generally to improve the pipelines for junior players.
Initiated in 2001, the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) recently completed its tenth year at the Palm Meadows Radisson Resort on Queensland's Gold Coast. The MLB Australian Academy prepares 65 of the best young players (amateur and professional) for collegiate, professional and national team careers. For seven weeks each winter, the MLB Australian Academy aims to improve the quantity and quality of young baseball players coming out of the region and over the past 10 years, the number of Australians playing professional and collegiate baseball has increased 40 percent. In 2000, Australia counted 48 professional and 32 collegiate players; there are currently approximately 75 Australians active with Major League and other professional league teams including 61 Academy products. A full 80% of all Australian professional players have come out of the Academy program. Coaching is provided by former Major League Baseball players and Australian baseball royalty. Leading the Academy coaching staff in 2010 was Australia's national coach and former pitching star, Jon Deeble, who additionally serves as the Far East Scout for the Boston Red Sox. Deeble managed the Australian squad at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, leading the team to a silver medal in Athens. Deeble was Australia's manager in both the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2009 World Baseball Classic. A former first base coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2005, as a scout for the team, he has signed countless Australians along with such marquee Asian players as Daisuke Matsuzaka. The rest of the staff offers a world of experience and includes former Major Leaguers David Nilsson, Graeme Lloyd, Rene Gonzales, Glenn Williams and Phil Stockman. By being patient and investing the resources to develop the talent pool, youth participation in the sport and the marketplace, the ABF and MLB have ensured the ABL's launch is optimally timed.
Have any Australian baseballers played in the World Series?
Australia has seen two players, both pitchers, star in the World Series. Graeme Lloyd won two World Series rings with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998. More recently, Sydney's Grant Balfour was part of the American League championship Tampa Bay Rays team that played in the 2008 World Series.
How about the All Star Game?
Only one Australian has been tabbed as a selection for Major League Baseball's All Star Game. The Midsummer Classic, as the legendary game is known, pits the top players, as voted by fans, from Major League Baseball's American and National Leagues. Long-time Milwaukee Brewers catcher, David Nilsson, one of the iconic faces of Australian baseball, was named an All Star in 1999. Reflecting his enormous commitment to growing the game in Australia, Nilsson forewent his free agent year to return home to don the Green and Gold uniform in the 2000 Olympic games. To date, 11 Australian players have competed in Major League Baseball's XM Futures Game. The game showcases the most promising rising stars in the game from around the globe. The most recent Aussie to garner the honour was Western Australia native pitcher Liam Hendricks. Nine of the previous 10 Australians to compete in the Futures Game went on to big league careers.