Friday, September 14, 2012
ABL Franchise in Auckland?
by Baseball New Zealand
Facility identified as key to possible New Zealand Franchise in an expanded professional Australian Baseball League
Major League Baseball (MLB) officials have recently announced their intention to work with Auckland officials and Baseball New Zealand to identify prospective facilities to meet the growth of the sport, including a possible future franchise of the Australian Baseball League (ABL) to be located in the city, according to Tom Nicholson, MLB International's director for the Oceania region.
Nicholson recently visited several facilities and parcels of land in Auckland along with Murray Cook, MLB's field and stadium expert. He stated in meetings with Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Regional Facilities and stadium officials that New York-based Major League Baseball is seriously considering bringing a professional franchise to the city, as well as its ground-breaking MLB Academy Program for top teenaged baseball prospects. There is even the potential of an MLB post-season All Star touring team coming to Auckland.
"We are impressed with and excited by the recent growth of baseball in New Zealand," said Nicholson. "The development of appropriate facilities will be crucial to maintaining the momentum and progressing to the next stage. A top-class baseball stadium in Auckland will give Team New Zealand a proper home; it will provide a venue for future ABL games and a facility for the MLB Academy program."
Australian Baseball League CEO, Peter Wermuth also supports the concept stating "A proper baseball facility suitable for professional baseball would be a great development for the sport in New Zealand, provide an opportunity to bring ABL games to New Zealand and would be a key step towards consideration for an ABL expansion franchise in the future. We strongly support the initiative."
According to Baseball New Zealand officials, the organisation is attempting to identify a dedicated single site that will be used nearly year-round by the baseball community - by local leagues, professional baseball, major international tournaments and more.
"It's crucial for our sport to take the next step to have at least one facility that we can call home," said Baseball New Zealand President David Ballinger from his office in Christchurch. "Every other sport has at least one facility that they can access whenever necessary, and baseball should be no different. We need a facility that we can build up over time that becomes world-class for what is considered one of the world's most popular and profitable team sports."
Major League Baseball has paid particular attention to New Zealand and its growth in club and school baseball numbers, which have jumped from 1000 to nearly 6000 in just twenty-four months. Additionally, three New Zealand players have either been signed or drafted in the past fifteen months, including Daniel Devonshire (Toronto Blue Jays), Pita Rona (Baltimore Orioles) and Te Wera Bishop (Boston Red Sox). The country also has at least a dozen young men earning an education via their baseball skills at universities across America.
The most important moment in New Zealand Baseball history will occur in November, when the men's national team, the Diamondblacks, will participate in the first ever World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament. The team is flying to Taipei to take on national teams from Thailand, the Philippines and the hosts, Chinese Taipei, who are currently 7th ranked in the world. New Zealand is the only unranked team to have been invited by MLB and the WBC organizing committee to participate, and looks to shock the baseball world with their team made up of professional, collegiate and domestic ballplayers.