BASEBALL: Support for a New Zealand-based team to play in the Australian Baseball League has come from a coach in one of the world's most competitive and high-paying competitions.
The coach of the Milwaukee Brewers - the team where Australia's first ever Major League All Star David Nilsson played for eight years - has backed a team from Across the Ditch to join the six franchises in the ABL.
Ron Roenicke is the Brewers' current manager, and he was recently in New Zealand running coaching camps as part of the MLB's Training with the Pros clinics.
The ABL has been in discussions with Baseball New Zealand about a team from that country joining the six Australian franchises already in existence - Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
And Roenicke, who helped the LA Angels to a World Series triumph in 2002 as third-base coach, threw his support behind the idea.
"It would be great to add a team from New Zealand - they should be very competitive. They should continue to get better and better," he wrote in an email to APN.
"I see baseball growing world-wide with new countries joining in.
"It was a fun trip (to New Zealand) with lots of good athletes to work with.
"I really enjoyed working with kids that are trying to get better and with a country that is trying to advance in the sport."
Roenicke's support will come as a massive boost to Baseball NZ officials, who have been working tirelessly on increasing the sport's popularity.
"We've placed a heavy premium over the past four years in bringing out current or former MLB players and coaches - to not only work with our kids and coaches - but to promote the game," Baseball NZ CEO Ryan Flynn said.
"We've had (current and former Major League stars) Curtis Granderson, Jay Bell, Mark Melancon twice, Darrell Evans, Nick Hundley, Chris Woodward twice, Steve Kline, DJ Carrasco and Ron Roenicke in just four years.
"New clubs are rising up every few months, and it's a matter of staying on top of this growth with limited resources compared to a sport like rugby, or cricket, or a number of Olympic sports."
Carrasco, who also ran some coaching clinics in New Zealand recently, is a former pitcher with Kansas City, the Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh, Arizona and the New York Mets.
He also believes there is enough talent in New Zealand to support an ABL team.
"There are a lot of people in New Zealand who are passionate and want to see the game offer alternative pathways for kids, and understand what is trying to be accomplished," he said.
"I think there will be a learning curve for the team to be competitive; however I imagine roster concessions will be made until they start producing the kind of ball-players desired."
- JOSH SPASARO APN SPORTS BUREAU
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