Results tagged ‘ Kansas City Royals ’
Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.
Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona?
Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now.
Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution?
Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too.
Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.
Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism.
Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally. He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure.
Roberto: He is a consummate professional.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that.
Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals?
Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort. You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up. He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels. So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him. And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp. We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system.
Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp?
Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.
Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year.
Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered. There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun. It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful.
Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago?
Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball. Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.
Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run. That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels.
Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt.
Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations.
Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life.
Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future.
Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs!
Roberto: Thank you Nick!
Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.
Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete.
Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.
Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.
Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?
Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.
Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?
Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.
Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.
Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.
Roberto: The spotlights were on you.
Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.
Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?
Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.
Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?
Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.
Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?
Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.
Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.
Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.
Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.
Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.
Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?
Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.
Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?
Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.
Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.
Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?
Roberto: Or more like by design..
Marten Gasparini: Yes!
Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.
Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.
Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?
Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.
Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.
Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.
Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?
Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.
Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.
Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.
Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.
Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?
Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.
Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.
Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.
Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.
Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.
Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?
Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.
Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?
Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.
Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.
Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.
Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?
Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.
Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.
Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.
Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.
Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?
Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…
Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?
Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.
Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”
2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”
17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.
Alberto Mineo è stato convocato per un’amichevole dei Cubs di Chicago. Ex Accademia, Mineo giocare nelle Minors pic.twitter.com/EBFCLtIZ8H
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) March 19, 2014
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”
Alberto Mineo and Davide Anselmi invited to Italy's National Team camp in Vero Beach. http://t.co/c7CHWPpFqz
— odeni (@waynopapp) February 14, 2014
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) February 28, 2014
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
story. It’s more about, if you quit then you lose.” Without a doubt, this 215-page book is quite an accomplishment. Grilli discounted the praise and said: “They are short pages, double-spaced. You know all the tricks to make your 10-page paper longer. Maybe that is what it is…a lot of insert pictures in the middle. If you don’t want to read the book, at least look at the pictures.” Just My Game chronicles Grilli’s love of the game of baseball and highlights his incredible and trusting relationship with his best friend and father, former MLB pitcher, Steve Grilli. Just My Game takes readers through the highs and lows of the Team Italia pitcher’s career including his 18 strikeout performance as a junior at Seton Hall, his selection as the #4 first-round pick in the 1997 draft, life in the minor leagues, and his recovery from several near career-ending injuries leading up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ remarkable 2013 playoff run. Jason Grilli will be making several book signing appearances in the coming months in support of the launch of his long-awaited autobiography. Be the first to purchase Just My Game before it goes on sale to the public by visiting Jason Grilli’s Facebook. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find the eloquent foreword to Grilli’s book written by 2013 National League Manager of the Year and Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle. Known to be a proponent of the power of positive thinking, Hurdle is the perfect setup man for Grilli’s autobiography.
Hurdle has been busy of late reading Jason Kendall’s Throwback, which was co-written by sportswriter Lee Judge. When asked if fans should buy Jason Kendall and Lee Judge’s Throwback, Hurdle responded: “Give this book a read. I’ve known Lee Judge for over 20 years. He has an unquenchable thirst for ‘Why’ questions and a passion for the game. He doesn’t just want the answers. He wants understanding. I’ve spent time with him in Minor League and Major League cities and clubhouses, and we are still friends! There is a sincere effort and old school way this book has been put together, and it is deserving of your time. You will laugh. You will learn. You will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the game we love.” America’s favorite pastime has always left fans and amateur players alike yearning for the answers to questions about how pros play the game. Have you ever wondered about pre-game rituals, what is being said at home plate, the signs a catcher uses to communicate with the pitcher, how a team silently communicates and the right way to hit a batter or what goes on behind closed clubhouse doors? All-Star catcher Jason Kendall is more than qualified to shed some light on the subject using his 15-years playing behind home plate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals as a true testament. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up nicely when he characterized Kendall and his new book as winners. Gibby said, “Jason Kendall is the ultimate competitor, a modern-day gladiator. If you had nine Jason Kendalls, you could never lose.” Undoubtedly, Throwback provides readers an opportunity to gain an insider’s view of the game from a true-grit player’s perspective. Coupled with Jason Grilli’s new offering of Just My Game, baseball fanatics now have a winning combination of required reading guaranteed to bring hours of enjoyment and a fonder appreciation of what makes these players truly inspirational.
While America’s exports to Australia amounts to over $27.5 billion, baseball is a priceless Aussie favorite. No matter how many machines, engines, pumps, vehicles, aircraft, spacecraft, gems, precious metals, coins, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber and chemical goods make their way Down Under, these were some of the Top 40 American imports (#11-20) in the thriving
2012-13 Australian Baseball League.
After being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 13th round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft from Mississippi Valley State University, #20 Zach Penprase spent the following three years honing his skills in Single-A ball within the Phillies and Red Sox organizations. Despite being released from MiLB in 2008, the talented infielder was determined not to give up playing baseball professionally. When the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks offered refuge from the minor league madness, he gratefully accepted the invitation and has since become a leader and fan favorite in the Independent American Association League for the past three seasons. Making waves across the U.S. that were felt as far as Bondi Beach, Penprase got the attention of Sydney Blue Sox GM David Balfour. Given the opportunity to redeem himself in front
— Zach Penprase (@pachzenprase) February 2, 2013
of MLB scouts while experiencing unrivaled Aussie hospitality in the ABL, the 27-year-old Southern California native signed up to play ball in the state capital of New South Wales.
Representing Team World in the ABL All-Star game at the end of round six of ABL action, Penprase was one of the top three hitters in the league with the second-best batting average (.370) and the third-best on-base percentage (.469). Setting new team records in games played (45) and stolen bases (16), the Sydney Blue Sox second baseman and shortstop proved to be a valuable American import with a respectable season-ending .282 batting average and
.365 on-base percentage.
#19 Quincy Latimore replaced injured Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Justin Howard on the Adelaide Bite roster shortly after Christmas. He was a welcome addition to the team’s ailing line-up after an impressive 2010 ABL campaign in which he played in 31 games for Adelaide with a .313 batting average and was sixth in the ABL in both slugging percentage (.548) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.923). Selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Middle Creek High School in Apex, North Carolina, Latimore competed in rookie ball until 2010. While at Single-A Advanced Bradenton, the left fielder crushed 19 homes runs with 100 RBI and earned Florida State League post-season All-Star honors. In each of his last two seasons at Double-A Altoona, he has hit 15 homers, while exercising more plate discipline by taking more walks and cutting down on strikeouts. With a minor league career .255 batting average, Quincy Latimore was recently acquired by the Cleveland Indians in exchange for the MLB-experienced right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez. The 24-year-old put together a .286 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage in 16 games for the 2012-13 Bite.
One last thank you from all the way across the globe to all Aussies and especially to @sydneybluesox for never saying a bad word about me.
— Zach Penprase (@pachzenprase) February 12, 2013
#18 Brenden Webb was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a 19-year-old in the 30th round of the 2009 amateur draft out of Palomar Community College in San Diego County. Ranked #31 by Orioles Nation in their 2013 Top 50 Baltimore prospects feature article, lefty outfielder is a five-tool player with potential to make a positive impact on the major league level. His aggressive defensive prowess is demonstrated in this youtube video of him throwing out Canberra’s Kody Hightower at the plate. Featured in last season’s Top 20 Americans in the ABL article after hitting .270 and ranking fourth-best in walks (25) with only 100 at-bats, Brenden Webb returns again in this season’s Top 20 despite having only joined Perth in early January. In 2012 between his stints at Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Advanced Frederick, the 23-year-old power-hitter had career-highs in both walks (98) and home runs (14) while greatly increasing his on-base percentage.
Finally off to Australia! Lets hope this flight goes by fast! 😒
— Brenden Webb (@BrWebb24) December 27, 2012
Named ABL Player of the Week for Round One of 2012-13 action, #17 K.C. Hobson of the Canberra Cavalry absolutely raked at the plate by going 6-for-10 and hitting two home runs in three games. Named to the ABL World All-Stars roster after being Canberra’s most consistent bat as well as their clean-up hitter from the moment he set foot in Australia’s capital city at the start of the season, the aspiring 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect’s time in the ABL was cut short by a calf injury which prevented him from playing against Team Australia in the 2012 ABL All-Star game and sent him home early before Christmas. Picked up by the Jays in the sixth round of the 2009 draft out of Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California, Hobson had a breakout year in 2012 for Single-A Lansing–where he hit .276 and set a single-season franchise record 43 doubles. The Cavalry first baseman’s injury cost him a possible ABL batting title as his average plummeted from a league-leading .600 to a season-ending .271.
Heading back to the states. Thanks @perthheat for the amazing time. The great fans and people is what makes Perth so special to me.
— Brenden Webb (@BrWebb24) February 10, 2013
— Canberra Cavalry (@CanberraCavalry) November 6, 2012
— Australia News (@AustraliaFlash) December 9, 2012
#16 Jim Schult of the Brisbane Bandits was named the 2011 Division III National Player of the Year while playing at Eastern Connecticut State University. A First Team All-American Collegiate Pitcher, Schult joined the Can-Am NYSL Federals in 2011 and the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers in 2012. With unlimited potential and a bright baseball future ahead, the 23-year-old New Yorker made a great debut pitching in the ABL with a superb 4-2 record and will be welcome back.
#15 Zachary Arneson of the Melbourne Aces was drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of Cal State Bakersfield in the 21st round of the 2010 draft, but chose to return to college and transfer to Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. After posting a 2-1 record with a 2.82 ERA and 46 strikeouts in his senior year, he was drafted by his favorite team–the New York Yankees–in the ninth round of the 2011 draft. The hard-throwing relief pitcher signed immediately
Melbourne Australia – 3 months, cya
— Zach Arneson (@ZachArneson) October 24, 2012
and has since moved up the ranks
rapidly to Single-A Charleston.
Marred by nagging injuries throughout his brief minor league career, Arneson was used primarily in a setup role out of the bullpen during 2012 and pitched two scoreless innings in his last outing for the Single-A Charleston RiverDogs to earn his only victory (1-0) before heading to Australia. The day news got out that the Melbourne Aces had scored the first American import affiliated with one of the most prestigious MLB franchises to play in the ABL, the entire Australian state of Victoria buzzed with anticipation. Melbourne Aces general manager Windsor Knox said, “It’s a fantastic day for the Aces and our fans to be associated with the New York Yankees. We look forward to seeing Zachary’s contribution to the team’s success this season.” Aces manager Phil Dale commented that it was great for the ABL to have the biggest team in the world willing to send out players. With opponents failing to connect with the 24-year-old flamethrower’s fastball early on, Arneson rightfully earned a spot on the ABL World All-Star team roster and continued to dominate with a 1.77 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
All-Star Game, Japanese friends twitter.com/ZachArneson/st…
— Zach Arneson (@ZachArneson) December 16, 2012
@zacharneson In Melbourne 3 months and already know who runs this City. You just claimed your Victorian citizenship mate!
— SpazzyPC (@SpazzyPC) January 7, 2013
Originally selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 11th round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Califoria, Riverside, #14 Anthony Claggett of the Perth Heat was acquired by the New York Yankees in the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. Equipped with a sinking 92 mph fastball and a 85 mph slider, the Southern California hurler came into 2009 Yankees Spring Training as the 26th-ranked prospect in the franchise and the third-ranked right-handed relief pitching prospect. Five months after making his MLB pitching debut on April 18, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians, Claggett was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was designated for assignment by the Pirates when Octavio Dotel was acquired in 2010 and was granted free agency at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Prior to signing on with the Perth Heat in the ABL, he pitched for the Somerset Patriots and the St. Paul Saints. The 2012 ABL Team World All-Star (4-5, 3.31 ERA) was second-best in strikeouts (77) and was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Round Five after throwing 6.2 innings of shutout ball against the Aces with seven strikeouts and no walks allowed.
Beautiful day for baseball in Perth #perthheat
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) December 14, 2012
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) February 3, 2013
Officially back in California. Thank you Australia for all the good times #perthheat.
— anthony claggett (@aclaggs10) February 17, 2013
#13 Geoff Klein of the Sydney Blue Sox was drafted by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 15th round of the 2010 draft from Santa Clara University in Northern California, where the switch-hitting 2009 West Coast Conference batting champion was named a 2010 preseason All-American. The 24-year-old Huntington Beach catcher and first baseman has fared well in the Cardinals minor leagues. He set career-highs in games played (102), home runs (7), RBIs (34) and walks (30) in his second season for Single-A Advanced Palm Beach prior to joining the Blue Sox in the ABL. Klein was the unsung hero calling games behind the plate for Sydney as
I’d like to thank the fans, my teammates, and staff of the @sydneybluesox for making my winter ball experience memorable. Unreal journey
— Geoff Klein (@Kleinburger27) February 2, 2013
the Blue Sox pitching staff was the ABL’s best with the league’s lowest ERA (2.91) and WHIP (1.20). He also produced offensively for the squad–ranking third in doubles (10) and walks (20) and fourth in hits/runs (43) and RBI (21).
Last day in Oz. Bittersweet, leavin behind a lot of good mates and great experiences but can’t wait to get home and back to the grind #2013
— Geoff Klein (@Kleinburger27) February 5, 2013
#12 Carlo Testa of the Melbourne Aces beat out 29 other players for this year’s ABL Fan Choice Award. The Kansas City Royals’ selection in the 18th round of the 2008 draft out of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee was a 2012 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star as an outfielder for Double-A Northwest Arkansas with career-highs in home runs (15) and RBI (54). Playing in all 46 games for Melbourne this season,
Thanks to everyone that voted for my mate Carlo Testa.He came out on top as the ABL’s Fan Choice Awards.Well done my man! #goaces
— Travis Blackley (@Travis_Blackley) February 7, 2013
the 26-year-old Midwestener was the driving force behind the ABL’s last place offense by leading the Ace’s regulars in nearly every category including: doubles (11), home runs (6), stolen bases (10), batting average (.294), on-base percentage (.394), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.835).
#11 Cody Clark came to Brisbane, Australia after spending the 2012 season with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Bouncing between the Texas, Atlanta and Kansas City franchises, the 31-year-old journeyman has played 10 years in the minor leagues. The veteran catcher needed an outlet such like the Australian Baseball League to show-case for international MLB scouts as he entered free agency. The Arkansas native ventured over 8,600 miles to get Aussie baseball love. Taken in the 11th round of the 2003 draft by the Texas Rangers, Clark moved over to the Atlanta organization in 2006 before signing with Kansas City
Big homer by Cody Clark to send the storm chasers to another win!!
— Johnny Giavotella (@Gio2bKC) May 6, 2012
in 2007. A fixture at the Triple-A level ever since, the versatile catcher got a lot of action in 13 games at Royals Spring Training last year. Clark was 6-for-18 for a .333 average, and he drew four walks to give himself a healthy on-base percentage of .435. Despite rubbing shoulders with the elite and handling major league pitching at camp, his MLB debut still eludes him to this day. However, his seasoned level of play in the ABL would make one think he had broken into the Bigs
a long time ago. In addition to being an ABL Team World All-Star, the Brisbane backstop was named ABL Player of the Week for Round Four. During the four-game series against the Adelaide Bite at the Norwood Oval, Clark went 8-for-15 with two home runs, two doubles, two walks, two runs scored and nine RBI. There was nothing bush league about the Bandits’ leader in hits (50), runs (25), doubles (13), and RBI (28) or nothing minor about his .299 batting average.
Leadoff hitter Luis Durango was one
of the few bright spots in Panama’s two losses during the 2009 World Baseball Classic Pool D competition in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In game one against host Puerto Rico, Durango singled, walked twice and stole one base. In Panama’s follow-up contest
in which they were eliminated by the Dominican Republic, he went 2-for-3. Hitting .600 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Durango was second in the international games in batting average and on-base percentage. Panama’s 48-year-old manager will use Durango’s ability to get on base, steal a bag or two and ultimately score to win the 2012 WBC Qualifier games beginning November 15th at Panama City, Panama’s Rod Carew Stadium. A positive role model for Panama’s next generation of MLB stars, Roberto Kelly is committed to the growth of baseball in his native homeland and is looking for ways to teach the youth about the game and life’s lessons. After enjoying a solid 14-year Major League playing career and compiling a lifetime .290 batting average with 241 doubles, 124 home runs, 585 RBI and 235 stolen bases over 1,337 games, Kelly is now a two-time World Champion MLB coach and manager of Panama’s national team. An inspiration for many on how hard work and dedication can bring success, Panama looks to Kelly
to lead the country to greatness by advancing to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He will not be alone in this special assignment as former MLB outfielder Rubén Rivera (1995-2003) will be there by his side every step of the way. Although his cousin–New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera–has never participated in the World Baseball Classic, Rubén will be making his third WBC appearance for Panama. Still playing ball and in excellent shape at age 39, Rubén is very much the heart and soul of this Panama squad. With over 3.5 million Panamanians cheering on their national baseball heroes in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, there’s a good chance that the sense of excitement in Panama City will equal that of the recent enthusiasm at the 2012 World Series Champion Giants celebratory parade in the streets of downtown San Francisco. The common link to key both of these teams is Giant coach and Panama manager Roberto Kelly. With his expertise and his roster of very talented players, Panama is destined to party hard after a win of the
WBC Qualifier Final on November 19th.
Bill Lee in the seventh inning of the final game of the 1975 World Series lifted the Cincinnati Reds to their first world championship. Both Pérez and Beard share the same “Big Dog” nickname but for different reasons. Pérez’ teammate Lee May came up with the “Doggie” moniker saying, “He’s the big dog, the top dog … you could always depend on Doggie to drive in the big run.” In Hayden Beard’s case as a pitcher, he is “The Big Dog” on the mound who consistently keeps opponents off-balance and guessing in clutch situations.
Signed by the New York Mets in 2005, Hayden Beard was plagued by injuries early in his career and was shut down from competition for three years. Beard returned home to play for the Canberra Cavalry and pitched two seasons for the Padres Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm. After pitching for Team Australia during the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama, Beard’s 2011-2012 ABL campaign for the Cavalry earned him ABL Player of the Week and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. We caught up with “The Big Dog” Hayden Beard at Padres Spring Training camp in Peoria, Arizona prior to him being sent up to pitch for the San Diego Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions.
Roberto: Thanks for joining us. How did you get “The Big Dog” nickname?
Hayden Beard: It was a radio broadcaster back in Low A (ball). I asked him to call me the name one day as a bit of joke on the bus on the way to the field, and I threw that night. (Later) we get off the bus, and he replayed the audio of the game. And sure enough he said, “Here comes the pitcher, the Big Dog, and the Big Dog whatever…” And the name just kind of stuck. Unfortunately, it was a self-given nickname. (laughter)
Roberto: Let’s talk Canberra pitching for a moment. Were you happy for Steve Kent being signed by the Kansas City Royals after a stellar 5-1 record with six saves in the ABL?
Hayden Beard: I think with Steve getting that opportunity with the Royals was great, especially (after) the way things ended with the Braves. He had a great year two years ago coming off surgery. Didn’t start so well last year and then to be let go…I think it hit him pretty hard. But in saying that, it gave him maybe a bit more drive than he had before to work harder, to get stronger and be a better pitcher. The work that he did in the ABL was unreal. He was out there everyday working his butt off, doing extra work. Just the progress made for a pitcher was phenomenal. He’s a new guy now. I hope he stays healthy and has a great year. Out of the bullpen, pitchers can fly through the levels. It’s not unrealistic that he could be in the Big Leagues in the next 12 months. [Editor’s note: The Kansas City Royals have since released Steve Kent.]
Roberto: What about the Cavalry’s unsung hero, pitcher Brian Grening averaging a strikeout per inning with an unrestricted limit of 43.2 innings pitched?
Hayden Beard: Grening was definitely our go-to-guy throughout the whole year. If we were in jam or if we needed someone to eat up a couple innings, we’d send “Greno” out there. I’ll tell you what, as far as a pitcher goes, if I could have any pitch from anyone on
the staff, it would his change-up. That thing is unreal. I think that’s why he had the success that he had. He doesn’t have a 95 mph fastball. He doesn’t have the big hammer, but that change-up is just phenomenal. It’s been unfortunate that he hasn’t been picked up by an affiliated team so far this year, but hopefully he goes and plays independent ball. And if someone needs a guy throughout the year, his phone starts ringing and maybe he is back out here.Roberto: Of all the ABL teams, the Canberra Cavalry had the strongest American presence. Why did you have so many U.S. players?
Hayden Heard: I guess we need the Americans on our team because Canberra is the smallest city that has a baseball team, and our baseball population is small. Therefore, our player base from where we can draw players in is quite limited. We don’t have the number
of professionals that Sydney, Perth, especially Victoria, Brisbane have, so we’re always in need of international help. So for us local guys that are on the team, we are all current professionals that have played professional baseball so we have been around Americans
our whole careers. We know a lot about them, and the reality of the situation is once you
all get together and put that same uniform on—you’re a team. And you’re all striving for
the same goals. You are there to win. You’re there to get better. You have to start off, and it’s a little bit weird maybe not knowing everybody. But that will last maybe one or two days. And you’re all baseball-minded. You all love the game, and you’re there because you want
to be there. As far as having that big U.S influence on our team, it’s not a problem at all.
It’s something I look forward to every year. Meeting new guys and making new friends.
Roberto: Kody Hightower was a true competitor. Did you expect him to have the third best batting average (.361) and on-base percentage (.455) in the ABL?
Hayden Beard: What a story he was throughout the year! He’s a guy that rolls out of club ball. I think when they were putting the team together, he wasn’t really looked at as a guy that would be in our starting nine. A few injuries happen, we need a guy. Our manager, Steve Schrenk–a great guy–calls Kody and says, “Would you come away and play with us?” Kody had obligations with his club team in Canberrra that brought him to Australia to play. So it was a little tough to get those guys to come on the road with us, and then they obviously would miss their games that these clubs had paid for them to come out here and play. But Kody, I mean, for someone who had not really been playing professional baseball at a high level to come in and just do what he did there…absolutely raked. You know, he was probably our best hitter. He and Burgamy during that last month of the season were just unreal. Kody stepped up to the plate. The way he did it showed a lot about his character and him as a person. He’s most welcome to come back and play on the team anywhere I play in the world. He could come out here and compete in minor league ball. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. So who knows, maybe a scout saw it and thinks the same thing?
Roberto: That’s exactly why I wrote the article—The Risky Lowdown of MLB’s MIA Kody Hightower. His talents are uncharted and are unrecognized by the international scouts. He’s got the competitive spirit to roll with the punches and play with the big boys.
Hayden Beard: He absolutely does. When he gets between those lines, he’s brutal…he’s a fighter and he wants to win. He sets very high standards for himself, and if he doesn’t reach those goals then he is really hard on himself. I think that is the kind of mentality that you have to have to have success in the game. Kody is a guy that could play anywhere in the world, and I’m sure he’d have success and do what he has done throughout his career.Roberto: Now let’s talk about you. How did the MLB Australian Academy on the Gold Coast prepare you for professional baseball?
Hayden Beard: Without the MLB Australian Academy, there’s no way I would have
been signed. I wouldn’t have gotten the exposure I had without this opportunity. I signed with the Mets. Went over there and went to the instructional league in 2005. Played in 2006. Spring training in 2007 then hurt my elbow and ended up having surgery. Took me out for the season. Never really bounced back after surgery. The arm never responded for whatever reason. Mets didn’t give me a visa for the next two years because I wasn’t healthy so I was no use to them. Then in 2009 I had an opportunity to go to Japan and play on the Australian provincial team. So I went over there for about a six week trip to Japan. The coach called me three weeks out and said, “You know Beardy, we need an arm. Are you healthy?” So I said,”Maybe I’ll get healthy. I’ll give it a go.” So I committed. Got back in the gym, worked hard, started throwing, made the trip, went over there. Threw pretty well. Velocity was back up, you know, 93, 94, 95… And I thought I could have a chance to get back out on the mound, you know. I got home and contacted the Mets. Told them I was good to go. Went and played the Claxton Shield with Adelaide. The Adelaide Bite needed an arm and their manager called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing for us.”
I said, “Yes.” Turns out one of the Adelaide coaches is a scout with the Padres. He put in his reports. December comes around, Rule 5 Draft happens. Get a call at three o’clock in the morning–“You’re now a Padre!” And from then it has been taken off flight. Coming over here to the San Diego organization has been unbelievable. It’s like what Corey Adamson said,
it is like a family here. The way you are treated. The way everyone gets on so well. From
the front office right down to the Arizona League. The trainers, the staff, everyone is just fantastic. And I couldn’t think of a better place to be right now. I’m not sure a lot of clubs out there would have given me the opportunity that San Diego has. You know, I ‘m getting pretty old as far as minor league age goes. They’ve kept me around. Obviously, they see something in me. I hope to repay them and have a successful Big League career.
Roberto: Josh Spence would love to have a fellow Aussie teammate down in San Diego.
Hayden Beard: Absolutely, I’ve know Spence. We went to the MLB Academy together in 2005, and now being in the same organization it’s pretty cool. I think the role change from
a reliever to a starter has been huge for me, you know. Went out there in the Australian league, never started before. Started, worked on my secondary pitches, things just took off from there. Right now I’m pitching the best that I have in my life, and hopefully I will try to carry it right through into the season. Have a successful year. Who knows what the boys are going to do upstairs? They might give me a call down.
Roberto: Weren’t you looked upon as the closer for Team Australia?
Hayden Beard: Yeah, I was. That was the initial plan, and then through talking to the Australian coaches and the staff they said my secondary stuff needs work. And it’s tough to get that work out of the bullpen. You know, if you’re not throwing between outings, you get your work in on the mound. Only throwing two pitches out of the bullpen–fastball, slider–both hard pitches, nothing below 85 mph–guys were starting to see it pretty good and hit it hard. And that’s why I switched to the starting role to be able to throw a change-up. Through that I now have four pitches. I have an overhand breaking ball which is down around 79, 80 mph and a change-up around 78. Totally changed the way I pitched, and I guess the success I had in the Australian league is a testament to that, being a different pitcher than I was last year.
Roberto: What about the new Australian Baseball League with its support from Major League Baseball and the growth of the game in Australia since then?
Hayden Heard: I remember the old ABL about 12 or 13 years ago now. When that folded,
I was just a young kid and it was pretty hard. Because I used to love going there with my dad. He’d take me out there, and I’d go chase the foul balls. It was great. But then having no league in Australia to follow and no guys to watch was a little bit hard coming through the baseball ranks as a junior. Now the league is back. The growth we’ve seen in the game has been huge. The kids are walking around the malls wearing Canberra Cavalry hats, wearing Canberra Cavalry t-shirts. We’re averaging 1000 people a game this year. That’s fantastic! The numbers of baseball junior registrations have just skyrocketed. And I think it’s a real testament to the league and the work they have done with Major League Baseball as a partner, trying to get their game out there in Australia and really promote it. And I’m sure if this league sticks around then you’re definitely going to continually see more and more Australian professional baseball players leaving their mark in the Major Leagues.Roberto: Was pitching your number one preference as opposed to playing a different position?
Hayden Beard: No. I never pitched! I was a shortstop until I was 18. Then a Braves scout was at our game to see my buddy who was a Brave at the time. He saw me pitch. We were tied, had to go extra innings and ran out of arms so I was called from shortstop to throw a couple innings. I think I was running up to 87, 88 or something. This is at club baseball back home, and he was the one who first saw me there. It’s Neil Burke, he’s on the coaching staff for the Melbourne Aces. He spoke to the Academy people and said, “This guy has a chance, you know. Give him some time and train him up a little bit.” And they did and a few months later I was a full-time pitcher. Now I’m a professional baseball player. That’s seven, eight years ago now. I don’t have that many innings at all in my arm. I’ve probably only thrown maybe 300 innings total as a pitcher. I’m still raw. I’m getting better everyday. I guess that’s a positive right now.
Roberto: Has Aussie MLB pitchers like Grant Balfour been inspirational to you?
Hayden Beard: He has. Watching him pitch in the playoffs a couple years ago was awesome. Just seeing that there is hope there for Australian guys to come through the systems. Look…Peter Moylan as well with the Braves, another great guy, great impression. He had a burst in the minor leagues, hurt his back, had some surgeries, came back as a 26-year-old. And then to do what he did now..not just a Big League pitcher but a dominant Big League pitcher. That’s impressive!
Roberto: What was your surgery all about?
Hayden Beard: It was a nerve arm issue. One of the nerves in my elbow popped out of where it was supposed to be and was rubbing against a bone. So they just moved the nerve. It had nothing to do with the way I threw the ball. I have real clean mechanics so I really have never had an arm injury sort to speak as far as ligament damage or anything like that. So hopefully this fresh arm will stay fresh for a while longer–knock on wood…Roberto: Is playing baseball a good life?
Hayden Beard: I’m just happy to be here. I love the game. I love doing what I do everyday. I know that I’m fortunate to wake up and come to the ballpark. Back home working a nine to five job makes me really appreciate what we have over here. Something
I think a lot of young guys really don’t understand is how good this opportunity is, how
good a life it is playing baseball. Some young guys might have a bit of a whine, whatever. That it’s tough out here on the field. It’s not tough. Tough is getting up at seven o’clock in the morning, going to work for nine hours a day digging a ditch and then going home at nighttime. I love the game, and I’m happy to be here.
Roberto: Having already led the Lake Elsinore Storm to a Cal League Championship.
Are your Single-A minor league days over?
Hayden Beard: I did throw a lot of innings in the ABL in the offseason so that may count for something, and they might send me straight to Double-A San Antonio. It’s really up to the bosses here. Wherever they send me, I’ll go out and I will pitch my ass off. Work hard everyday and try move up that ladder to get up to the Big Leagues.
Roberto: I would like to see you to go head-to-head with Melbourne Ace and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Shane Lindsay in the Major Leagues.
Hayden Beard: Absolutely. Shane is a great guy. He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s got
a lot of fire in his belly. I’m sure if anyone is going to get there–it’s going to be him. So I’m with you. I really hope he gets healthy and has a year like he did last year to force their hand to put him in the Big Leagues.
Roberto: Thank you for your time today, and I look forward to “The Big Dog” pitching in his MLB debut at San Diego’s PETCO Park.
Hayden Beard: I’ve still got a lot of arm left in me. Thanks Roberto!