With 14 years of Major League Baseball pitching experience under his belt, it was a no brainer for San Diego’s AA affiliate in San Antonio to call on Tim Worrell to fill the shoes of former Missions’ pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who was summoned to become the new Padres bullpen. Hired by the parent-club San Diego Padres in 2010, Worrell had been working in Peoria, Arizona with the organization’s players in extended spring training and on rehab assignment prior to reporting to the Texas League team. Having to leave his wife and six boys back home in Phoenix to take on pitching coach duties in San Antonio, it wouldn’t be long before Worrell would be adopted by his new baseball family of international pitchers led by Aussie Hayden Beard.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard came off a strong 2011 campaign after pitching for Team Australia during
the Baseball World Cup in Panama as well as for
the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. During the 2011-12 Cavalry season, he earned himself ABL Player of the Week honours and a team-leading five wins with a 2.82 ERA. Heading into 2012 Padres Spring Training Camp, Beard looked radiant and as confident as ever. After leading High-A Lake Elsinore Storm to a 2011 Cal League Championship, it was natural for the right-handed hurler to saddle up for a promotion to Double-A San Antonio Missions. Although there were a few bumps in the road during the seemingly rough ride, the Aussie pitcher finished strong with a 6-5 record in just over 119 innings of work. Starting in 19 games, Beard gave his team a chance to win every outing. However, he relished after the All-Star break in his 12 bullpen appearances during which his strikeout totals accelerated to 69.
We caught up with family man Tim Worrell in the San Antonio Missions’ dugout recently and discussed how Padres pitching prospect Hayden Beard’s best years may have yet to come.
Roberto: 27-year-old Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard is a late bloomer because he had to sit out for three years due to nerve damage in his arm. The Padres obviously have faith in him by sending him your way in Double-A San Antonio. Having said that you reached the prime of your career at age 31, do you see some parallels between the two of you in showing him that there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Tim Worrell: Yeah, sure. Again, I never try to tell these guys where their careers could finish at. I’d be a dummy to tell them that. First off, he’s got a great live arm and great movement on his pitches. Sometimes he struggles a little bit with control and that obviously puts us in trouble. When we’re behind in the count regularly, it puts the hitters in hitter’s counts. But he’s definitely starting to get some of these approaches knowing that is an area he needs to work on. And that in itself ends up helping to control some of the results that end up happening to us. (You) can’t always control them all, but it does put us in a better position. And he is still working on fine-tuning his game. It wasn’t long ago that we sped him up a little quicker to the plate without giving up quality of stuff so that he could hold runners on first better. So there are definitely physical things we need to do and he needs to do to make his game better. But a lot of it is just believing and trusting his stuff.
Roberto: Watching his roommate Miles Mikolas get the call-up to the Padres, rubbing shoulders with last year’s surprise in the San Diego bullpen, Erik Hamren, and this year’s sensation, Nick Vincent, must have been inspirational for Hayden with the realization that he could be next. Having watched him pitch in Australia and in Lake Elsinore, the fact remains is that Hayden Beard is a great competitor. Now that he is paired up with you in San Antonio, I think it’s an awesome combination. I’m really happy that you guys are really able to work together in developing his craft.
Tim Worrell: Yep. And you brought up probably his number one attribute and that’s his competitiveness, which is probably the most important thing. Because a true competitor never gives in. We have to remind ourselves at times maybe that we are that. But they don’t give in, and they are always looking to get better and always looking to get the job done.
AC/DC, Crowded House, Helen Reddy, Kylie Minogue, Little River Band, and Men At Work are just some of the big names that have sprouted out of Melbourne, Australia. There has never been a drought for world-class talent hailing from the metropolis often referred to as the “cultural capital of Australia” and the world’s most liveable city. Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria. Four-year-old Michael “Flea” Balzary moved from Melbourne to New York when his father, a customs officer, was transferred in 1967. Shortly after his parents divorced at age seven, his dad returned to Australia, where he now lives on the outskirts of Canberra with his second wife. Flea’s mother later married American jazz musician Walter Urban Jr. and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1972. Flea would often sit in on weekly jam sessions with his stepdad and the constant flow of musicians who visited. While most of the California high school kids were into disco and dance music, Flea listened to jazz legends Louie Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. His greatest childhood memory was when he met Gillespie backstage after one of his concerts. Flea’s musical interests diversified when he discovered funk music and Jimi Hendrix became his new idol. He befriended Anthony Kiedis in 1977 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed after Flea left Fear and declined an offer to join PiLin 1984.Flea has a strong connection to his Aussie roots. He professed, “I love Australia with my heart and Australian blood coarses through my veins. We are coming to Australia early next year, can’t wait to feel the connection to my birthplace once again.” The bassist owns a beachfront property in the little town of Congo on NSW’s South Coast. Flea said, “Chances are, I’ll end up living there permanently. Without wanting to sound corny, I feel it in my blood when I’m in that part of Australia. I get a lot of power and strength from the land.”
Power and strength are two attributes commonly referred to when Melbourne Ace and LA Angels pitching prospect Alex Da Silva takes the mound. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim international scout Grant Weir as a free agent on January 10, 2011, the 19-year-old Da Silva has a cannon for an arm. Weir commented, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive.” Equipped with a 90 plus MPH fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter, Da Silva is committed to working hard everyday to realize his dream of making it to Major League Baseball. This past Australian Baseball League season the six-foot-two Aussie hurler was in good hands pitching under the guidance and supervision of Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale, a former minor league coach for the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves as well as a national baseball coaching legend for leading the Australian team to its first ever silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics with a 1-0 upset over Japan. We checked in with Alex recently.
Roberto: How are things going for you in Tempe, Arizona? Alex: Feeling pretty good at my first Angels Spring Training camp. It’s pretty good. They are very keen on looking after the players so everything is taken care of. I mean from getting picked up in the morning, breakfast, lunch. It’s just a baseball paradise here, you know. Roberto: It’s everything you expected it to be? Alex: And more… Roberto: Reports from Australia are that you pack some heat with your fastball. Is that true? Alex: It’s a bit more like that back home, but over here I am just another fish in the sea. I’m mean, it’s nothing special, really. That’s where I have to develop. I mean, back home, yeah, There are not many guys that throw that hard. Over here, everybody does. I’m just another number. Roberto: But you’re a hard worker committed to a seven-year contract. Alex: Yeah, seven years but at the moment just (taking it) day-by-day.Roberto: Playing for Melbourne with Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay must have been inspirational? Alex: You see how they go about their business and whenever they step on the field it’s always 100% business. It gives you something to go off and something to follow. Especially those guys, they are really good examples to follow. They always give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it. They are really good people to have around. Roberto: It must have been tough watching the Australian Baseball League Championship between your Melbourne Aces and the Perth Heat? Alex: At the same time as you’re not playing, you’re still kind of there. You know the guys, especially Darryl George when he was getting up. I grew up with him. I know exactly what is going through his head. I’ve seen him do it since he was like 11-years-old. At the same time, you know they are doing everything they can and hopefully in the years to come I’ll be the guy out there. Roberto: Did you have a case of the butterflies when you took the mound for the first time in the Australian Baseball League? Alex: I played the very first series in Sydney. That was the only series I played. I came on when we were down to a time limit so I was put on to waste a little bit of time. Yeah, the crowd wasn’t too happy so it was a little bit of a new experience for me. You know, the crowd against me. We were trying to do everything we could do to stretch the game a little bit. It’s a tough situation. Roberto: You played with Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo from Italy at the MLB Australian Academy. What were were impressions of him? Alex: When I first met Alberto, he was one of those really fun guys to be around. Always smilng. His English is actually pretty good, but we still messed around with him a little bit. But he took it in the spirit it was meant to be. In terms of a catcher, I really like the way he went about his business. He took control of the game. There were times when I wanted to throw a pitch that I wanted to throw, but he insisted and pulled me back in line a little bit. In terms of catchers that I like, I just like catchers that get the job done and don’t say too much. I do my job, and they do their job. Roberto: But do you take things personally when catchers are insisting on a pitch, and you are shaking them off for another? Alex: I’m not a big fan of shaking guys off. Every now and then I might feel that I know a hitter pretty well and the pitch I want to throw might be a bit more effective. When they put the same sign down twice, I always think they’re really persistent on this one so I give them this one. I’ll go with what they say. You might have a bit of a joke about it later if they get a hit off you. Go back to him and say that it should have been a curveball instead of a fastball. I usually just trust what they do. Roberto: Baseball is still in its infancy in Australia. With the abundance of more popular sports on your home turf, what lured you into baseball? Alex: Well there is AFL, Australian Rules Football, but I didn’t like running that much so that kind of put me off it. I tried karate for a little while. I guess I really liked the guys who played baseball. I played with some pretty cool guys growing up. There was just something there that kept me going back every year. I really don’t quite know what is was, but something kept luring me back. Roberto: Who was an inspirational figure in your baseball career? Alex: My very first baseball coach, Greg Dawes, he was a bit of a hard ass. Even little things like everytime you go out there to make sure your shirt is tucked in and your socks are tucked up stuck with me until now. In a way, that’s the way the game should be played. That little bit of respect he taught me for the game carried on. Now I enjoy it much more because I got all that basic stuff out of the way. Now it’s off to the fun stuff in just playing, and I don’t have to worry about it. Roberto: What is the most frustrating part of pitching? Alex: The hardest part for me is when you throw a really good pitch, you’ll throw a curveball that snaps off really well, and the hitter comes up with something. He might get a hit off a curveball that would have bounced before the plate. I mean what things are out of your control are the things that really get to you. So you do your job really well and you hit your spot, but the hitter just does a better job. For me that’s the hardest thing. Or you do your job, you get a guy to roll over and there’s an error in the field. They’re the kind of things that really get me. I mean you’ve done your job, and at the end of the game you’ve got a loss next to your name. They’re the things that really get me. It’s just things that are not in your control is what frustrates me a little bit. Roberto: Is it fun competing with international players abroad? Alex: The two dominant forces here are the Americans and Latins. Americans are very similar to Australians. There is always the language thing. We say ‘mate’. They always make fun of us saying stuff like ‘Hey mate” and things like that. The Latino guys are really cool to be around, they’ll mix in some Spanish. They’ll mess with you a little bit, and you mess with them back. Just the other day we tricked one of the Latino guys into thinking that ‘vamos’ which means ‘let’s go’ meant ‘French toast’. So he is out on the field yelling ‘French toast’ (laughter). There’s really not that much difference culturally. I’ve been told that Tempe, this area, is very similar to Brisbane. It’s like being at home, just a bit drier and not as many hills. Otherwise, it’s very easy to assimilate into this environment. Roberto: Other than the jetlag and the time difference? Alex: Yeah, it was a bit difficult. My flight from Sydney to LA was fourteen hours, and I didn’t sleep a blink. The first couple days were hard. It took me like four days to feel like I was right. That’s going to happen. You’ve got to deal with it. Roberto: It’s part of the game. What’s next for Alex Da Silva? Alex: After spring camp and extended spring, I hope to make a rookie or rookie advanced team from there. I mean, either way,
I don’t really mind so long I am still playing here. That’s the greatest blessing just to be able to come out and play everyday. At this point, it’s spring, extended spring and short-season. Roberto: Is Anaheim in the future? Alex: I just want to get there. It doesn’t matter when. I just want to make the big leagues. That’s why I am here. That’s why I was signed because somebody thought that I could make the big leagues. That’s just what I want to do. Doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter who for—whether it be Anaheim or New York—it doesn’t matter. I just want to get there. Roberto: Are you looking forward to pitching for the Melbourne Aces in the 2012-13 Australian Baseball League season? Alex: I think by the end of the season, I might want a little break. I might take a couple weeks off, but I would like to play as many series as I can play with them. I would love to go over and play whatever role Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale puts me into. Really, I would like to play as much baseball as I can.
Roberto: Any words of encourage or advice for up-and-coming baseball players worldwide? Alex: Never give up. There is always setbacks, but you have got to keep going through the setbacks. I have been lucky. I haven’t had many injuries or anything,
I know some guys that have, and they are still where
I am. The thing is every time you have a setback, you just have got to keep going. Get through, get to the next little bit. Set yourself goals, get to the next little section. For me, my next section is to get through spring healthy and hopefully not giving up too many runs. I don’t expect much from myself at this point, but I mean once I get an idea where I am at extended spring camp then I will set myself some good goals. You know, like I may not want to give up more than one hit for every two innings or something like that. You really have got to set specific goals and when you get those goals—reward yourself! Maybe instead of
just running around your block–you’ll go for a run to the beach. You have always got to have those goals, and at the end of those goals you have got to have a goal to look forward to.Roberto: So have some immediate short-term goals leading to long-term goals? Alex: Yeah, for me where I live at the bottom of the hills there is a place called the 1000 steps. Instead of my normal running, you know, it got a little bit boring so after I had a good outing I would go there. If I was starting, I would say that I wanted to get through five innings and only give up two runs or just be in a leading position coming out when I leave the game. If I got that, then I could go up to the 1000 steps and do my running because it’s a beautiful rainforest which is a bit cooler and a really nice place to run. That was my reward. Or just about anything that I looked forward to. Roberto: What about the growth of Aussie baseball with the injection of the MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League (ABL) and the MLB Australian Baseball Academy? Alex: In terms of the fanbase, with the ABL in place it has just exploded. It still has a long way to go. As far as the MLB Australian Academy, you can look at how many guys have been signed since the program started… My year alone 12 guys were signed and the year before me was even better. Everyone of them has been through the Academy multiple years. It’s getting the results. Roberto: Any words for your friends and family back home? Alex: Missing you guys. I’m doing you proud! Despite Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and redhead Alex Da Silva ending up on opposing sides of LA baseball, their love for Melbourne is skin deep. On game day when LA Angel pitching prospect Da Silva gets ready for a start, he pumps up the volume with some of his favorite jams from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rise Against. When Chili Pepper bassist Flea wants to get fired up before a big concert, he watches Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regardless how these two individuals mentally prepare for their performances, both are professionals grounded and undeniably connected by their Australian blood.
One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron SookeeThe best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slideris very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.
Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia? Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day. Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract? Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels. Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination? Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch. Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher? Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball. Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals? Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball. Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you? Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position? Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter) Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter. Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter) Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire? Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season. Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits? Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph? Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good. Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball? Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think. Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today. Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.
What does Cuban-American baseball legend Tony Pérez have to do with Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard in the San Diego Padres organization? Could it be their professional ties to the Padres? After all, Tony Pérez was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League in 1964 when he played for the San Diego Padres, a minor league club in the Cincinnati Reds organization at the time when Hayden Beard wasn’t even born yet. After hitting .309 with 34 home runs and 107 RBI for the Padres, Pérez was sent up to Major League Baseball late in the 1964 season to become one of the game’s most clutch hitters. Over a decade later his two-out, two-run blast off Boston’s
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 Kentbeing 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.
It’s good. 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!
Although the most prominent Australian baseball family may be the Nilsson’s, Aussie Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Adamson and his 20-year-old son, San Diego Padres prospect Corey Jon Adamson, may soon rewrite history. During his illustrious career from 1989-1995 for the Perth Heat, the elder Adamson made the most of his 279 appearances by putting up some very impressive numbers: .316 batting average, .606 slugging percentage, 252 RBI and 71 home runs. One tough act to follow as a 1988 Olympian and a Claxton Shield Helms Award Winner, Australian Baseball League star slugger Tony Adamson is undeniably one of Western Australia’s greatest baseball players ever. If anyone can surpass Tony’s huge accomplishments and break into Major League Baseball, it will be his son Corey–who is highly touted as one of the finest five-tool players with plus speed to come out of Australia. “The Big Dog” Hayden Beard, fellow Aussie Padres prospect and rival Canberra Cavalry pitcher, fetched Corey to our interview location last month during Padres Spring Training camp in Peoria, Arizona.
Seven years his senior and a starter for the Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions, Beard has assumed a sort of mentoring role to Adamson. However, they operate together like Abbott and Costello. “Beardy”, as Adamson affectionately calls him, politely exercised good doggy manners by allowing Corey to take the mike before him because Adamson had to leave first for a minor league exhibition game against the Texas Rangers. However, there was a price to be paid for this courtesy as “The Big Dog” barked out some very witty answers to questions directed to Adamson. Corey often rifled back with even funnier responses. Although the two competed against one another in the Australian Baseball League, it was clear that they truly were MLB teammates with the same dream to make it all the way to San Diego’s PETCO Park.
Roberto: How are things at Padres Spring Training? Corey Adamson: Feeling really good. This is my third spring training. I signed when I was 16. Came over for a couple weeks when I was 17. Then when
I was 18, 19, and now 20 for my third full season. Roberto: Life in San Diego is the closest thing to West Coast living in Perth. How is it being a Padre? Corey Adamson: It’s really good. When I signed
and I went to San Diego, I thought it was like Perth in Western Australia. I really liked the whole atmosphere of it. Roberto: Congratulations to you and the Perth Heat for back-to-back ABL Championships. Describe your amazing catch seen by millions on TV worldwide. Corey Adamson: It was really good winning the whole thing with Perth, which was great because we had did it the year before and made it even better. But the catch, Justin Huber, a power-hitter pulled one down the line. I saw it in the air and then I lost it. So I was kind of running blindly to the fence and then picked it up at the last minute. I had to make the slide and cut up my knee and busted it on the fence unfortunately. Other than that it looked cool on TV…I guess (laughter). The response was huge.
As soon as I caught the ball, you could hear the whole place going up and then what you didn’t see in the video is all the pitchers in the bullpen that were going crazy as well and just everyone down the line. It was really cool!
Roberto: Was Perth overconfident in the ABL Championship against the Melbourne Aces? Corey Adamson: The Perth Heat as a team…we’re not the most serious team. We go out.
We have fun and stuff. The Melbourne Aces
are a really good team. They came out and threw their best pitchers. We threw our best guys, and hit for hit we were going with each other. We just had to come through, and we took it in the end. I don’t think we came in too cocky about it, but we came in with confidence like we do with every other series. Roberto: Did it appear that Melbourne Ace pitcher Travis Blackley was out there to make amends and stop the Heat from repeating? Corey Adamson: He wasn’t out there just to pitch for himself. He wanted to win. You could see it when he gave up a hit. He was getting angry if he didn’t strike someone out. Or if he gave up a walk he was getting mad about it.
He was out there competing, and I guess we just came through in the end.
Roberto: Did you think that the Perth Heat were vulnerable when Aussie MLB star Luke Hughes got hurt and was not able to play on your team in the ABL Championship? Corey Adamson: As good as it is having Luke Hughes in the line-up, we felt like we had enough depth in the line-up that we put out there. Not that we didn’t need him, but that we could get by without him–which was good. We still hung his jersey in the dugout. A little bit of good luck so it felt like he was there.Roberto: You’re always smiling in a Padres uniform. What’s the secret to your happiness? Corey Adamson: It’s a great organization, a great place to be in. Even in spring training, it’s like all the coaches care about what you’re doing. All the managers care..it’s not we’re here just for
a business. You know even though it’s a business, it’s more like a family as well. I got to keep hitting well. Wherever they put me, I will play as best I can. I just got to keep working. Go well this spring, this season. And then in the offseason again–just keep getting better. Hopefully, it will be a short trip to the Big Leagues. Roberto: Who do you aspire to be like in Major League Baseball? Hayden Beard (interjecting): The Big Dog! (laughter) Corey Adamson: Definitely not like Beardy at all!!! (even more laughter)Roberto: How about the MLB players and instructors at the MLB Australian Academy? Corey Adamson: Through Academy and having Dave Nilsson coach and Graeme Lloyd…that was great. Dave Nilsson was a really good coach. He taught me a lot of stuff and to always aim to be an all-star. One year we
had Rod Carew as our baserunning and outfield coach. I loved the way
he played. He had 18 years of all-star appearances and a bunch of stolen bases. I just loved the way he played the game.
Roberto: Do you feel coming from an emerging baseball market in Australia that you are at a disadvantage competing against players from countries which historically have had success in launching long and lucrative careers in MLB? Corey Adamson: Coming over from Australia you can really tell that we haven’t had as many swings and reps as the Latin American or American guys. But it just means is that when we get here that we have to try extra hard to play catch up a little bit. And just really knuckle down on focusing what the coaches are telling us to do, exactly what they say.
Roberto: What is your interaction with the Padres Major Leaguers like Kyle Blanks? Corey Adamson: The locker rooms are kind of
split up, but we’re always intertwined at some point whether getting lunch or in the weight room and stuff. I always try to have a couple words with him.
I speak to Blanks a lot whenever he’s walking by or whatever. Roberto: The guy is a giant! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody his stature. What is he, six-foot-six
and 270 pounds? Corey Adamson: He’s huge. As much as I would like, I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to take the BP(batting practice) that he can take. Roberto: Are you giving way to him when he wants to use the bench press and you’re next in line? Corey Adamson: Ah, you know, I think I might be able to push a little more weight than him. Hayden Beard: (uncontrollable outburst of laughter) Corey Adamson: He’s a Big Leaguer so he gets first pick of what he would like to do, and I I’ll just do something else. Roberto: What inspired you @coreyadamsonto tweet about Easter eggs and Easter bunnies? Corey Adamson: (Laughter) Me and Beardy went to Walmart to do our taxes one day, and the bloke that did our taxes was just drunk, smashed out of his head. He was really below average at his job so we walked around Walmart for a little bit. Saw that Easter eggs were out, and so we got to have a
couple Easter eggs. Roberto: If any team was going to take down
the Perth Heat, yet did not qualify for the playoffs but appeared to have shut down your offense throughout the season with their pitching, it was
the Canberra Cavalry. Did they not have the Perth Heat’s number? Corey Adamson: Yeah, you could say that. They had a really good pitching staff. You know, being
2-for-2 off Hayden Beard was pretty good. Hayden Beard: (Laughter) Two bloopers. Corey Adamson: (Laughter) Two first-pitch leanies at his face. Hayden Beard: (Laughter) Corey Adamson: Yeah, they (Canberra) were the team to take us down if anyone could. Roberto: What about Brian Burgamy not getting
the Australian Baseball League Most Valuable Player? Hayden Beard::((Shaking his head in disbelief)
I know… Corey Adamson: You know, a .409 batting average
obviously deserves something. But I’m not going to
be the one to take it away from Tim Kennelly. (laughter) Roberto: Maybe an Easter bunny would be a consolation gift? (laughter) Corey Adamson: I’ll send one over to him. (laughter) Roberto: Anything to share with your friends, families, coaches and supporters back home that have great hopes and aspirations for you? Corey Adamson: Just that you know I’m over here grinding out everyday doing as best as I can to try to get to the Big Leagues as soon as possible. That’s
about it. Roberto: Thank you for your time. It has been a pleasure visiting with you, and we’ll catch up with you again soon. Corey Adamson: Thank you very much!
The March 2012 results are in for the MLB.com Top 50 Fan Sites, and MLBblogger was named the number eight website. We believe this is a result of our continued coverage of baseball worldwide, and our international readers quest for accurate information on their favorite players. In the last six months, MLBblogger has produced original and engaging stories on the Asia Series, Taiwan All-Star Series, Australian Baseball League All-Star Game, Arizona Fall League, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball League, Australian Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball, Major League Baseball, MLB Italian Baseball Academy, MLB Fan Cave, Minor League Baseball, College Baseball, High School Baseball, Cactus League Spring Training and the Japan Opening Series. Thanks for the support!
Feeling so blessed to be associated with the great number eight and knowing that baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, we thought that it would be of great interest to dig a little deeper into the number’s historical and cultural significance. The Chinese view the number eight (ba 八) as the most auspicious number because its pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is very similar to “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财). Based on a #8 Hong Kong license plate fetching a handsome $640,000 recently and home street addresses containing multiple number eights still in high feng shui demand, one would believe that property with the number eight is valued greatly in China. It’s no coincidence that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began promptly at 8:08:08 p.m. For many people, eight is the symbol of harmony and balance. The number symbolizes the ability to make decisions as well as abundance and power. The Pythagoreans called the number eight “Ogdoad” and considered it the “little holy number”. Jews consider eight symbolic of an entity that is one step above the natural order and its limitation, which is why Chanukah lasts eight days.
Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Cal Ripken, Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, and Gary Carter wore the number eight. It’s quite possible that a couple 2012 MLB players donning the #8 silks will soon join these legends–including: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Shane Victorino (Phillies), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Yorvit Torrealba (Rangers), Kurt Suzuki (A’s), David Ross (Braves), Kendrys Morales (Angels), Gerardo Parra (D-Backs), Chris Coghlan (Marlins), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Ben Francisco (Jays), Mike Moustakas (Royals), and Jamey Carroll (Twins).
So who will win the 2012 Major League Baseball World Series?
If you like the number eight, then there are three possible live candidates. Last month’s Vegas.com future odds to win it all had the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 8-to-1 odds. Then again you could spend all your money on a license plate… Good luck wherever you invest!
It’s a warm day outside the gate of the players’ entrance to Camelback Ranch.
As the players enter in their SUVs with radios blaring and bling flashing in typical Hollywood style, they simply nod to the semi-retired security guard working the players’ gate entrance prior to driving in one-by-one. However, when Aussie Shane Lindsay approaches, a modest smile and a cordial “g’day” is offered.
After parking his vehicle, the fashionably-conscious Lindsay exudes confidence. Despite not having thrown one pitch for the Dodgers and being reassigned to the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes, Shane remains optimistic that he will be making his debut in a True Blue uniform at Chavez Ravine shortly. The 27-year-old Lindsay made his MLB debut for the Chicago White Sox in September 2011, and the LA Dodgers took notice. Shane Lindsay pitched one inning as a reliever at Comerica Park that night and allowed no hits with a strike out and a walk. The six-foot-one, two hundred five-pounder made three other relief appearances before the end of the 2011 season. Lindsay elected free agency in October 2011, and agent Paul Kinzer reported in November that his client had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Shane said, “We were in discussions for a while. We had talked to around ten different teams. I sort of left it in the agent’s hands (to choose) the best suitoring situation and what he felt. That’s kind of his job I guess. So far it’s been good, you know. Obviously I haven’t played for them yet or even thrown a pitch, but I like it so far. It’s a bit slow of what I had hoped it to be. I unfortunately suffered a setback–a strained lat muscle right before Spring Training–and it sidelined me for a majority of it so far. So we’ll see how it comes up in the end.” Lindsay has been working hard to be ready for the start of the 2012 Albuquerque Isotopes season and for his eventual call up to the LA Dodgers.
Despite being injured, Lindsay has nothing but praise for the Dodger franchise. “You don’t ever want to be hurt,” Shane continued. “But as far as places to be hurt and the treatment and stuff…I don’t think you can beat this. (They are a) very forward thinking organization and very modern in the way they go about things. So love it so far and hopefully it will be a longtime stay.” With the recent announcement of the group led by Magic Johnsontaking over Dodger ownership, Lindsay remains upbeat. He commented, “It’s an organization with a lot of heritage, a very prestigious organization. I’m just really excited of it all. I’m sure there are big changes on the horizon, and hopefully it’s a very exciting change.” Lindsay joins another Australian in the Dodger organization, Trent Oeltjen. Shane spoke of their friendship and the warm reception he received at Dodger camp in Glendale, Arizona. “We’ve lived together and been mates for a longtime now. (During) a few different Spring Trainings, he has stayed with us. We’ve become close over the years. It’s been very good for the both of us to sort of play together. I think he’s excited as I am…I know his wife is too. So it’s good to have another Aussie, and everybody here has been fantastic–very friendly, very outgoing.” Australia has produced over 330 players who have signed professional contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs and boasts more MLB contracted players than talent pools from China and its province in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Cuba. Australia set a country-best record in 2011 with nine Aussie major leaguers.
When Lindsay was asked what Big League goals he has set himself for 2012, he responded confidently: “Establish myself at the major league level and prove to everybody else what I know I can do. I’m just trying to contribute in whatever way I can and help us get towards that World Series Championship. It’s what everybody’s goal is…” Magic Johnson along with new co-owner Mark Walter share the same sentiment as Lindsay and the Dodgers based on what he told the Los Angeles Times back in December while pursing the franchise. Johnson said, “The first thing I asked Walter was, ‘Do you want to win, and do you want to put money in?’ He said, ‘Absolutely’ … He told me three times, ‘All I want to do is get to the World Series.'” Aussie pitcher Shane Lindsay has an uphill battle ahead of him to get a World Series ring. He conceded, “Obviously from a statistical standpoint, the biggest setback is the walks and the issues that we’ve had. But there is a lot more to it. And anybody that sort of knows me I’m trying to take pride in getting it down. We’ve done a lot of work over the last 18 months with mechanics, and I hope to just build on that this year. Being able to repeat my delivery with a very consistent mental approach will yield consistent results on the field too.” Homer Simpson will welcome Shane Lindsay to Isotope country. The team’s name was voted on in an online survey of readers of the Albuquerque Tribune. Officially, there is a tie-in to New Mexico’s history with nuclear energy, but really it’s about the episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer goes on a hunger strike to prevent the Springfield Isotopes from moving to Albuquerque.
However, the Albuquerque Isotopes prevailed in the end, and The Simpsons have found a home there too. Life-sized figures of Homer and Marge grace the main concourse, a mural of Homer haunts the ‘Topes clubhouse and all sorts of other whimsical tributes to America’s favorite cartoon family are discovered throughout the ballpark. The Simpsons have had their share of airtime, but now all eyes are on pitcher Shane Lindsay. He is known as an aggressive reliever with an electric fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a wild delivery. Throwing with extreme intensity, no pitch delivery is ever the same. Shane Lindsay has a sharp curveball that freezes hitters and results in less than desirable at-bats. Not afraid to throw his fastball inside, Lindsay lives on the edge and provides high drama every outing on the mound.
Shane Lindsay has received a lot of media attention for all the wrong reasons after being labeled “wild”. While outside a California restaurant in late May of 2008, Lindsay and a member of his Colorado Rockies Single-A Advanced Minor League affiliate Modesto Nuts host family were attacked. The end result was a trip to the local hospital, where eight screws and a metal plate were surgically implanted in his left hand. Lindsay reflected, “It’s just was one of those situations where (it was the) wrong place, wrong time. It definitely could have been avoided had I just not been there. I’m not a troublemaker. I don’t instigate. I’m not out there trying to disrespect anybody or anything like that. But unfortunately in this world, things…instances happen. It was a terrible day in my life, and hopefully I learned a lot from that.” Shaking off rumors that he was the Aussie version of Derek Jeter, Shane was asked if their was any validity to him dating Los Angeles party girl Lindsay Lohan. Shane chuckled with laughter then replied: “Definitely not true. I’ve
never met the girl.” But when pressured to find out if he would invite her to the Dodger locker room, he caved in laughing and admitted: “Sure, why not?”
In Jeter-like fashion he added, “Anyone is welcome.”Lindsay has been working diligently during the offseason so that he is granted access to the 2012 Dodger Clubhouse. Pitching for his hometown Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League, Shane was able to stretch out as a starter and solidify his mechanics. Ace manager Phil Dale, who also coaches the Australian National team, praised Lindsay for his strength and his boost to the team. “He’s what you call a power arm,” said Dale. “It’s like a Brett Lee in bowling. He’s one of the fast bowlers, but what the baseballers call power pitchers.” Lindsay enjoyed his time in the ABL. He said, “It was a fantastic opportunity for me personally. It allowed me to go home from the White Sox–where we were really breaking ground on mechanics stuff and approach to the game–and it gave me a platform to work on it. Phil Dale was good enough to allow me to start and get a lot of repetitions in and a lot of different things. I felt like I achieved a lot. My numbers were not fantastic, but at the end of the day we’re trying to achieve certain goals. I think I achieved them, and I can’t wait to show that I have.” Seemingly scripted for the entertainment capital of the world, the timing is perfect for Isotope relief pitcher Shane Lindsay to show his best stuff in Albuquerque so that he is able to steal the Magic show and go prime time in Los Angeles.
In what coincidently appears to be a part of an international cultural exchange, the first Italian-born and-raised professional baseball player to beat the odds and successfully make it all the way to Major League Baseball in 2011–Seattle Mariners utility infielder Alex Liddi–may have inspired the first Seattle-born coffee maker to venture into the Italy’s competitive playing field with the opening of retail locations in Milano, Venezia, Roma and Napoli. If that isn’t enough caffeine to combat jet lag, a double shot of Italian international baseball ambassadors–Alessandro Maestri (the first Italian-born and-raised player to have reached AA ball in MLB) along with Alex Liddi–are headed to Japan. Coming off a successful stint as the 2012 ABL Fan Choice in the Australian Baseball League, Maestri–the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer–has signed a contract to pitch for the Kagawa Olive Guyners, while Alex and the Mariners battle the Oakland A’s on March 28th and 29th in a two-game Japan Opening Series to launch the 2012 MLB season. Both graduates of the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-operated Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia, Italy, Maestri and Liddi have mentored a whole new generation of Italian youth who aspire to play baseball internationally. Six Italian-born players have appeared in the major leagues, but all of them immigrated to North America during childhood, according to Riccardo Schiroli, communications manager for the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball and co-author of Azzuri on the Diamond: Characters and Stories. Liddi, however, was born in Sanremo, Italy, and played amateur baseball there before signing with MLB.
Alex Liddi has become so popular worldwide that there is an Alex Liddi Fan Club on Facebook. Why shouldn’t they be excited after the 23-year-old bachelor absolutely made the most of his 2012 Mariners Spring Training campaign by showcasing his defensive versatility at first and third base in addition to cranking out some very impressive offense: .429 BA/.500 OBP/.714 SLG/1.214 OPS. He led the M’s in hits (15) and doubles (7) plus his 10 RBI were only one shy of team-leading Jesus Montero (11). Liddi said, “I hit for power, but RBI–that’s my job! I’m supposed to drive in runs.” Seattle manager Eric Wedge looks to give more opportunities for the powerful 6-foot-4, 230 pound Italian slugger as a utility infielder and a secret weapon off the bench. The Mariner skipper remained optimistic before boarding his flight to Tokyo and commented, “The more versatile he is, the more quickly we might find a spot for him.”
Having athleticism in his blood helped Liddi early on. His father, Augustine, played baseball and taught Alex the game. His mother, Flavia, played softball at a competitive level and inspired her son to love baseball at age three. In 2004, Liddi played for the Italian National Junior Team in the World Junior Championship. Signed in 2005 by Mariners’ international scout Wayne Norton and Mario Mazzotti, one of the team’s European scouts, Liddi competed in Italy up until the time of signing a professional contract at age 17.
He went on to play for the Italian National Team in the 2006 Intercontinental Cup, the 2007 European Championship and the 2009 World Championship. Alex was also a member of the Italian National Team in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2009, when he hit .375 under the guidance of hitting coach and MLB All-Star great Mike Piazza. Having already played on three consecutive MLB All-Star Futures games, Alex Liddi knew in his heart that it was just a matter of time before he would join the game’s elite in Major League Baseball. It really hit home that he was ready for the Big Leagues after successfully squaring off with many MLB pitchers in the WBC. “Playing in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 was really good for my confidence,” said Liddi. “It showed
me that I was good enough to play against some of the best. After that,
I felt like I belonged here.” Although his 2011 Minor League season for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers was stellar with 30 home runs, 104 RBIs, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks, Liddi had his share of strike outs. However, in his second spring in Major League camp, Liddi made some adjustments at the plate with a lower leg kick. After working with M’s hitting coach Chris Chambliss, Liddi’s swing appears to have shortened–which results in him making more contact. Alex Liddi has more raw power and a better eye for walks than his main competitor–Kyle Seager–for the third base back-up job behind utiltyman Chone Figgins, who will seemingly play anywhere to accommodate Liddi’s hot bat in the Mariners’ line-up.
Overall, Liddi could not be happier with his progress at M’s camp. “Things have been really good here,” Liddi said. “I feel like I’ve improved on my contact. That’s what it’s all about. My goal is to be a .300 hitter and drive in some runs.
I don’t really care about home runs.
I care about RBI. I’m still working on it. I’m getting better.” Saying ‘sayonara’ to the Field of Dreams in Arizona and ‘ciao’ to the Land of the Rising Sun in Japan, Liddi has embarked on a remarkable journey of perseverance, dedication and validation in his first full season in MLB. Let’s enjoy the show! Buona fortuna Alex!!
The Siculi (Sikeloi; Sicels; Sikels) were the native inhabitants of the eastern regions (including Mineo) of Sicily south of the Italian Peninsula over 10,000 years ago. The island of Sicily takes its name from the indigenous Siculi people. With its strategic location at the center of the Mediterranean, Sicily is rich in its history of conquest and empire. It is a melting pot of cultures with over a dozen ethnic groups whose warriors and merchants walked her shores. Although the other two indigenous societies of the Sicanians and Elymians assimilated easily with the Greeks, the Sicels constituted a highly developed society that the Greeks respected profoundly. Despite conflict and its desire to remain autonomous, it took several centuries for the Sicels to completely assimilate and amalgamate with their Greek neighbors. Except for the Romans, the Sicels were the only predominantly Italic people to settle in Sicily in large numbers as colonists.
Italy leads all European countries in its number of immigrants to America. Beginning in the late 1800’s, poverty and natural disasters drove Italians out–especially in Il Mezzogiorno, the southern and poorest provinces of Italy. As late as 1900, the illiteracy rate in southern Italy was 70 percent. The Italian government was dominated by northerners, and southerners were hurt by high taxes and unfair tariffs on the north’s industrial goods. Southerners suffered from exploitation by people of the same nationality and religion.
Self-reliant on only themselves for mere survival, southerners had an allegiance to la famiglia (the family) and l’ordine della famiglia (the rules of family behavior and responsibility). Suffering from a scarcity of cultivatable land, soil erosion and deforestation as well as a lack of coal and iron ore needed by industry, life in the South was difficult. Southern Italy was ravaged in the early 20th century when Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna erupted and buried towns nearby. In 1908 an earthquake and tidal wave that swept through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland killed more than 100,000 people in the city of Messina alone. For many Italian immigrants, fleeing to the United States was not to be interpreted as a rejection of their homeland. Instead, it defended the Italian way of life because the money sent home helped to preserve the traditional order. Rather than seeking permanent homes, they desired an opportunity to work for a living and aspired to save enough money to return to a better life in the country of their birth. Unable to earn enough to support their families in their native Italy, they were migratory laborers. The majority were young men–aged 18 to 25–who planned to work, save their money and return home. Hoping their absence would not be too long, they left behind their parents, young wives and kids. Fast forward a century later and native Italian athletes are still clinging to their roots and culture despite being lured by U.S. professional sports to homogenize into the American lifestyle. The first Italian-born baseball player awarded a MLB contract was pitcher Alessandro Maestri. Signed by Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg, Maestri never pitched at Wrigley Field–even though he was a Minor Leaguer with a wicked Major League slider. However, the Cubs struck gold in 2010 when Holmberg signed then 16-year-old Italian catching prospect Alberto Mineo to a contract.Now ranked 58th behind #1 Cubbie Starling Castro in the Chicago Cubs Top Players Under 25 Organizational List, catcher Alberto Mineo has his eyes set on making it all the way to Wrigley. The defensive standout with excellent catch-and-throw skills said, “The part that I like most about being a catcher is throwing runners out at second.” The 5-foot-11, 170 pounder has strong hands and forearms which assist his receiving skills and defensive instincts. Blessed with outstanding arm strength and a quick ball transfer exchange, Mineo looks comfortable behind the plate. Exuding confidence as a first-rate catcher, opponents will need to exercise caution on the bases.
Holmberg watched Mineo develop into a natural talent from age 10 and knew early on he was special. Alberto was mature enough to accept feedback and listened to Holmberg and Maestri’s sound advice. He commented, “Both of them, they would always say to me ‘Work hard everyday because there is somebody somewhere else that is working hard to get to the Big Leagues’ and I started believing that I could sign with an American team.” Exercising good plate discipline, Mineo is a patient hitter who jumps on a pitcher’s mistake. “I always think as a hitter that I must wait for my pitch until I get two strikes,” Alberto explained. The left-handed hitting Mineo can demolish the ball with his technically sound swing, and once on base he can demonstrate great speed for a catcher.
After being signed by Bill Holmberg–who also is the pitching coach for the Italian National team and operates the Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia, Italy–Ronchi dei Legionari New Black Pantherscatcher Alberto Mineo began his professional career in the month-long MLB Australian Academy Summer League, where he became friends with Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim promising pitching prospect Alex DaSilva–who later moved up the competitive ladder to play for the Australian Baseball League (ABL)
2012 Runner-Up Melbourne Aces. Mineo played well in Australia (.270 batting average, 1 HR) as did his Italian mentor Alex Maestri, who was so popular that he won the 2012 ABL Fan Choice Award.
The ABL’s first Italian pitcher/catcher combo with Maestri and Mineo could become reality if Alberto has his way. Mineo commented, “I had a nice experience in Australia, where I met a lot of great players that I still remain in contact with via facebook. I would really like to play with Alex in the ABL.” The dynamic duo could possibly make their debut in the near future as members of the Italian National team under the guidance and direction of pitching coach Bill Holmberg and former Major League Baseball All-Star hitting coach Mike Piazza. Mineo has played as a member of several Italian National teams at various levels– including the 18 Under Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada. Italian National team catcher Francisco Cervelli of the New York Yankees now has Mineo as back-up.
Mineo said, “I don’t feel the pressure to be the next Italian to make it in MLB. I just want to have fun and enjoy this amazing experience that I’m living right now. But it would be really nice to play with Alex Liddi on the Italian National team…”
Alberto had an exceptional Cubs 2011 Arizona Instructional League four-game campaign with a
.500 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. “The Cubs Instructional League was an awesome experience. I really like
to practice with Casey Kopitzke, the catching coordinator. I think he’s really good,” Mineo said.
“So far Cubs Spring Training is going very well. I like to work hard on the field and in the gym. It’s the best place you can go if you love this sport. A couple days ago Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster and Rodrigo Lopez came to the complex to talk to us about the right way to get to the Big Leagues, but my favorite Cubs player is still Marlon Byrd. Inspired to play baseball at age five by his father and become a catcher three years later, Alberto followed American baseball religiously. “My favorite player has always been Derek Jeter. Now it is Joe Mauer. I really like how he plays, and I also think that he’s a very professional guy,” Mineo said. Although there had been a long-time association of Italians being die-hard Cubbie fans,
the connection got even stronger when the late and great Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray–whose real Italian last name was Carabina–signed on to the super station WGN Network in 1982. Although he passed on to baseball heaven in 1998, his legacy is still alive and well today as the legendary Caray’s Italian Steakhouse remains a Chicago restaurant icon. Now with Alberto Mineo in the Cubs organization, Italians in Chicago and beyond should rejoice and be thankful for their ancestors’ sacrifices years ago for the opportunities bestowed upon us in 2012. In the case of the young catching prospect Mineo–not only does he possess the natural skills necessary to become a professional ballplayer–
but he has the unconditional love and support of a dedicated team of international coaches, players, fans and family to be a true Italian baseball ambassador worldwide. Forza Italia!
Baseball in Italy received a Major League surprise last month when an unannounced MLB manager graced the 436 registered attendees with his presence at the Italian Coaches Convention Dinner at Castelnuovo de Garda (Verona). Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden, a first-generation Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, was overjoyed by the warm reception received at the gala dinner which pays tribute to the coaches that make a difference in the internationalization of baseball in Italy. Madden exclaimed, “I feel at home here, because in the small city in Pennsylvania where I live there is a big Italian community.” His grandparents original surname was Madonnini, but after emigrating from the Region of Abruzzo to America
their last name was shortened. Maddon continued, “It is always a pleasure for me to visit Italy. I am proud of my heritage.” The Rays were very well represented in Italy as Maddon brought along members of his coaching staff to lead instructional clinics for the delegation of Europe’s best coaches.Riccardo Fraccari, president of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball (FIBS), spoke of Alex Liddi becoming the first Italian-born and developed player to play Major League Baseball and its great significance to baseball in Italy. He said, “Alex’s story is really the tip of the iceberg, and we really need to take into account the daily work of the coaches in Italy who are the base of the movement.” Liddi was signed by the Seattle Mariners after being selected to attend the inaugural MLB International European Academy in 2005 and in September 2011 became the first graduate of the MLB International European Academy to play in the Major Leagues.Bill Holmberg is one such coach that FIBS President Fraccari was referring to in his compelling speech. Holmberg has been living under the radar since 1989, when he came to Italy to serve as manager and technical director of the Godo baseball club for 12 years. He later became the pitching coach for San Marino as well as the Italian Junior and Senior National teams. Coach Holmberg was named Director and Field Coordinator of the MLB Italian Academy nearly a decade ago and has been instrumental in signing the best homegrown talent as a former international scout for the Chicago Cubs. Everyday he tirelessly trains the cream of the crop at an elite sports academy in the quaint beach community of Tirrenia near the Italian cultural iconic city of Pisa. Alessandro Maestri, the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer and recent Brisbane Bandit / 2012 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Fan Favorite Award recipient, was signed by Holmerg in 2006, when he became the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by a Major League Baseball team.
Chicago Cub scout Holmberg knew early on that Alessandro was something special when he saw the young Italian play baseball for the first time. Holmberg said, “Alex can do whatever he wants to. He’s got the temperament and composure. He’s hit 95 mph, and his slider is at 86 or 87. He competes as hard as anyone out there.” Maestri still to this day works under the guidance and direction of Coach Holmberg. The Cesena, Italy
native made World Baseball Classic headlines in 2006 when his first offering to the Dominican Republic’s Moises Alou was rocketed out of the park for a home run. Despite the rocky start, he would not allow another earned run in his 4.2 combined innings in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. Maestri demonstrated great promise in the Midwest and Florida State leagues as a two-time All-Star. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, he racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. The right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire franchise. Maestri made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix on April 1, 2009 when Cub manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who was lucky to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star
Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing. Nearly three years later, Alessandro is still as dominant as ever as witnessed by his numbers in the most recent 2011-12 ABL season. As the workhorse and ace of the Brisbane Bandit pitching staff, Maestri led his team in wins (4) and proved to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53), fourth in the ABL in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in the ABL in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned the Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Based on his most recent form, Maestri is worthy of a second look by international scouts to make his long-awaited MLB debut. He will always be a competitor who lives on the edge to bail his team out of pressure situations.
Of the frequent MLB-sponsored instructional clinics throughout Europe, none has had the impact of MLB / FIBS Academy host Coach Holmberg’s annual three and a half week summer invitational Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia. Designed to provide promising junior teenage players with both the environment and the instruction to reach their full potential, the European Academy brings together around 50 or more of the brightest young playing talent in Europe and Africa with the best in Major League coaching and instruction. The Academy seeks to provide a path for elite players from this region to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional and international baseball. In addition to helping these bright young stars develop their skills, the Academy enables MLB Clubs to scout the best future talent. Holmberg explained, “It’s a pretty good place to see all the best players in Europe at one time. We’ve had between 18 and 20 scouts that have watched the games this past year.”
The Tirrenia baseball camp, which began in 2005, has much to do with MLB’s accelerated rate of signing the European elite to professional contracts based on the fact that the numbers have more than tripled from 2005 (2.33 average) to 2011 (9.0 average). So far 49 Academy graduates from ten countries (45 players from Europe and 4 players from Africa) have signed professional contracts with 19 different Major League Baseball franchises. Holmberg commented, “We’re not the Dominican Republic yet, but I think we might be sneaking up on Australia.”