Detroit’s Octavio Dotel usually wrecks havoc on right-handed hitters like Canadian-born Marcus Knecht, but on April Fools in a 2012 Jays Spring Training game Toronto’s 2010 third-round draft pick had the last laugh by blasting his first Grapefruit League home run off the veteran Dominican bullpen specialist. Originally selected in the 23rd round of the 2008 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after making Langley, British Columbia’s Brett Lawrie their first-round pick, former Brewers scouting director and current Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik thought that a common denominator of Canadian blood would add up to two of the country’s finest prospects crossing the border together as one into Wisconsin. Mathematicians would agree that the strategy was logical since Knecht was Lawrie’s teammate on the Canadian Junior National Team, and the Brewers believed that Lawrie might be able to influence Knecht to sign with Milwaukee. Lawrie signed with the Brewers for a $1.7 million signing bonus before going to play for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games and eventually became a Blue Jay in a late 2010 trade for pitcher Shaun Marcum (who recently became a free agent and expressed interest in returning to the Blue Jays if the team is interested in having him back). Unlike Lawrie, Knecht instead passed on the offer to play professionally in the Brewers organization in favor of perfecting his game in U.S. collegiate ball while continuing to represent his country on Team Canada in international baseball competitions worldwide. After playing on Team Canada in the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships in Edmonton and being named to the Tournament All-Star Team, Knecht was a major contributing member of the bronze medal- winning 2010 Baseball World Cup team and the gold medal-winning 2011 Pan American Games squad. Transferring from Oklahoma State University, where he struggled to get at-bats as a freshman, to Connors State College was instrumental for Knecht to develop in an everyday role in 2010. The results were off-the-charts as Knecht hit .453 with 23 homers, 20 steals and a .540 on-base percentage. He was selected in the third-round of the 2010 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays after being followed by ex-Jays’ scouting director and current assistant GM Andrew Tinnish.Accepting a $250,000 signing bonus, Knecht signed on-the-spot with Toronto and went straight to work in launching his pro career with Short-Season Single-A affiliate Auburn Doubledays (now affiliated with the Washington Nationals). After being voted the Canadian Baseball Network Player of the Year in 2010, the six-foot-one North York, Toronto native outfielder was promoted in 2011 to Single-A Lansing, where he posted a .273 average with a team-leading 16 home runs and 86 RBI for the Lugnuts. Knecht’s offensive power was noticed early on, and he was named a 2011 Midwest League Eastern Division All-Star. After impressing Jays skipper John Farrell (now with the Boston Red Sox) with his powerful bat and quick feet on the field during 2012 Blue Jays Spring Training, Knecht was assigned to Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays. It was May Day everyday for opposing pitchers who could not stop the red-hot Knecht during the month of May, when he rattled off 28 hits (including 7 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs) accounting for 22 RBI.
The 22-year-old is hoping to continue with his offensive prowess and defensive excellence as a member of the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. Second only to last season’s ABL Champion Perth Heat in team offense and pitching, the Canberra Cavalry narrowly missed the ABL playoffs. With the injection of Knecht’s “Can Do” attitude, Canberra will be charging right out of the gate for a 2013 playoff berth.
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.
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!
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 earlier last year with nine Aussie players being called up to the major leagues. Now in 2012, there are now nearly 60 Australian players competing in the major and minor league circuits. In total to date, there have been 35 Australian players who have successfully achieved MLB status.
Leading the charge of the thunder ‘Down Under’ in Major League Baseball is Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Balfour is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a late-inning relief pitcher for the 2008 American League Champ Tampa Bay Rays. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s opening 2008 roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Tampa Bay’s decision paid off immediately as the Aussie pitcher was worth his weight in gold.
Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with a stellar
6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA. In perhaps the most memorable appearance of his Tampa Bay career, Balfour struck out future Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. for the final out of game four of the 2008 American League division series against the Chicago White Sox and led the Rays to its first playoff series win ever. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In
his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, Grant struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. He also repeated his personal best 14 2/3 inning scoreless streak in 2011.
The 34-year-old Balfour, who made his MLB debut back in
2001 for the Minnesota Twins, is the Australian patriarch for future Aussie baseball prospects. Although more than a decade has passed since then, he appears to have turned a new leaf and be at the prime of his career. Perhaps his greatest Aussie highlight came on September 15, 2010–when he fanned the Yankees’ Austin Kearns and passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers. Lloyd, however, can still lay claim to being half of MLB’s first
all-Australian battery with catcher Dave Nilsson in 1994.Up-and-coming 23-year-old pitcher Liam Hendriks of the Minnesota Twins made history in his MLB debut last year on September 6th–when he, teammate Luke Hughes and White Sox Shane Lindsay became the first three Australians to play in the same Major League Baseball game. Leading the Major Leagues since 2004 for lowest amount of walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), Chicago’s Jake Peavy was hardly the best candidate
to go head-to-head against for his first MLB victory. With no run support from his Twins offense, the Perth-born Hendriks fought hard by pitching seven strong innings but in the end lost his first decision 3-0. Fox Sports North analyst and Baseball Hall of Famer
Bert Blyleven praised Hendriks on his first outing. He said, “From what I saw today, he deserves a B-plus. I thought he pitched very well, he did a good job.
Hendriks controlled both sides of the plate, and he changed speeds well. He got through it with flying colors. Run support would be nice but you can’t always have that, but I thought he pitched a very, very good ballgame.” The elusive first win never manifested in four appearances this past season; however, Hendriks kept hitters guessing by striking out 16 in a combined 23 innings of work. Liam Hendriks was signed by the Twins as a non-drafted free agent out of Australia’s Sacred Heart College in 2007. He made his professional debut as an 18-year-old that summer with the Single-A Rookie Gulf Coast League Twins. In his eleven starts in Florida, Hendriks went 4-2 with a 2.05 ERA. In 2008 he pitched for the Australian national team in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Hendriks returned on the hill for his country in the World Baseball Classic.
Coming off a layoff, he then resumed play in the minor leagues, where he posted a 5-5 record with a 3.55 ERA in 14 starts. Hendriks was selected for the 2010 All-Star Futures Game, but was forced to miss the contest due to appendicitis. In 2011 he began the season at Double-A New Britain and went 8-2 with an impressive 2.70 ERA in 15 starts. Hendriks was promoted on July 19th to Triple-A Rochester, where he tallied a 4-4 record with 4.56 in nine starts. History would repeat itself the Aussie right-hander was once again selected to the World Team roster in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. As if being chosen an All-Star for the second consecutive year was not enough, the six-foot-three, 210-pound Liam Hendriks was recently named the 2011 Jim Rantz Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after ranking second among all Twins Minor Leaguers in wins (12) and strikeouts (111). Hendriks has a promising future ahead in MLB.
Facing Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer on the mound in his first major league at bat in April 2010, Luke Hughes slugged a home run out of the park. Perhaps an early indication of what was to follow in 2011 Twins Spring Training, Hughes showed a ton of promise with his bat and defensive position versatility.
By leading the Twins with six home runs, 15 RBI, a .567 slugging percentage and 37 total bases in the preseason, there was no way manager Ron Gardenhire was going to send him back down to the minors again. Luke played in 96 games as a utility infielder in his first full major league season in 2011.For an anemic Twins offense which ranked 25th of the 30 professional baseball teams, Hughes power was a welcome addition to Minnesota as he slammed seven home runs and racked up 30 RBI. The late-blooming 27-year-old Luke Hughes will certainly improve with more playing time as he becomes more familiar with some of MLB’s best pitchers. During the offseason, he played in 19 games for his hometown Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) and hit .344 with four home runs and 13 RBI.
Going into 2011 Chicago White Sox Spring Training in Arizona, relief pitcher Shane Lindsay had a career minor league record of 19-14 with a 3.65 ERA in the NY Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians organizations. Although he did not make the 25-man opening day roster, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper were very much impressed with the 27-year-old career minor leaguer. So much in fact that when the roster expanded in September–it was graduation time to Major League Baseball for Lindsay. After posting a 1.98 ERA and punching out 78 in 63 innings of relief work at the Triple-A level, Shane was put to the test in his MLB pitching debut on September 2nd against the 2011 American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. In his inning pitched as a reliever at Comerica Park, Lindsay 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 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. He will need to impress coaches at Dodgers Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report at the end of month at Arizona’s Camelback Ranch to make the 2012 Dodgers Opening Day roster. Most predict Shane Lindsay will begin as a member of the Dodger Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes bullpen in anticipation of the MLB call up.
Former Australia World Baseball Classic team member and current Atlanta Braves 33-year-old reliever Peter Moylan underwent right shoulder surgery during the offseason to repair a torn right labrum and rotator cuff. The groundball specialist was encouraged by surgeon Dr. James Andrews’ projection that he would likely only need six months of rehab. Moyan said, “It is what it is and couldn’t have been avoided. It’s rough, but it just means my offseason will be spent rehabbing instead of relaxing. It’s not going to change anything. I’m still going to be ready to go by the end of spring.” Moylan has long been plagued by a series of injuries and surgeries. The Aussie pitcher missed most of the 2011 season after another surgery for a bulging disk in his back.
With 287 game appearances under his belt in his on-and-off again six seasons in MLB, Moylan has been a workhorse out of the bullpen when not on the disabled list. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the hard-throwing right-hander with his signature side-armed ‘down under’ delivery returned in fine form in 2009 and set a Braves franchise record 87 relief appearances. 2010 was equally as busy as his workload included 85 appearances in relief.
Even for a reliever who has set the bar high with a respectable 2.60 ERA and 205 strike outs in his illustrious MLB career, there is a heightened sense of optimism that if Moylan returns healthy in 2012 that his personal best year for the Braves has yet to come. An Atlanta fan favorite out of the bullpen, Peter is also well-liked on Twitter–unless you are in the band Nickelback. Considered less than entertaining live, they were nearly booed offstage in Detroit on Thanksgiving. @PeterMoylan tweeted to Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger that he should attend a Foo Fighters concert to learn how to put on a good show. “Foos are killer for sure,” tweeted Kroeger. “We’re doing just fine too thanks. ? for you Pete, is watching [Braves closer Craig] Kimbrel better from the bench or on TV?.” Better cancel Atlanta boys!!! Worth following anywhere, Peter Moylan is top-notch entertainment.
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Trent Oeltjen could have easily followed his childhood friends playing rugby in Sydney. Instead, his American father made sure that Trent played T-Ball at an early age and developed a love for his dad’s country’s favorite pastime. After catching the eyes of MLB scouts as a standout player for Australia in the World Junior Baseball Championship, Oeltjen signed a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins organization at the ripe young age of 17. He was chosen to play for the Australian national team at the Athens Olympics in 2004. As a member of Australia’s 2005 Baseball World Cup and 2006 World Baseball Classic teams, Oeltjen once again represented his homeland. Oeltjen proclaimed, “Any time you get to represent your country on the world’s stage, it’s a dream come true for any Australian kid.”
The accolades continued as he was selected to the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game and the 2007 Baseball World Cup, where he led the international competition in three major categories. Batting an unstoppable .523, stealing seven bases and scoring nine runs, Oeltjen became the first Australian in the event tournament’s 37 years to make the All-Star team and win its Batting Award. “The World Cup really helped me turn around my career,” Oeltjen exclaimed. “It helped me get the confidence to know that I could play against some of the best players in the world. Since then I’ve found that my career has really turned around.” He was summoned once again for more Aussie baseball ambassadorship duty in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where another strong offensive 6-for-12 batting frenzy ensued. Not surprisingly, his success for Australia coincided with another baseball dream realized. The aspiring and talented athlete spent nine years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut for the 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks, thereby becoming Australia’s 27th member of the elite Major League Baseball fraternity.
On August 6, 2009, Oeltjen made the best of his MLB debutagainst the Pittsburgh Pirates by blasting his first major league home run over the right field wall off relief pitcher Jesse Chavez in the top of the 8th inning to tie the score in a game the D-Backs would win in extra innings. Leaving a lasting impression on baseball fans and international supporters who always believed in his athleticism, Oeltjen finished the game 2-for-6 with one RBI and two stolen bases.
After playing in 24 Diamondbacks games before the end of the 2009 season, Trent Oeltjen signed with the Dodgers in July 2010. He was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque and later called up to the majors briefly at the end of the 2010 season. In June 2011, the left hand-hitting slugger earned his way back up to the major league level for good with a .339 batting average–including a sizzling .440 in May–racking up eight homers and 34 RBI in 56 Triple-A games.
During the remainder of the 2011 season, Oeltjen played in 61 Dodgers games in the absence of Manny Ramirez. Despite a major letdown in Mannywood, it was all blue skies for the Aussie outfielder. He took full advantage of the opportunity to become an everyday player. However, 2012 will prove to be a critical season for the 29-year-old as he strives for a slot in the Dodgers Opening Day line-up.
A Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) success story playing for two of Australia’s
and America’s finest organizations in the Sydney
Blue Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Rich Thompson recently returned from his third trip to Taiwan after pitching for the Major League Baseball
All-Stars in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Having played for the Australian national team during his junior and senior international career, Thompson was well aware of the young Chinese Taipei team’s talent and ability to compete. This time he made history as the 27-year-old Hornsby-native not only was the first of the 31 Australians to play Major League Baseball to be selected for a traveling All-Star Series team but also the first MLB pitcher to win two games in the five-game exhibition series. Enjoying a solid 2011 campaign for Halos manager Mike Scioscia, Thompson made 44 appearances and kept batters at bay with a 3.00 ERA. Best known for being a pressure situation reliever with men on base, Thompson comes through when called upon to deliver key outs in times of critical crises.In 54 innings of work, the rally stopper struck out 56 hitters and solidified his position in the Angels bullpen. Seven years younger than senior mentor Grant Balfour, Thompson is in a better position in becoming the bright new face for Australian baseball players in the major leagues. When asked by OzMLBplayers blogwhat was the best advice he could give up-and-coming Australian baseball prospects, Thompson paused, reflected and thought back to some words of wisdom offered from a fellow Aussie. “When I was 13, I attended a two-day camp with Mark Shipley,” said Thompson. “Shipley’s advice was: Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Always be clean-shaven. And church on Sundays. That always stuck with me. Since I can’t be bothered shaving and we play games on Sundays, I guess two out of four ain’t bad.” Thompson believes an improved attitude and a cutter that strengthened his arsenal of pitches led to the best season of his career. “I really felt like it was an attitude change.
Having that extra pitch (cutter) maybe gave me some more confidence, and I had more opportunities to get guys out.”
Although he hails from Geelong, Australia, San Diego Padres southpaw Josh Spence began his collegiate pitching campaign at Central Arizona Community College, where in two seasons he stifled and rung up batters at an alarming rate (327 strike outs) to the tune of a whopping 1.40 ERA. Arizona State University (ASU) recruited Spence into their 2009 starting rotation, and the Sun Devils enjoyed a ride to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska as a result. Spence has proven that he can compete under pressure when it counts and deliver outstanding pitching performances when they mean the most.Teammates Mike Leake–named 2009 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and current Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher–and Jason Kipnis–named a 2009 1st Team All-American by ABCA and current Cleveland Indians second baseman–witnessed first-hand the pitching magic of Josh Spence–named a 2009 2nd Team All-West Regions Honoree–as he compiled a 10-1 record with a 2.37 ERA during his junior year. It will make for an interesting 2012 ASU reunion this year between July 30 and August 2 at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark when Leake and Kipnis face Spence for the first time in opposing uniforms.
The slender six-foot-one lefty Spence was drafted in
the third round by the Angels in June 2009, but he opted not to sign so that he could return to Arizona State for his senior year. However, he missed the
entire 2010 college season with a vague elbow injury. Regardless, the Padres still selected him in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, and he proved healthy enough to pitch 24 innings between rookie ball and the Midwest League. Prior to being called up to MLB in June 2011, Spence surrendered only 48 hits and struck out 84 with a remarkable 2.14 ERA in 71 innings pitched in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old continued his dominant pitching as a San Diego Padres reliever by striking out 31 hitters in 29 innings and posting a 2.73 ERA. Under the watchful eye of former Angels pitching coach and current manager Bud Black, Josh Spence possesses the tools to become not only a promising MLB starting pitcher but also a potential future Cy Young candidate. Padres’ faithful look for Josh Spence to have a breakout season in 2012.
Postseason baseball–courtesy of former Minnesota Twins Double-A affiliate New Britain Rock Cats teammate Michael Cuddyer’s game-winning home run–saved the life of pitcher Brad Thomas. Changing his travel plans and ultimately his fate, Thomas would not leave on this particular date and flight to his native Australia because advancing to the Eastern League’s finals pushed back that trip for him. With airline tickets in hand for he and his wife, Kylie, on American Airlines Flight 11–which took off from Boston on September 11th destined for Los Angeles but instead crashed into the World Trade Center, Brad Thomas lived to tell his story. He commented, “Michael pretty much saved our lives single-handedly by knocking in the winning runs in the last of the playoff games that took us to the next round.” Cuddyer was Thomas’ first roommate in professional baseball in 1997. They played parts of the following seven seasons together, making their way up through the Twins minor league system. When Brad Thomas began pitching for the Detroit Tigers in the 2010, their friendship took a slight turn. Friend or foe–when pitching to an opponent, even a lifesaver–it’s a different ball game. In four career at bats facing the left-handed reliever, Cuddyer is hitless with a walk. Off the diamond, however, they are life-long bros.
While Cuddyer continues to thrive in Minnesota, the future is unknown for the 34-year-old Thomas. With a 6-6 career record and a 5.80 ERA in Major League Baseball, it’s probable that this Aussie will be looking for another minor league deal or a return to Japan or Korea for another new lease on life in the world of baseball. He recently had a great abbreviated season in the Australian Baseball League with the Sydney Blue Sox. The Sydney native made four starts and five total appearances amounting to 22.1 innings pitched. With a 2.42 ERA and a 1-1 record in the 2011-12 ABL season, Brad Thomas demonstrated that he is once again MLB ready.
With a landmark partnership between the Australian Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball and the Australian Sports Commission, the sky is the limit for the recently revamped Australian Baseball League. In an effort to propel baseball’s profile on the Australian sports landscape and foster participation in the game, the ABL seeks to showcase the wealth of talented Australian baseball players on their own home turf and to teach what their fellow Aussie predecessors from decades past have mastered in elevating the sport on the international level. Teams boast elite national players from across Australia along with personnel from Major League Baseball feeder clubs, the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, the Korean Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The ABL pioneers the pathway of development for many emerging Australian baseball prospects as well as offers a vibrant alternative off-season league for games hosted in the northern hemisphere. Currently in its second season as Australia’s premier professional baseball competition with the 2012 ABL Championship Series between defending champ Perth Heat and challenger Melbourne Aces this weekend, be sure to tune in and watch the excitement of what is truly the ABL’s answer to the MLB World Series. For further information on the Australian Baseball League, visit their official ABL website.
Considering the Australian Baseball League Canberra Cavalry catcher’s daunting six-foot-three solid muscle build, Madonna should consider recording a 2012 remix of “Don’t Cry For Me Australia!” There has always been a constant debate about whether home plate collisions should be banned throughout baseball history. By prohibiting the catcher from blocking the plate and banning base runners from making contact intentionally with the catcher, many argue the game would be a lot safer. However, baseball purists protest that combat at the dish has been around for years and is deeply entrenched in the sport’s tradition and its fans’ expectations of finding entertainment value in home plate drama. Selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 20th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft as a catcher out of Illinois’ Lincoln Land Community College, Travis Scott knew the occupational hazards inherent to his vulnerable position when he read the disclaimer and signed his first professional baseball contract.
While the lead singer for rock and roll bands usually receive all the attention (and more…), the drummer is virtually unnoticed until he gets a crack at a drum solo (if he’s lucky). The same concept applies to the dynamic between the pitcher and his catcher. The pitcher gets all the hype (and salary), while the catcher keeps the beat (and the leftovers) of the game. He must have the intuition and knowledge to deal with every fine-tuned intricacy that starting pitchers and relievers have in their vast repertoire. As with the world of corporate rock, if your band or team does not possess a solid drummer or catcher, then your franchise will lose on the field and at the box office. While what a catcher can produce offensively at the plate is very important, what he does behind the plate is even more significant. The catcher must have a keen sense of intelligence to call a good game and have the ability to throw out base runners. Travis Scott possesses all the innate qualities necessary to become a successful MLB catcher.
Canberra Cavalry manager Steve Schrenk wasn’t caught off guard by catcher Travis Scott’s batting potential but more shocked by his power. Skipper Schrenk explains, “He knows how to hit. He hit well last year in Double-A for the Pirates so I was expecting some good things, but he brings a little bit more power than I thought.” The 26-year-old Milwaukee-born American import put up good enough numbers to earn himself a 2009 California League All-Star slot while playing for the Mariners Single-A Advanced affiliate High Desert Mavericks. In the first half of the season alone, Scott hit .324 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI. While playing for the 2010 Rockford River Hawks Professional Baseball Club in Illinois and after being signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he was voted the Hawks’ MVP with a .302 batting average and a 34% success rate of throwing out attempted base stealers to lead the Northern League. Scott credits Mariners minor league catching coordinator Roger Hanson for his defensive prowess. He elaborates, “I put in a lot of hard work in my four years with the Mariners, and we had one of the best catching coordinators in minor league baseball in Roger Hanson. You know it’s just all about proper balance and putting myself in position to get the most out of my arm.” Scott’s signing to the LA Angels was short-lived as the Pittsburgh Pirates quickly took him hostage before he could become Scioscia’s protege in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. He is now a free agent looking for a new pro contract.
Currently second in doubles (13) and ninth in walks (14) in the ABL while hitting .250 for the Canberra Cavalry, Travis Scott knows in order to achieve his personal goal of a .300 batting average that he must pump up the volume for the remainder of the season. He concides, “In my position as a free agent, any time you get the opportunity to get some at-bats you want to put up good numbers because ultimately scouts in America are looking at your offensive numbers before your defensive numbers. I want to put up .300 or above numbers with a little bit of power to all fields. If I can do that, I’ll have a pretty good opportunity to find a club in the United States.” With eight regular season games left for the Canberra Cavalry catcher, Travis Scott will have to dig down deep and catapult his team into the playoffs so that scouts will have the opportunity to see for themselves why he deserves another chance to join the game’s elite in Major League Baseball.
Leading the Australian Baseball League (ABL) in batting average (.383) and OPS (1.140) as well as being second in OBP (.474) and SLG (.667), 26-year-old American import Kody Hightower has made MLB scouts scratch their heads and ponder how their organizations could have been granted a new lease on life if he had not been left for dead on draft day years ago and had been added as their teams’ spark plug and late-budding baseball star.
Putting everything on the line with a solid spiritual foundation and faith to beat the odds in pursuit of competing with the game’s elite, Hightower is currently walking an Aussie tightrope by simultaneously playing shortstop for the Australian Capital Territory Baseball Association’s Ainslie Gungahlin Bears and the ABL’s Canberra Cavalry. The high stakes North Carolina native and versatile ball player came to Australia after leading the Swiss Baseball League Zurich Barracudas into the playoffs.
Known for his outstanding arm, Hightower traveled to countless U.S. tryouts and showcases to be seen by the movers and shakers in professional baseball. Kody elaborates, “At one tryout in Atlanta, I was videotaped pitching and a manager in Germany saw it on youtube. He got in touch with me, and I signed almost immediately. I figured if I couldn’t play in the states, I might as well see the world and continue playing. I really enjoyed my time in both Germany and Switzerland. I used it as a stepping stone to continue trying to get my name out there.” The Lenoir, North Carolina hometown hero expanded his European fan base by playing for the HSV Stealers and the Zurich Barracudas. Hightower recently led the Barrcacudas to the post-season in late August with a near perfect outing on the hill as the Zurich hurler clinched a playoff spot when he pitched a nine inning 7-0 shutout over crosstown rival Challengers while striking out 16. Hightower helped himself to earn the win offensively by going 4-for-4 with a home run, two doubles and four RBI. It was business as usual for Kody as he relished European pitching throughout the entire season. Before heading to Australia, he was named as the recipient of the 2011 Barracudas’ Best Hitter Award.
After being selected as a NAIA All-America Honorable Mention at Brevard College, Hightower was named to the 2008 Southern States Athletic All-Conference team, NAIA Region XIII team, NCCAA All-South team as well as an All-American and NCCAA South Region Player of the Year in his final two seasons at South Carolina’s Southern Wesleyan University. He compiled a .427 batting average with six home runs, seven triples, 16 doubles, 61 runs scored and 64 RBI in 58 games during 2008.
Having only struck out only five times in 234 at bats and been caught stealing once in 24 stolen base attempts in his final year of college ball, Hightower demonstrated great presence of mind and Big League potential at the plate and on the base paths. Considered a natural 2008 MLB Amateur draft selection by coaches and fans alike, Kody got no love from American professional baseball. He was left out in the cold without a contract or any leads to continue his hot hitting ways in MLB.
The eternal optimist Hightower reflects, “Out of college I had a couple looks from the Pirates and the Reds, but no calls came on draft day. I was disappointed, but you just have to bite your tongue and keep moving forward. It’s not the end of the world. There are still other options. It’s great playing for the Cavalry, and I really enjoy the guys on the team as well as the management. My rituals aren’t too ‘out there’–even though I went through a phase of eating veggie mite before games (laughter). It’s an Aussie spread they put on toast–not very tasty–but I believed it to be helping me in the batter’s box. After I went 0-9 in a series, I stopped with that because you have to start fresh and try something new if it doesn’t work for you.” Despite his love for the ABL and the Cavalry, Hightower is contracted to play for the Ainslie Gungahlin Bears and could miss out on Canberra’s final push for the playoffs.
Kody sheds light on the possible conflict, “I knew the situation before I came and agreed to put the (Bears) club first. That’s just the way it is. My host family here has really done a lot for me, and I don’t want to do anything to disrespect that by any means.” Regardless of the situation, he remains upbeat about his future. Hightower concludes, “It has been a tough road. I am not getting any younger, but I am having a lot of fun traveling and playing this wonderful game. I couldn’t do it without my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Will anyone answer MLB’s MIA prayers for a professional baseball contract? Faith can move mountains…
California’s beautiful Newport Beach is the resting place of legendary American icon John Wayne and the birthplace of a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitching prospect named Brian Grening. As odd as it may sound, Newport Beach launched both star’s professional careers in different ways. World-renowned for its huge surf break which has left generations of daredevils with broken bones, head injuries and even death, Newport Beach’s Wedge offers huge breakers towering 20 feet and sometimes higher to the delight of those who live for the rush of defying the odds with a patrol boat standing by to rescue the injured and the last-minute weak at heart. A true testament to laws of physics, the Wedge’s incoming waves carom off the rock jetty that protects Newport Harbor and slam into following swells, resulting into giant tubes that thunder to shore at speeds up to 30 mph. A word of warning though as even expert swimmers can get sucked into the Wedge’s extreme break and either be propelled into the air or slammed into the shallow bottom. Parking spaces can be just as dangerous to negotiate since locals are first to find out when the Wedge is going off, and massive road-raged crowds from outside city limits flock to the free-falling spectacle.
Marion Morrison AKA John Wayne played football for the University of Southern California in the 1920’s. One day he went bodysurfing in Newport Beach and was badly hurt while swimming in the sea. The accident turned the tides of his career path as the injury sustained was the final blow in his decision to forego athletics in favor of a shot of hitting it big as a Hollywood actor. A fan of Wayne’s football heroics, cowboy star Tom Mix landed “John Wayne” a $35-a-week job as a prop man at the Fox studios in 1928.
Discovered shortly thereafter by director John Ford while loading furniture onto a truck on the Fox lot, Wayne never had to do anymore heavy lifting in Hollywood. When his health began to take a nosedive in 1966, he moved from the stuffy confines of Beverly Hills to the cool breeze of invigorating Newport Beach for a new lease on life. His large waterfront home afforded a panoramic vista of tranquil Newport Bay until his passing in 1979. John Wayne’s dreams of the big screen began and ended in Newport Beach as he is now buried there today.
Pitcher Brian Grening’s dreams of the Big Leagues began on June 10, 1985 at birth in Newport Beach. In the same way John Wayne used his “True Grit” attitude to catapult himself into acting, the Southern California native was determined to beat the odds to join baseball’s elite in MLB. Graduating in 2003 from the same high school as former 2001 and 2003 Angels pitcher Bart Miadich, Brian Grening wanted to follow the footsteps of Miadich en route to a career in Major League Baseball.
He did not let his college coaches at Cuesta College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo discourage him from pursing his vision of playing in the Bigs. Standing at five-foot-eleven and throwing a fastball that only hit the low 80’s, Grening did not possess the power arm or intimidating six-foot-five stature that coaches desired. Without allowing him enough time to demonstrate his most admirable features of character and discipline, he was cut early on during try-outs by Cuesta and Cal Poly coaches. However, after a short-lived stint at Cuesta, Brian Grening wasn’t going to accept “no” for an answer anymore and was determined to pitch for the 2008 Cal Poly Mustangs. Whether is was selling tickets to Mustang ballgames at the stadium, playing long toss on off-campus school fields, or beating the weight room morning rush, Grening wanted to remain connected to the game he longed for with his heart and soul. “I was obsessed with playing baseball at Cal Poly,” Grening said. “People thought I was nuts in the dorms. I wasn’t partying. I was getting up at 6:30 a.m., six days a week when most people would not get up until 10 or 11. I knew I wanted to play and I had to keep getting better.” Indeed he did, and people began to take notice of this Big League dreamer.
Grening proved everyone wrong as he was a late bloomer. His perseverance paid off, and he was rewarded by being added to the 2008 Mustangs roster at age 23. Making pitching appearances in 23 games in the NCAA Big West, Grening struck out 67 batters in 65 innings of work while compiling a 3-6 record and a 5.23 ERA.
Selected by the Cleveland Indians out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo College in the 38th round of the June 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Brian Grening pitched for three years in the Indians system and reached as high as Triple-A ball in Columbus in 2009. The right-handed reliever got better with age in 2010 as he tallied 83 strikeouts in 69 innings of work while splitting his time in between the Carolina League Kinston Indians and Eastern League Akron Aeros.
This past winter Grening pitched for the Cartegena Tigers in the Columbian Winter League of Professional Baseball. Owned by the Renteria Foundation–a charity run by Cincinnati Reds shortstop Edgar Rentería–and supported by the likes San Francisco Giants shortstop Orlando Cabrera–who has owned teams over time, the Columbian Winter League is a popular off-season refuge for MLB prospects. On the road to earn an All-Star slot in the competitive South American league, the Cleveland farmhand dominated his opponents by striking out 18 batters in 13.2 innings pitched with a resilient 1.98 ERA.
2011 was a year of touch-and-go trade bait in the American Association Independent League for the 26-year-old Grening as he spent time as a reliever for the Gary Southshore Railbirds and the Kansas City T-Bones. Despite being sent up and down U.S. Interstates 55 and 70 repeatedly, the pitcher made the best of the situation in Kansas City, where he was loved and respected so much that he was brought back by popular demand. The Indy League franchise recently exercised their option to pick up Brian Grening to ensure he returns in a KC T-Bones uniform in 2012.
Backed by Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation, the Australian Baseball League (ABL) attracts world-class talent like Grening ‘Down Under’. In its second season as the newly reformed ABL, there are now over three times as many players with Major League Baseball contracts participating than last season in addition to all-star players from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, India and Italy.
Since being released by the Indians organization, pitcher Brian Grening’s John Wayne-like “True Grit” persona is even more apparent. With an ever-growing sense of determination to overcome adversity, pitcher Brian Grening is striving to land a new Major League deal in the ABL. Nobody is counting his pitch count nor how many appearances he makes as a reliever free of restrictions for the Canberra Cavalry.
Currently ranked #20 among ABL pitchers with a 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA, reliever Brian Grening has appeared in 14 games so far and struck out 23 in 26 innings. When pitching against defending ABL Champs Perth Heath in early December–who had just returned as the Australian representative in the 2011 Asia Series against the championship teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese Professional Baseball League in late November–Grening held the jet-lagged Heat scoreless in 3.2 flame-resistant innings of relief.
Sharing the same determination and “can do” attitude embodied by John “True Grit” Wayne and providing a harsh yet welcoming environment in which America’s favorite pastime of baseball can take root in, Australia is a melting pot of cultures that value individual effort, team work, and “never say die” spirit. Adopting Australia’s philosophy that all things are possible–just as in the case of the 2004 Athens Olympics when Team Australia stunned the baseball world by shutting out the heavily favored Japan National team to achieve silver medal status–pitcher Brian “True Grit” Grening is a 26-year-old outcast ‘Down Under’ trying to paddle his way back to the shores of Major League Baseball. While the stage is being set for his dramatic comeback, he is enjoying his playing time at the outback ABL.
With Newport Beach being home to 2011 American League All-Star Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Pitcher Jered Weaver and also the location of super agent powerhouse Scott Boras’ offices, local native Brian Grening is definitely rubbing shoulders with the right crowd in South Orange County. In the spirit of giving like Weaver offering the LA Angels a “hometown discount” and re-signing at far below what his agent Boras would have liked as a free agent, the next John Wayne cowboy Brian Grening is willing to consider a “truce discount” for the Cleveland Indians to re-sign him over a T-Bone steak dinner.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Has Santa already gifted the Australian Baseball League (ABL) an early present that Major League Baseball decided to send away to Misfit Island because nobody wanted it? Could it be the recently released Xavier Paul? Could it be true that one of Major League Baseball’s most prestigious franchises–the Atlanta Braves, well-known for snagging raw material and manufacturing the best–prematurely cut bait and released the ABL’s catch of the season? Could this be an extreme case of mistaken identity?
Often confused with the German-born pitcher of the same name who made his MLB pitching debut in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Australian native Canberra Cavalry pitcher Steve Kent set the record straight. “I’ve been mistaken for ‘that’ Steve Kent a lot of times,” Kent explained. “When I was with the Braves, people would often send me his baseball cards to sign. It is pretty funny because he had one season with the Braves in 2005 and then my first season with them was 2006.” Could the team have made a clerical error by releasing Kent? Why did the Braves sever ties with their top 10 prospect who was signed at age 16?
In 2007 Danville Braves starting pitcher Steve Kent (AKA Steven Kent) was ranked lucky #7 among Atlanta farm hands with a 1.14 WHIP and also ranked #10 with a .241 opponents’ batting average. Equipped with a wicked curveball and a solid feel for pitching, the Aussie dominated his competition until Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf in 2009. Returning for the Single-A affiliate Rome Braves in 2010, he staged a remarkable comeback with a blemish-free 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA.
Lady luck went sour for Kent’s career as a Brave in 2011 as the guy who hit the big jackpot on the minor league slots inherited an earned run average the size of a jumbo jet (.777) and subsequently was given his walking papers to the welcoming island of the ABL. Since then, the tides have turned for the man ‘Down Under’. In his lucky number seven appearances this 2011-12 season, Canberra lefty reliever Steve Kent has become the league’s top winning pitcher with three victories (3-0, 1.50 ERA) and one save in 12 innings of work out of the Cavalry bullpen. Heading into round five of ABL competition, Kent and the Cavalry’s pitching arsenal led by San Diego Padres prospect Hayden “Big Dog” Beard, former Philadelpia Phillies prospect Mike McGuire and former Cleveland Indians prospect/current American Association Indy pitcher Brian Grening are now in the league’s top 20. Only second to defending champs Heat in combined ERA (3.70), Canberra’s pitching staff is on the improve.
Known affectionately by his teammates and coaches as “the Big Dog”, the Australia native Hayden Beard can be a beast to hit against when pitching on the mound. Just ask the recently crowned 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who whiffed and became yet another strike out victim to the twenty-six-year-old right-handed flamethrower in a minor league rehab assignment game. Out of professional baseball for nearly three years, San Diego Padres prospect Hayden Beard is digging ‘Down Under’ in the ABL.
Pitching out of the bullpen as a late inning reliever for the California LeagueLake Elsinore Storm–a Single-A Advanced minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres–during the past two seasons, Beard appeared in a total of 61 games and averaged more than one strikeout per inning. Already surpassing his strikeout totals as a reliever in last year’s inaugural season for the reorganized Australian Baseball League (ABL), the Canberra-born player was relent-less to Melbourne Aces batters in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader at home field Narrabundah Ballpark. Assuming a new role in the starting rotation, the feisty pitcher surrendered just two hits in seven scoreless innings and struck out seven to get his first victory for the 2011-12 Canberra Cavalry season.
Signed over six years ago with the New York Mets out of the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program, the six-foot-one Beard was recently selected to represent Team Australia as the closer in the 2011 World Cup competition alongside Cavalry lefty pitching teammate Steve Kent–who had been working his way to the Bigs through an endless myriad of hoops and hurdles as an Atlanta Braves minor leaguer for the past six seasons until recently–and fellow Aussie pitcher Chris Oxspring–who signed with the Padres in 2000, pitched for the 2001-02 Lake Elsinore Storm, received a Silver Medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, made his MLB debut for San Diego in 2005 and was voted as 2010-11 ABL Pitcher of the Year runner-up throwing for the Sydney Blue Sox.
After a three-year hiatus due to injuries in his pitching career, “the Big Dog” Hayden Beard is following the scent of Major League Baseball leading to San Diego’s legendary PETCO Park. With Australian twenty-three-year-old Josh Spence making his successful pitching MLB debut for the Padres this past season (3-1, 1.71 ERA), the impetus for San Diego to have two Aussie imports concurrently on the same roster to equal the Minnesota Twins current record with Luke Hughes and Liam Hendriks is now more compelling than ever. It won’t be long before “Big Dog” pitcher Hayden Beard joins the ranks of baseball’s elite in a Padres uniform as the path across the Pacific to America’s Finest City has never been clearer.