All I want for Christmas is Aussie Baseball Love!!!

At mlbblogger–where the stadium lights are always on–we long for baseball to reach a worldwide audience. We are thankful for the blessings of an Aussie Baseball Christmas and wish for a prosperous 2012 in the Australian Baseball League (ABL). In the spirit of giving, we would like to share the current holiday season standings and our secret Santa for each team in the ABL.

Team: PERTH HEAT ABL Current Standing: 1st (18-6, .750) 2011 Defending Australian Baseball League Champions
AKA: The ‘Alcohol Think Again’ Perth Heat

Official Website
Official Mascots: HEAT Flash and Hot Dog
Home Field: Barbagallo Ballpark

Secret Santa: Tim Kennelly BA .341 (4th) HITS: 30 (4th)
RBI: 19 (4th) RUNS: 17 (4th) 2B: 6 (5th) OBP: .413 (6th)

Families celebrate the Christmas spirit in Western Australia's capital city of Perth.

Attending the Australian Baseball Academy at the young age of 16, Tim Kennelly was on display for a slew of MLB scouts–who were impressed with his Big League potential as a strategic catcher and skilled third baseman. While still a teenager, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a non-drafted free agent in 2003 out of Fremantle, Australia’s Christian Brothers College. In his first year for the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2005, Kennelly hit .295 with an equally impressive .420 slugging percentage. After suffering a torn labrium in 2006, he missed an entire season. The six-foot Perth-born utility player came back strong in 2009, when he put together a .289 batting average and .433 slugging percentage in 113 games for Phillies affiliates Florida State League (FSL) Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers
and Eastern League Double-A Reading Phillies.

Retired MLB All-Star Pedro Martinez stretches with Tim Kennelly before rehab assignment game.
HEAT's Tim Kennelly (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images)

Named to the 2009 FSL Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star teams, Kennelly soon rubbed shoulders with the baseball’s elite–including former MLB All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez while calling games behind the plate. Spending seven seasons in the Philadelphia minor league system, he has posted a .263 batting average with 18 home runs and 210 RBI in 485 games. To the delight of friends and family, the Aussie native returned home to play for the Perth Heat in the reorganized MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League in 2010.

Perth's Barbagallo Ballpark, home of the inaugural ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game and
the ABL Defending Champion Alcohol Think Again HEAT (Theron Kirkman/SMP Images/ABL)

After leading his team to the 2011 ABL Championship, Tim Kennelly flew 11,641 miles and spent 24 hours in the air before touching down in Lakewood, New Jersey–home of the Phillies affiliate South Atlantic League Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws. As the BlueClaws primary catcher and outfielder, he compiled a respectable .293 batting average with one home run and 20 RBIs in 39 games.

Perth Heat slugger Tim Kennelly on Team Australia in the 2011 ABL All-Star Game (Theron Kirkman)

In fact, the resourceful utility man has played every position but shortstop in his baseball career. Having returned from Taiwan where he played in the 2011 Asia Series against the best from the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization and Japan’s Nippon Baseball League, the Heat’s Tim Kennelly is having a smashing time during the current 2011-12 ABL season. He will undoubtedly compete for the ABL MVP title down the stretch. Since filing for free agency, the talented and multi-faceted Australian renaissance man remains a solid bet to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies–considering his fine catching ability and familiarity with the world-class organization’s up-and-coming pitching prospects due to arrive at the Double-A level in 2012.

Adelaide Christmas cheer

Team: ADELAIDE BITE
ABL Current Standing: 2nd (14-10, .583) Games Behind: 4

AKA: Adelaide ETSA Bite

Official Website

Official Mascot: Chomper

Home Field: Coopers Stadium at Norwood Oval

Top ranked Seattle Mariners prospect James Jones is projected to make his MLB debut at Safeco in 2013.

Secret Santa: James Jones
HR 3 (5th) RUNS 15 (6th)
SB 3 (6th) 2B 4 (7th) HITS 24 (10th)
OBP .380 (10th) RBI 11 (11th)
BA .279 (16th) SLG .430 (16th)

Prior to the start of his 2009 college season at Long Island University, Baseball American ranked James Jones #30 in its Top 100 Prospects. He was later selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 4th round of the 2009 amateur draft as an outfielder.

The Adelaide Bite's James Jones has all the tools to succeed in the Bigs. (Ben Southill/SMP Images/ABL)

While in college, he was respected as an excellent defensive outfielder and a strong pitcher who could hit 95 on radar guns with his fastball. In July of 2009, the six-foot-four left-handed hitter headed to the Pacific Northwest to join Mariners affiliate Northwest League Single-A short season Everett AquaSox and played in 45 games. His quick bat and speed on the bases were evident as demonstrated by his .311 batting average with three homers, 12 doubles, three triples, 24 RBIs, 28 runs scored and 19 walks.

A speedy James Jones on the bases is a pitcher's worst nightmare. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Media/ABL)

James Jones helped the Single-A Clinton LumberKings become 2010 West Division Champs in the Midwest League and a strong contender in the 11 game playoffs–where he led in batting average (.356), hits (16), home runs (3), and stolen bases (9). Last season Jones played with the current ABL batting leader, Adelaide teammate Denny Almonte, as well as Perth Heat’s James McOwen while with the Single-A High Desert Mavericks. Rated by Baseball America as the best outfield arm among Mariner prospects and heralded as an excellent athlete–who is fast and strong with good Big League composure in regards to personality, intelligence, and work ethic– Jones has gap-to-gap power, the ability to track down balls in the outfield and blazing speed on the base paths. James Jones has not wasted a moment in making believers of those following his progress in the Australian Baseball League. On December 11th with Adelaide Bite trailing Canberra Cavalry by one-run heading into the top of the eighth, the 23-year-old slugger blasted a grand slam for a heroic come-from-behind rally to victory.

Christmas in the South Wales capital city of Sydney

Team: SYDNEY BLUE SOX
ABL Current Standing: 3rd
(13-12, .520) Games Behind 5.5

Official Website

Un-Official Team Blogger:
Todd Van Steensel

Official Mascot: Syd

Home Field: Blue Sox Stadium, Blacktown International Sportspark

Aussie Chris Oxspring and Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland during Spring Training.

Secret Santa: Chris Oxspring
Win-Loss Record: 2-2 (3rd) ERA 2.00 (5th)
Strike Outs 28 (5th) WHIP 1.19 (9th)

After pitching the Australian National Team to a 1-0 victory over Japan in a semifinal game at the 2004 Athens Games and assuring his country’s first Olympic silver medal in Aussie baseball history, Chris Oxspring was hailed a national hero. With Major League veteran catcher Dave Nilsson calling the game behind the plate, Oxspring pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against Japan. By striking out five and issuing no walks, he catapulted Australia into the gold medal game against Cuba. However, being the pride and joy for Australia was not enough for this professional ballplayer with real life MLB experience with the San Diego Padres as well as four seasons under his belt at the Triple-A level playing for the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers organizations. Oxspring began the 2011 season with Detroit affiliate Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. In 20.2 innings pitched, he struck out 20 batters in 20.2 innings pitched. Rather than competing for regular playing time, Oxspring opted to make 18 starts for the Independent Atlantic League Somerset Patriots. In 115.2 innings of work, he struck out 114 batters with a 4.17 ERA.

Blue Sox pitcher Chris Oxspring will not settle for anything less than the best. (Joe Vella/SMP Images)

Oxspring has a career 40-24 record with a 3.66 ERA and 612 strikeouts in 638.2 innings pitched. Equipped with a mid-90’s fastball, a knee-buckling curve ball, a cutter/slider and change-up, this right-handed hurler can decimate hitters. After pitching stints for Japan’s Nippon Baseball League Hanshin Tigers and Korea Baseball Organization’s LG Twins, Oxspring had to take two seasons off for an elbow injury. Now in his second season for the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, the power arm of Chris Oxspring is in full effect.

Christmas season in Canberra

Team: CANBERRA CAVALRY
ABL Current Standing: 4th
(10-15, .400) Games Behind 8.5

AKA Canberra UberGlobal Cavalry

Official Website

Official Mascot: Sarge

Home Field: Narrabundah Ballpark

Cavs Takumi Akiyama has returned to Japan due to player union rules. (Jen Edwards/SMP Images/ABL)

Secret Santa: Takumi Akiyama
Win-Loss Record: 1-0 (1st) ERA 1.23 (1st)
WHIP 1.05 (3rd) Strike Outs 16 (15th)

A fourth-round pick by Japan’s Hanshin Tigers in 2009, Takumi Akiyama may be the best-hitting pitcher in Asia. During his high school campaign, he knocked out 48 home runs. Making his Nippon Baseball League debut in 2010, he held opponents to a .228 batting average in seven starts and put together a 4-4 record with a 3.35 ERA. His mid-90’s fastball, curveball, slider and forkball were all effective pitches in the ABL. Due to Japanese player union rules, Akiyama had to return home to rest before the beginning of the 2012 season. However, Cavs fans need not fret as Santa has left two stocking stuffers from the Tampa Bay Rays organization: Baseball America’s Top Defensive Outfielder Rays prospect–Kevin Kiermaier and catcher Mark Thomas, who led the Charlotte Stone Crabs with 13 home runs.

Melbourne magic during Christmas time

Team: MELBOURNE ACES
ABL Current Standing: 4th
(10-15, .400) Games Behind 8.5

AKA The Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces

Official Website

Un-Official Team Blogger: Jason Hirsh

Official Mascot: Maverick The Mascot!

Home Field: Melbourne Showgrounds

Secret Santa:
Justin Huber
BB 19 (1st) OBP .468 (1st)
RUNS 19 (2nd) OPS .974 (3rd)
BA .333 (5th) HITS 29 (5th)
2B 6 (5th) HR 3 (5th) SLG .506 (6th)
SB 2 (7th) RBI 12 (10th)

Melbourne's Justin Huber was converted from a catcher to a first baseman due to a knee injury.
(Ryan Schembri / SMP Images / ABL)

Signed in 2000 by the New York Mets as a catcher, 18-year-old Aussie high school student Justin Huber still had another six months before he would graduate. In his first professional season, he blasted seven home runs and drove in 31 runs while boasting a .287 batting average. Racking up an impressive .399 OBP in 2002, he ascended up the Mets ranks by crushing 14 home runs and driving in 93 runs. In his first two pro seasons while facing the Mets top pitching prospects, the 20-year-old catcher hit 21 home runs and recorded 124 RBI.

Justin Huber went 3-for-5 in the inaugural 2011 ABL All-Star Game (Theron Kirkman)

The six-foot-five catcher became Mike Piazza’s protegé and looked to be a MLB shoe-in. However, in the summer of 2004 Huber would undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and his future as a catcher was over. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals organization in exchange for home run king, Jose Bautista. In 2005 the Royals converted Huber to a first baseman, and he responded with career bests 23 home runs, 97 RBI, a .326 batting average and a .417 OBP. He was named to the 2005 MLB Futures Game with the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Justin Verlander, Francisco Liriano and B.J. Upton. Playing for the World team, Huber’s two-run double lead to a 4-0 victory over U.S.A., and he was awarded the game’s prestigious MVP honors. He has since played in 72 Major League games for the Royals, Padres and Twins.

Bright Brisbane Christmas

Team: BRISBANE BANDITS
ABL Current Standing: 5th
(9-16, .360) Games Behind 9.5

Official Website

Official Video: Brisbane Bandits Baseball “They’re Back”

Official Mascot: Buster the Bandit

Home Field: RNA Showgrounds

2011 Team Australia All-Star Joshua Roberts went 2-for-4 with a home run in the ABL All-Star Game.
(Ben Southall / SMP Images / ABL)

Secret Santa:
Joshua Roberts
2B 9 (2nd) 3B 1 (2nd) HITS 31 (3rd)
OPS .974 (3rd) HR 3 (5th) RBI 17 (5th)
SLG .495 (7th) RUNS 13 (8th) BA .301 (11th)

As the RBI leader in ABL last year, Brisbane Bandit right fielder Joshua Roberts earned the team’s MVP honors. On par to have an equally impressive finish this season after a brilliant performance for Team Australia in the inaugural 2011 ABL All-Star Game, Roberts is certainly one of Australia’s finest athletes–splitting time between baseball’s Brisbane Bandits and rugby’s Ipswich Jets. Roberts probably recorded one of the best jumping catches in ABL history when he literally ran through the fence to rob a home run during a game against Adelaide. Signed by the Cleveland Indians to play professional baseball at 18, Roberts never made it to the Major Leagues in his 117 games for the Tribe from 2004-06. Yet, the 25-year-old’s athleticism and desire to play tough should not be discounted. Look for him to make a big Brisbane Bandit push down to the wire with his “never say die” attitude.

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Chinese God of the Land AKA Pitcher Fu-Te Ni Summoned to Reclaim Taiwan All-Star Series

It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.

Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.

Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff.  Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).

In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.

Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.