Baseball dream begins
Ben Thompson is starting to step up to the world plate in Major League Baseball.
The 15-year-old Glendowie teen departs soon to take up one of two New Zealand positions at a fortnight-long Major League Baseball academy in Germany ending on August 16.
The Kiwis will train alongside 48 players from around the world with professional players including hall of fame star Barry Larkin.
The academy will put him on the world stage in front of Major League coaches and scouts.
It is the opportunity of a lifetime, Thompson says.
"It just means all the hard work has paid off for me. People are starting to notice what I've put in.
"It's hard playing in New Zealand at times - it's just so big overseas. But it also makes you want to go as hard as you can."
The Glendowie College student is the youngest player selected for this year's European academy. The participants will be taught techniques, tactics, strength and conditioning and play a complete schedule of games.
"I was so excited at first then the nerves kicked in when reality hit. These guys have been in the big leagues - they know what they're talking about."
Thompson plays for the Bayside Westhaven Baseball Club and is a member of the under-18 Junior Diamondblacks going to play in the Arizona Senior Fall Classic in October.
The right-handed pitcher says once you get started with baseball it is difficult to look at any other sport.
"It's a really skilful game.
"For me it's about learning how to play my game with professionals."
Thompson hopes to score a sports scholarship in the United States and go on to play professional ball in the Major League.
Baseball New Zealand chief executive officer Ryan Flynn says the European academy is a breeding ground for Major League Baseball prospects.
Since 2005, almost 300 players have gone through the academy with 58 signing professional contracts.
"He will be receiving some of the highest level coaching that a baseball player can possibly get - period.
"We see this pathway continuing for many of our top players if they do the work on the baseball fields of New Zealand first."
He says there are now 20 young men from New Zealand playing baseball around the world.
It is an honour for New Zealand Baseball to have two European positions to fill annually, he says.
The ultimate goal for New Zealand Baseball is to run an academy in Auckland and bring in Major League players to encourage the growth of the sport.
The organisation is looking to build a stadium in Auckland within the next two years and is in discussions with the council over possible sites.
"Our young ones are aiming for a sport that's extremely competitive at the highest level. Most of our kids we will try and get to college.
"Whatever happens after that is the icing on the cake."
Go to baseballnewzealand. com for more information on the academy.
East And Bays Courier