NZ in bid to make World Baseball Classic

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2011
Scott Campbell
Getty Images
BIG CHANCE: Scott Campbell of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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New Zealand is set take its place at the home plate of world baseball after scoring a qualifying spot for the World Baseball Classic, the sport's world cup.

Ryan Flynn, chief executive of Baseball New Zealand, yesterday confirmed New Zealand's inclusion in the tournament's qualifiers, due to take place next November.

New Zealand, which is unranked by International Baseball Federation (IBF), will head to either Taiwan, Canada, South Africa or Colombia to compete in a six-game, four-team qualification tournament against the host nation and two other countries in November. All competing nations were due to be announced at 2am today.

It is understood New Zealand will likely play in Taiwan.

The winner of each qualifying pool will get direct entry into the World Baseball Classic - due to take place in 2013.

Twelve teams, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, automatically qualified for the 2013 tournament due to finishing positions at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The last tournament featured some of world baseball's top players, including US superstars Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins and Evan Longeria.

''This is the best thing to happen in the history of diamond sports in New Zealand,'' Flynn said. ''This could be our moment, like the All Whites had for soccer and the Tall Blacks had for basketball.''

Baseball New Zealand president David Ballinger said the inclusion in the qualifiers showed that baseball in this country was "for real".

''To be in the qualifiers for the fourth major sport in the world, you couldn't ask for better,'' he said.

Costs of participation for each team, including travel and accommodation, will be covered by the tournament organisers.

Scouting of players around the world to play for the national team has already begun, Flynn said, with any college players and minor league players in the United States, and around the world, with Kiwi ancestry considered. Kiwi softballers would also be considered, Flynn said.

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Scott Richmond and Boston Red Sox prospects Boss and Moko Moanaroa have Kiwi-born fathers, while star Florida University pitcher Nick Maronde once lived in New Zealand.

Flynn suggested that Kiwi Travis Wilson, who played for the Atlanta Braves and once came within one spot of playing in the Big Leagues, may have a role on the team, as a player, a coach or both.

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Wilson is currently a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers AA-affiliate team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, based in Tennessee.

Flynn said New Zealand Baseball will also look at bring over a ''top level'' international baseball coach to oversee the national team's preparations for the qualifying tournament.

Aucklander Scott Campbell, who plays minor league ball for the Toronto Blue Jays, confirmed he would make himself available for the New Zealand team.

Campbell was the first Kiwi to ever be drafted by a Major League Baseball team when he signed for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006.

''Deep down inside of every athlete is that desire to play for your country,'' he said. ''When you're playing for the dollar or an organisation, it's different. This will be something special.''

Speaking from Tampa, Florida where he is rehabilitating from a season-ending hip injury, Campbell described New Zealand's inclusion in the tournament as ''very exciting''.

''I think it's going to be a big step in raising the profile of the game in New Zealand,'' he said.

Inclusion in the tournament caps an impressive six months for baseball in New Zealand, with the visit of New York Yankee and MLB star Curtis Granderson and the hosting of the Oceania U-16 tournament drawing attention to a sport whose playing numbers have risen from 1200 to 4000 in the last twelve months.

POTENTIAL PLAYERS FOR THE NEW ZEALAND BASEBALL TEAM:

Boss Moanaroa, Boston Red Sox, first baseman/outfielder

Scott Campbell, Toronto Blue Jays, second baseman

Te Wera Bishop, Boston Red Sox, catcher

Moko Moanaroa, Boston Red Sox, outfielder

Daniel Lamb-Hunt, Pulheim Gophers, Germany, outfielder

Travis Wilson, coach for Los Angeles Dodgers AA-affiliate in Tennessee, potential designated hitter

Scott Richmond, Toronto Blue Jays, pitcher

Alex Dawson, Doane College, pitcher

Nick Maronde, Florida University, pitcher

- Fairfax Media

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