NZ fertile ground for baseball - new coach

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012

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New Zealand's new national coach believes the sport here could be on the verge of the big time.

The first New Zealand-born player to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team, Andy Skeels, will take charge of the national side in the World Baseball Classic, and it will give Kiwi players exposure they have never had before.

Skeels, who left Paraparaumu when he was a child, played for the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in their minor league teams.

When he retired he worked for the now-defunct Montreal Expos in minor league baseball before moving to the San Francisco Giants' minor league teams.

He is manager of the Giant's High A affiliate team, the San Jose Giants, which is a club three levels below the major leagues.

He will guide the Diamondblacks at the World Baseball Classic's qualifying tournament in Taiwan in November, where they will take on the host nation plus Thailand and the Philippines for a place in baseball's version of the World Cup, which will take place in March in the United States.

"Baseball has taken me all over the world and finally it has brought me home," said Skeels in his thick American accent.

"It would have made my dad, who was born in Dunedin but grew up in Wellington, very proud of this moment.

"I am honoured to have been given this opportunity and I am very excited about the future of baseball in New Zealand.

"I knew I wanted to do this as soon as I found out we had a World Baseball Classic team."

Skeels' considerable connections in America are likely to see him bring some high-profile assistants, including a current major League player and a multiple All Star.

Skeels will spend a few days going to trials in New Zealand for players wanting to make the Diamondblacks roster. But he will also use many New Zealand-eligible players from around the world to fill up his 28 available spots.

"We are going to need players who are advanced and as competitive as they can be in a very short period of time," he said.

"We need guys who can throw, hit and pitch and it will certainly help to have guys with professional experience.

"Above that, we are also looking to make a statement to the rest of the country that New Zealand is fertile ground for developing Major League baseball talent.

"This country has so much to offer in the way of developing baseball athletes.

"The major league season is still happening and we'll find out who we have available when we get closer to the tournament.

"There are, hopefully, enough people coming over to make us competitive.

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"I do know one thing and that regardless of who we have, we won't be there just to show up, we are going there to compete and that is the only way to find out where you are in developing as a country.

"The effort will be there, the intent will be there and it is a great place to start. It doesn't get any bigger in terms of the international stage and you will have everyone from MLB having their eyes on you."

- Fairfax Media

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