Diamondblacks make mark on baseball scene

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 19:00 03/12/2012

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New Zealand is now recognisable among the world's baseball nations but the challenge now is keeping the Diamondblacks visible on the international scene after an impressive debut in Taiwan last month.

Unranked when invited to participate in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament, the Diamondblacks - a game conglomeration of Major League hopefuls, part-timers and American-based journeymen - are now 29th on the International Baseball Federation's rankings.

New Zealand's ambitious bid to reach the next stage of qualifying for the WBC was dashed by world No 7 Chinese-Taipei but wins over the Philippines and Thailand proved they were competitive despite limited preparation time.

Baseball New Zealand chief executive officer Ryan Flynn was pleased the team now had a ranking and believed the Diamondblacks could climb higher than Thailand (23) and the Philippines (24) with more match play.

"I believe we can sit just outside the top 20 in the next couple of years if the programme continues to progress as it has, and if we can keep the Diamondblacks participating in legitimate tournaments between now and the next WBC."

Flynn hoped the Diamondblacks' exploits justified an invite to the WBC qualifiers in 2016 while ideally a New Zealand franchise made up principally from the national team would join the Australian league inside two years.

"The biggest thing is the need to get into the Australian baseball league. That would allow a lot of our boys to stay together as a team for four or five months or the year."

Major League Baseball's Australia and Oceania director Tom Nicholson has been responsive to the idea but a suitable venue in Auckland is among the sticking points.

"I've talked to Tom about making them a touring team if we don't have a real home ground but we do need a baseball specific facility in Auckland. That's our big goal."

Flynn was also hopeful of playing in an Asian series which took place shortly before the WBC qualifier involving teams from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Chinese national side.

"We need to find ways to get this group together again. We don't want to wait every four years and have to start from scratch."

Cuba holds the No 1 spot from the United States while Japan, Korea and Canada round out the top five.

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- Fairfax Media

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