New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius spreads baseball gospel in Christchurch
New York Yankees star Didi Gregorius believes talented Kiwi kids should be dreaming big and aiming for a Major League Baseball career.
The 26-year-old shortstop – who had scores of budding baseballers enthralled at a coaching clinic in Christchurch on Tuesday – is living proof that players can reach the big leagues from outside the United States.
Gregorius was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Curaçao, a southern Carribean island with a population of around 158,000.
The 1.9m tall left-handed hitter, who hit a career-best 20 home runs in 2016, said his career is proof "you can go a long way with baseball".
"You can get an opportunity to go to the States and go to college and play baseball and study," he said.
Gregorius, who earned NZ$3.4 million with the Yankees in 2016, believes New Zealanders' softball prowess would allow them to quickly transition to baseball.
"You're already doing the sport; the only thing's different is you're throwing under-hand [in softball], now you've got to go on top [and pitch overhand in baseball].
"There's a lot of talent here to play baseball."
Gregorius grew up playing football, basketball and baseball and was also a competitive swimmer, but he chose baseball as a pro career, "because it's in my blood".
His father Johannes Sr, brother Johannes Jr and grandfather Antonio were baseball pitchers and his mother, Sheritsa Stoop, who is in New Zealand with him, played on the Dutch national softball team.
He signed after high school for the Cincinnati Reds and first played in their farm system in 2008, working his way through the minor leagues to Major League Baseball in 2012.
Gregorius then had two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks but was signed by the Yankees in 2014 after legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ended a stellar 20-year career.
He will start his third season in New York in 2017 and said it was "an honour to play in the [Yankee] pinstripes."
Gregorius had a highly respectable .276 average in the 2016 season, hit 20 home runs and produced 76 RBIs (runs batted in) and is renowned for his athletic fielding.
But he said winning a World Series ring was his ultimate aim. "The ring is the thing..."
Gregorius, who is being hosted by Baseball New Zealand, enjoyed a visit to Christchurch's new Adventure Park on Tuesday. He will hold another clinic at Avonhead Park on Wednesday afternoon before moving on to Auckland and Wellington.