NZ could be field of dreams - US baseball exec

CAMERON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014

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New Zealand needs to get a team operating in the Australian Baseball League, says an American World Series-winning executive tasked with developing the Kiwi game.

Fred Claire, who has been involved in baseball in the United States for over 30 years, hopes to bring an upward swing in the growth of the game in New Zealand.

His passion, knowledge and energy for baseball is surpassed by few others. He wants baseball to succeed, here and internationally.

Claire will be involved in growing the game in New Zealand where he recently signed up as a special adviser to Baseball New Zealand's CEO Ryan Flynn.

"I'm willing to help in whatever way I can. I've spent a lot of time in the game so I start from a very basic platform," he told Sunday News.

Claire, who has a distinguished 30-year career with Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, has served as publicity director, vice-president of public relations, promotions and marketing, executive vice-president and general manager of player personnel.

He was named general manager in 1987 and led the Dodgers to a World Series crown one year later. For his efforts in turning around the Dodgers, Claire was named executive of the year in 1988. Claire spent 12 years as the Dodgers' general manager before retiring in 1998.

For baseball to grow in this country, the plan is simple - develop it at the grassroots level.

"It's growing from the involvement of young players. I think there are opportunities for young players with careers in the game," he said.

"It's a great game for the youth. I saw the growth of baseball in Australia . . . and even now baseball is not at the top rock of Australian sports, but it's growing."

In order for baseball to grow at a grassroots level in New Zealand, Claire believes it's crucial the sport gets more interested people involved. The game needs to be introduced to more youngsters so that more programmes and fields can be established, with capable people in place to encourage them.

"As the sport grows in New Zealand and more youngsters are playing there is no doubt about one thing, the scouts will be there and will have an awareness of that talent. Scouts go where the talent is."

But growing the game in New Zealand doesn't stop at youth level. For players to be able to continue to play baseball and make a push for the major leagues, Baseball New Zealand needs to establish a solid platform where New Zealand's players can compete with good players.

The answer?

Field a team capable of competing in the Australian Baseball League. The success is obvious across other codes played in New Zealand. The Warriors, Breakers and Wellington Phoenix all compete in Australian competitions. There is no doubt this has strengthened those sports in New Zealand and provided greater career opportunities.

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"I think that's a logical thing, you grow the game through participation, through the coaching, through the competition," Claire said.

Claire likened the potential breakthrough of a Kiwi in the major leagues to that of NBA star Steven Adams. The impact would be huge, both in public and media interest.

"When there's a player who breaks through, the interest that it will create will help to grow the game," Claire said.

Claire is under no illusions - baseball has a long way to go in New Zealand.

However, the American is also a visionary and believes in baseball's potential here, the same way he once did for Australia.

"I think that it would be great that in a few years if New Zealand has a player who has made a debut in the major leagues then I think there will be a lot that will follow."

- Sunday News

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