Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting Learned!

The Defensive Specialist put out a call not so long ago for Aussies playing overseas to send in their experiences so that the loyal readers could get a taste of what college and pro baseball life is like. So far the entries have been sublime with fantastic contributions from a number our ‘guys’. With all of the efforts to this point coming from college players, inevitably the Defensive Specialist has started to receive a number of emails from loyal readers asking: “so what’s the deal with college baseball?”

The Defensive Specialist has never been one to let the people down so with a 5 hour plane ride to Perth on the cards, the Defensive Specialist figured he could stretch out in first class and bang out a few key points about college baseball. The Defensive Specialist has collated a number of the questions that have come into the Deep in the Hole mailbox and will freestyle across the topics as only he can:

1) Players don’t get paid. College baseball is an amateur sport meaning that athletes receive no form of payment. From time to time you’ll hear of some scandal relating to players receiving money or gifts from boosters (supporters of the program) but these are typically confined to bigger ticket sports such as football or basketball that generate greater revenue and tend to be followed in greater numbers.

1) Types of colleges. The pinnacle of college baseball is NCAA Division 1. There are numerous arguments about the equivalent talent level in comparison to professional baseball which can be tough to quantify. Some of the best college players (Stephen Strasburg as the most recent example) have left D1 programs and gone directly to AA baseball in the professional ranks. Evan Longoria also starred as a college baseballer and spent limited time in the minor leagues before being elevated to the Major Leagues where he flourished. Often times, college relief pitchers are the ones fast tracked to the big leagues. Generally D1 college players are able to commence at the single A level.

The NCAA then has D2 and D3. Another level NAIA also exists just to make things more confusing. All of these levels are 4 year schools – meaning that it typically takes a person 4 years to graduate and that a player has 4 years of eligibility at the collegiate level.

Junior Colleges are 2 years institutions (a good comparison would be TAFE for Australians). Players can attend a 2 year school, gain the prerequisite grades and then attend a 4 year school.

2) Restrictions. NCAA Division 1 has particularly stringent guidelines around practice, number of games, season start date and a myriad of other issues that would bore you to death if the Defensive Specialist broke them all down. A strange example is the ruling around supervised practices. Coaches can only attend a finite number of practices (or hours of practice) so you will see sessions run by the players.

As you move down levels, the rulings become less rigid which is why you see some junior colleges playing 60+ games in a season and commencing their season in early February.

3) Academics. Players have to maintain a grade point average in order to play. There are always stories of gifted players not playing because they weren’t academically eligible. The majority of Division 1 programs (and especially the big ones) have academic staff who monitor grades and assist with study and learning.

Junior college is less challenging on the old grey matter and in fact in a lot of cases all you really need is a pulse to pass your classes.

4) Getting drafted. Players can be selected in the Major League Draft coming out of high school. Once they register for classes and step foot on campus of a 4 year college they are not eligible to be drafted until after their junior season (3rd year) or unless they are over 21. Typically a drafted junior has more leverage in contract negotiations because they have the option of returning to college for their senior year (4th year). In fact, Josh Spence made this decision just last year, turning down a significant chunk of change to return to Arizona State.

If a player attends a junior college, he can be drafted after his freshman (first year) or sophomore (second) season.

5) College is expensive. Not only do Aussies have to pay for school, it is significantly more expensive than Australian universities and payment cannot be deferred. On top of this, Aussies normally have to pay ‘out of state’ tuition which bumps the cost up more. When the Australian dollar isn’t doing so well things get even tougher. The price of attending university in the US varies across institutions with 4 year colleges being considerably more expensive than junior colleges.

On top of academic fees, you are also faced with costs for housing and food, especially if you live on campus.

A good reason to attend a junior college is the opportunity to showcase yourself at a lower price point and hopefully with solid performance the opportunity for scholarships may arise. Which leads us to:

6) Scholarships. There is a misconception in Australia that colleges offer ‘full rides’. A Division 1 program offers 11.7 scholarships. That’s it! A team can have a playing roster of 25. Some teams will make it rain for an out and out stud but the vast majority offer partial scholarships where they break up the money and give players half scholarships in order to stretch it out. If you attend a school where tuition costs 10k a year then you only need to cover 5K. On the other hand, if you land at a place that charges 30k, you’re on the hook for 15k. Often schools will try to package in ‘academic money’ meaning that they offset the cost by using academic scholarships in conjunction with athletic scholarships. It helps your cause if you have a brain and baseball ability

Lower divisions and junior colleges have different rules around scholarships and can sometimes cover more tuition. Some schools offer no scholarship money at all.

7) Metal bats. All 4 year schools swing tin bats. There are numerous junior college leagues throughout the US that are wooden bat leagues.

8) Why college? Well if you’re like the Defensive Specialist and hit puberty at 21, there aren’t too many ways to get drafted if you don’t have pubic hair. College presents an opportunity for players with less refined skills or physical ability to extend their playing careers. It’s not easy to sign a pro deal – especially out of Australia so college is a chance to work within a structured environment and develop your skill set. From here there is an opportunity to then get drafted into professional baseball.

College baseball also presents the chance to work towards achieving a university degree. The road is littered with men who signed pro deals at 18, bashed around for 5 years or so and then upon release at 23 found that they had no relevant skills for the workforce or qualification.

Attending a US university and playing baseball is also a great way for an Australian kid to experience playing every day (or almost every day).It is very much a lifestyle as well, typically living on campus or with team mates and being a big part of the school culture.

9) Season. A D1 season now runs from late February to May, with playoffs and the college World Series in late may. Teams play approximately 50 games per season.

10) Recruiting. In the US, good & great players are recruited relentlessly by colleges (recruiting periods are governed by the NCAA and contact can only be made in certain periods). Players are invited for campus visits etc. Obviously Australian players are immune to such recruiting in Australia which is why not many Australian players would ever go to a 4 year college on a scholarship.

We do see a lot of our players being recruited once they have done a stint at a Junior College however. These 2 years stints allow Aussies to showcase their skill sets and once eyeballed then become recruiting targets. The recruiting stage is where schools will talk to players about scholarship opportunities etc.

11) Coaching. Instruction tends to be more rigid and formal in the college ranks with coaches often being control freaks who demand things are done their way. Teams often have a way of doing things or a methodology about playing the game. This isn’t always such a bad thing and can be good for players who are less naturally gifted. The Defensive Specialist knows of many players who have chafed under the rigid structures and teachings of their program.

Alright folks, that was a brief snapshot of the college game. With more and more Australians participating in the college ranks, it’s exciting to hear about the different experiences that the fellas are having in their programs. If the Defensive Specialist has failed to cover a topic or if the loyal readers have any further questions about the college ranks, by all means fire an email to

The wine services has just been offered by the first class attendant so the Defensive Specialist had better sign off and imbibe. Keep your eyes open for the Defensive Specialist at the WA State League Grand Final Series this week!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Talking with the Head Pineapple

Not so long ago, the Defensive Specialist was being bombarded by loyal readers desperate for information about the Australian Baseball league and specifically their favourite franchises. The Defensive Specialist made a commitment to his people that he’d use all of his powers of influence to get the inside scoop come hell or high water. The Defensive Specialist reached out to numerous General Managers and people of influence and these kind souls have been nothing but accommodating. 
The Defensive Specialist jumped on the Deep in the Hole corporate jet and made his way up to Queensland where he spent considerable time with Queensland Rams General Manager, Kim Jessop. Armed with pages of questions, Kim held his own under interrogation and has provided some quality juice about his franchise. For those readers whose questions weren’t answered – do not fret! There will be plenty of opportunities to get the dope as the year rolls on.
Let’s launch into the Defensive Specialist’s one-on-one with Kim Jessop:

  1. What’s the toughest thing about building a franchise from the ground up? There was no requirement that proved tougher than the next, but in terms of size and scale I would place the facility or playing venue at No1 followed by staff, both paid & volunteers.. Marketing follows in hot pursuit with communication paramount which (from my perspective) needed to be very focused and precise.

  2. It’s obviously an exciting time - heading towards the launch of the ABL, what have been your main objectives this offseason? Our playing venue has dominated my time accompanied by a very tight and rigorous review of our budgets, targeting Income & Expenses. From the budgets we shift to our overall business plan and how we progress from a somewhat subdued but improved Claxton Shield campaign (more off the field success than on). 

  3. What has the ABL in 2010 learned from the ABL in the early nineties? Greed is bad and over paying the playing personnel will crush you quickly and that all franchises are tied & bound to a mutually agreed direction which includes budgets. On a positive note, our sport is popular and when you look at the different games of cricket particularly T20, you see baseball on valium and I am not being negative nor vindictive. I think Cricket has learnt well from Baseball and both sports can work benefit from each other in a cohesive manner. T20 will be a plus for Baseball. 

  4. Do you believe franchises can be financially viable playing a 60+ game season in Australia? YES. Our game can and will be played more often than any other in this country at an elite level. We will keep costs down for teams & supporters but entertainment high. We will openly invite people to get as close as possible to our teams, fields & facilities. To experience the skills & talents of our players you must get down& close and this will be a key part of our overall business plan. 

  5. The Queensland team experienced an exodus of seasoned campaigners in recent years. Which players do you see leading the franchise in the coming years? There has been an enormous loss of playing talent for a variety of reasons and those players will be approached about resuming their careers in the new ABL. Players such as the caliber of Josh Roberts, Chris Mowday & Clinton Naylor are gifted players but they also have the passion to succeed and win and we will do our best to entice them back. You then have players such as Simon Morriss, Shane Watson Andrew Utting, Alan Schoenberber, Joel Norton & Mitchell & Jay Nilsson who will grow as individuals & Players and provide a strong foundation for future clubs.  

  6. Which Queensland players should baseball fans be looking out for and why? The players mentioned above will undoubtedly form the basis of a powerful team but I also would think we can entice some other former great players back, watch this space. 

  7. Do you expect the increase in games to limit the availability of non-professional players who must hold down jobs? NO. I was asked this by one of our players and we will need more former pro & non-pro players as they have much needed awareness of what is needed to win at this level of baseball in this country. 

  8. There has been little information on how professional players will be allocated to franchises. Are you able to explain how this would ideally work? In regards to our own home grown pro’s it is a case of them playing with their respective state/city teams BUT should a player feel that their fortunes can be improved by playing for another ABL team then this will be taken into consideration. The league will look to bolster teams and the competition in general by bringing in some “: other” marquee signings from the USA & Japan but we will also look at emerging pro leagues such as Korea & Taiwan. These will be looked at on a needs basis and that no professional Australian player should miss a roster spot (form & availability being the criteria) because of a foreign signing. 

  9. How many professional players would each team be able to have on the roster? There is no limit per say but the league will take the approach of what is best for the competition and each club.  

  10. Why would Major League ball clubs send their prospects down under? I think the answer lies in our State and National Baseball academies that have a reputation of providing excellent tuition and management of player’s skills & abilities. We also have a significant number of current & former major league players here and their rise to the major league was not purely based on their MLB clubs but testament to the excellent coaching programs that exist in this country. 

  11. Facilities are a major issue for each team. At present are you locked into Holloway Field and if so will it be enhanced? This is the big question and one of our biggest issues here in Qld. It is with great regret that there is no official home of baseball in Brisbane. We have many fine club facilities but the lack of clear direction by the State bodies over the years has left the current administration with a major opportunity. Windosr is the unofficial home for most finals in club baseball but a lack of planning and co-operation amongst State and Local governments as well as clubs and the overall administration of Baseball has seen no change or improvement in this facility for over 25 years -that is disappointing. We have spent a great deal of time in discussions with State & Local Governments about this issue and it is because of that reason that we are now deep in discussions with the RNA. We would love to be able to build Windosr into a minor league facility but many issues arise when this is discussed, not the least being the local residents. Major League Baseball is very willing and able to provide significant funds to upgrade a facility in Brisbane but understandably not without having a strong level of control over this facility. We will continue to work on the Windsor facility but also look at better resourced facilities in this city. 

  12. What sort of crowds are you expecting in 2010 / 2011? Dependent on our venue we would expect Windsor’s to grow to an 800 crowd average for the season and the RNA could hit a 2500 average. 

  13. What has baseball in Queensland been doing to promote the brand? BQI under the leadership of Col Dick has focused on growing junior baseball through a range of initiatives that are now being realized in the growth of club junior numbers. The fact that there has been no real national home & away competition for the past 15 years has definitely impacted our reputation as a major sport in Australia. My intention is to focus on the brand, the product and the entity. The entity is Qld Baseball and if our plan is successful then we all will benefit greatly from this league. 

  14. What sort of media coverage can baseball fans expect? Our media budget though not extravagant is still significant. We have already established a relationship with 97.3 here in Brisbane (ARN) & in conjunction with us should provide a great platform for promoting the new team & league in Brisbane. We will also have a national magazine style program on TV on a national level as well as print media campaigns with Quest newspapers and of course the Courier mail. 

  15. In your experience, have businesses been interested in sponsoring the sport? The former Brisbane franchise “the Bandits” would indicate a positive response to this question. The sporting landscape has changed significantly since the demise of the former National League but the product itself has the ingredients to provide a great vehicle for a business to grow or re-affirm their market position by associating with the new league. We have the intellectual and corporate knowledge to provide a real tangible benefit to our sponsor partners through real sponsorship activation plans at rates much less expensive then “other “national sports based in Brisbane. You also couple our sport with its major trading partners in the USA & Asia and I believe we can offer, in some circumstances, greater opportunities for our sponsors. The bottom line is we must deliver tangible bottom line results for the businesses that support us and this is primary focus. 

  16. Do you see Asian teams ever participating in this league? Undoubtedly, this is a must and I am sure will happen sooner rather than later. This will also be part of the search for marquee signings from Asia for our other teams here. 

  17. What can we expect from the Queensland team in 2010 /2011? A team that responds well to the pressures that will be placed on them to perform win & establish an entertainment outdoor option for all fans & sponsors to be proud of & enjoy. A team that is committed to the highest standards of conduct and community involvement that will be the benchmark for teams in this city.
The Defensive Specialist would like to thank Kim for taking time out of his schedule to drop knowledge about the state of the game in Queensland. If you have questions you’d like to have answered by league GM’s, by all means fire them to the Defensive Specialist at and the slickest defender you know will do his damndest to get a response.

Before the Defensive Specialist signs off, there is only 1 week left until the AFL season commences. With that in mind, stop being scared and sign up to compete against the Defensive Specialist in Dream Team (AFL fantasy football). Follow this link and punch in this code: 625080 to go head to head with a truly formidable opponent (the Defensive Specialist).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

D Wash steals the show!

It’s not easy to excite the Defensive Specialist. When you’ve seen and dealt with 100mph fastballs, when you’ve snared angry one-hop line drives in the field like it’s nothing, when you’ve hung in at second base with a base runner barrelling down in order to turn a pair there comes a time when nothing surprises you anymore and it gets difficult to raise your pulse. While maintaining an even keel is what led the Defensive Specialist to the top of the heap, every once in a while it’s nice to get that tight sensation in the sphincter, just to show you that this game still means something to you.

Well this week, the Defensive Specialist was in a heightened state of arousal as he sat down with one of Deep in the Hole’s favourite sons – David Washington, or D Wash as we like to call him. For three hours the Defensive Specialist went one on one with the US speedster who made Adelaide his home this past summer. Here’s what went down:

  • Can you give a brief background of your baseball journey? Where did you grow up, play highschool and college baseball. Professional experience? 

I will try to make it as brief as possible but its been a LONG journey. I am originally from the Bronx, New York and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I played high school baseball at Chamblee High School in Atlanta as a catcher but was not recruited by a single college. I graduated from high school in 2004 and attended Tallahassee Community College and walked on to their baseball team in the fall. I didn’t want to redshirt so I transferred to Lurleen B. Wallace C.C. in Andalusia, Alabama in the spring of 2005. I injured my right shoulder in the preseason so had to redshirt anyway. I wasn’t happy there during the spring or summer so I transferred to Jefferson Davis C.C. in Brewton, Alabama in the fall of 2005. I played there for 2 years and was only recruited by Savannah State. I played there for 2 years and in April of 2009 signed with the El Paso Diablos. 
  • How did you end up at Savannah State? What was that experience like? 

I emailed every division 1 college and even sent out letters with stats and schedules in order to find a school that I could play for. My thoughts on baseball are that nobody knows who you are so it’s your job to tell them. I had offers from some division 2 schools and a few walk-on offers from some division 1 schools but Savannah State made the best offer and in my eyes the only offer. As far as my experience there, I loved it. I enjoyed playing under Coach Hardy and even though the facilities weren’t the best, I worked extremely hard everyday and learned a lot just by playing. 
  • Is this your first time in Australia? What brought you to Australia? 

Yes, this is actually my first time overseas. I have a hunger for baseball and if I can play all year I will. So I asked my manager about playing winter baseball and he mentioned Australia. I was only a rookie in pro ball so playing in South America would have been a stretch. One of my teammates in El Paso played club ball in Adelaide last season and helped get me on one of the local teams.  
  • Stepping off the plane in Adelaide – first thoughts? 

Uncertainty. Not nervous or scared, just a bit unsure of how the next 6 months of my life would be like. I knew I would be having a son in December and would miss his birth but it’s a decision I was comfortable making because I was thinking into the future of my life as well as his. 
  • How are you finding the ‘Aussie’ lifestyle? 

I’m pretty much accustomed to everything now. I think I have adjusted fairly well to the prices, food, language, and the people in general.     
  • You’re from the Bronx NY. Adelaide has to be a little different? How so? 
New York of course is fast paced and you can blink and miss an entire day. Adelaide is real laid back and easy. 
  • Where are you living and what do you get up to off the field in Australia? 
I live with a teammate on my club ball team. Off the field I usually keep everything baseball related. Lifting weights and hitting as much as I can and talking with friends and family back home. 
  • Describe Australian club baseball? 
It’s fun. That’s how I describe most of the games. The level is not what I’m used to but its still baseball and I’m able to work on a lot of things. I don’t feel as much pressure to perform and I relax a bit which is good for my game because I put everything I have into every game and it drains me somewhat. 
  • What would you tell other American’s if you could speak to them before they headed down under? 
To prepare for a great vacation or at least a great time. It’s a lot of sights that I haven’t been able to see but hopefully before I leave I can visit a few more places. 
  • You’re a Deep in the Hole favourite, for those who haven’t seen your game can you describe it to the readers? 
Fast. Speed is what makes my game special but behind the speed there is passion and intensity that very few players show in baseball. I play like an NFL style of baseball. I was taught that with the things I lack on the field, I can make up for it with heart and by leaving everything on the diamond when the game is over. 
  • Thoughts on the Claxton Shield competition? 
Excellent. I enjoyed the crowds and travelling around the country to play. I’m glad I was able to compete this year especially with the ABL starting next season. 
  • How did that level of play stack up to what you have seen in your career?

I would say almost the most competitive I have played in aside from professional ball in the US. I am only one year removed from college so playing against guys that are in affiliated baseball or former pro guys, was challenging but beneficial for me. I will definitely be able to take what I learned out here and apply it to my game when I return to El Paso. 
  • What does the Australian Baseball League need to do to attract professional players from the US. 
Players who want to play baseball during the winter in the US are motivated to play because they love the game. However, being so far away from home I think the league would have to fairly compensate guys that travel here to play. I think the word of mouth in the next few years will attract many players especially those in affiliated baseball. 
  • How would you rate your season in the Claxton Shield? 
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give myself a 7. I had some great games and I had some terrible games. I let some things effect me off the field which in turn had a negative impact on the field. I play with pressure on me sometimes to be the “man” and to make the team go and I would get frustrated when I didn’t perform well. The coaching staff was proud of my performance and the fans were as well so I can’t be too upset. 
  • You lead the league in stolen bases. Although base stealing has become somewhat of a dying art, does it still have a place in the game? 
I definitely hope so. I have been disappointed with how baseball has turned in a different direction when it comes to speed and small ball. The game was built on those qualities and players who use performance-enhancing drugs have really made it harder for players like me. I hope that my speed keeps me around the game for many years. 
  • The Defensive Specialist did not believe South Australia could win a championship. How far away is the ball club? 
Well we were two wins away this season. Unfortunately Victoria was just a better team this year. I think with a few pieces in a few positions we could contend again for the championship and definitely win next year. 
  • Favourite ballpark to play in this season and why? 
Too easy, Norwood Oval. The crowd made us play with a lot of intensity and being a fan favorite made the season a lot of fun. 
  • You got to see a few different Australian cities travelling with SA - which one stood out? 
I liked Perth because our schedule allowed us to visit the city during the day. The hotel we stayed in had a great view and the stadium was nice as well. 
  • Will we see D Wash back down under next season? 
I would like to return next season. I have spoken with my GM and manager and they want me to come back next year. Every fan and follower of the Claxton Shield has expressed their interest in seeing me back in centerfield so we will see what happens. 
  • Australian music – what do you think? 
I have started listening to the radio more. At first I just drove with my iPod and played it everywhere I went. I’m used to the music now and some of it is pretty good.

D Wash ladies and gentleman! The Defensive Specialist wants to thank David for taking the time to sit down and rap so that the fans can get an understanding of what the speedster experienced during his stint down under. Hopefully we’ll see D Wash in centrefield next season, shattering all baseline hand clapping records!

The player blogs continue to roll. Be sure to check in here to stay up to date with our lads overseas.

On another note, the Defensive Specialist started up an AFL Dream Team league as a means to engage the grey matter over the offseason. Clearly many people have been intimidated by the Defensive Specialist’s intellectual prowess and have been too scared to sign up. As it stands there are 12 available spots left in the league, so the Defensive Specialist suggests that if you like AFL and have an ounce of testicular fortitude, click on this link and enter league code 625080. If you’re scared, the Defensive Specialist encourages you to purchase a dog.