Thursday, October 28, 2010

All aboard the Knight train

We’re getting pretty damn close to the season launch and the Defensive Specialist is itching with excitement (and a skin irritation). On a recent sojourn to Western Australia, your old pal had a chance to sit down with new Perth Heat skipper – Brooke Knight. Knight comes to the Heat from the US where in recent years he has been both the General Manager and Field Manager of the Corvallis Knights, a collegiate summer league team. Knight played college baseball at Oregon State and then went on to play professional baseball in both the Milwaukee and Pittsburgh organisations. He has also served stints as a professional scout in the San Diego area for the Montreal Expos (2001) and the Florida Marlins (2002-2003). Here’s how the conversation went down:

DS: Why are you in Australia, coaching in the ABL?

BK: There are a number of reasons why I saw this as a great opportunity

1) .Scouting can be a very nomadic existence. I love the coaching aspect of baseball, especially the 18-25 age range where you can really shape the skills and abilities of players. The team will be a mix of professionals, amateurs and feature players striving to make the professional ranks – I look forward to working with this group of players.

2) I have a connection to Australia through my wife and family and I want to see the game flourish down here because I believe the baseball community is passionate and the players have the ability to really compete in the professional game. I have an affinity for Australia and I want to develop Australian kids into professional baseball players

DS: Tell me about the collegiate summer league you manage

BK: The league my team is in is arguably the premier competition on the west coast and ranks right up there with the Cape Cod league and Northwood league in terms of talent. The team is run much more like a professional organisation (we played 68 games in 69 days for example). It’s like a minor league team in that you have guys from different college programs all coming together on one team. Since 2005 we have had 7 guys appear in the big leagues and approximately 40% of our roster will likely go onto play pro ball.

DS: How much coaching do you see taking place in the ABL?

BK: It really varies from guy to guy. The pro guys need to get their work in and most organisations have a way they want things done. Pro organisations don’t want us interfering with their guys too much. Typically what I will do is act as a facilitator for affiliated guys, liaise with their organisations to ensure they are following plans and workouts etc. Our imports are from Baltimore so I’ll need to clarify what the guys left with and what they want to accomplish over the summer.

For non affiliated guys you really have two avenues. You have the older and happy ones who don’t really need to change anything and then you have the younger guys who perhaps are looking to sign and need to refine or improve their skill sets. From that perspective there is plenty of opportunity to coach.

DS: Where do you see the ABL going?

BK: Tough to answer that right now. The goal is to accelerate it as fast as possible while providing a fan friendly experience. High quality guys will promote the game although I believe that high quality Australian guys will grow it even faster.

DS: The Perth Heat has been renown in recent years for its strong pitching. How do you make up for key losses?

BK: We definitely lack power arms but we do have a couple of quality young guys who will help us like Barron, Saupold and Hendriks. When you add in 2 Baltimore imports I think we will compete on the mound. We will be impacted by inning limits placed on guys like Hendriks and the imports. We play 40 games, meaning that we need to eat up 360 innings. Hendriks and the import pitchers will likely be restricted to 40 innings or so each so that’s 120-150 innings taken care of. I think we have the arms to fill out the rest.

DS: Are you under any sort of mandate to play the pro guys?

BK: The professional guys need every opportunity to fail. Obviously my goals are to develop both talent and the league while winning. The challenge is to develop while winning along the way.

DS: Tim Kennelly and Brendan Wise are in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. When can we expect them back and what will be their involvement?

BK: They’ll both be back in early December. I expect Kennelly to take a break and be available for the first series after Christmas. Wise’s availability will depend on his organisation (Detroit). After a full season and the AFL they may want to shut him down.

DS: How is the team looking offensively?

BK: Luke Hughes is a big part of the line up. He is rehabbing from surgery but should appear in the early series. He may be heading off to play in Venezuela however so we need to make the most of his passion and leadership. Mitch Graham, Matt Kennelly and Brandon Dale will all add to the line up along with 2 Baltimore pro’s.

DS: What sort of game style can we expect from you and the Perth Heat?

BK: Your talent typically dictates the style of game you play. We don’t have a team full of bangers so we need to cater to that by running a little and moving guys around. We have a team of sound baseballers so we’ll execute, hit and run etc. I think I can find a happy medium between Earl Weaver and small ball!

DS: Can you comment on the rumours that other clubs (Canberra) may have up to 8 imports?

BK: The disparity amongst imports is interesting. Personally I want a club primarily made up of Australians as it is the best way to promote the league. I see it as a challenge to take it to these other ball clubs. If the imports can play then they’ll be strong and the competition will be better. On the flip side, if they can’t play they’re in big trouble. For the teams that don’t have as strong a local competition it’s a smart move because at the end of the day, fans will come out to watch a good winning team

DS: The Defensive Specialist pays particular attention to a coach’s ability to hit a solid catcher’s pop up after pre game infield outfield. What can we expect from you?

BK: At some stage this year, I will land a ball on home plate!*

Wow, it’s not often you hear a manager toss the gauntlet like that when it comes to catcher pop ups, but Knight has just set the bar for all other coaches around the league*. Many thanks to Knight for taking time out of his schedule to chat with the Defensive Specialist.

*The Defensive Specialist may have made up Knight’s last response to generate a little friendly competition amongst managers and coaches this season.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It’s in your RNA

Heading into the inaugural Australian Baseball League season, one of the biggest burning questions for a couple of teams was, “where the hell are we going to play?” The Defensive Specialist isn’t going to lie to you, if you don’t have a facility that can hold 2000-3000 people; it’s going to be a little tough to make a buck. It’s all well and good finding a venue that has the seating capacity to hold that many fans, but it’s also important to provide the paying customers with a great experience. While its almost a given that baseball diehards will come out and support a national league, a big part of the business plan is to attract new fans and cultivate these people into long term baseball lovers.

Trying to play baseball on a cricket or football oval can be a logistical nightmare because ultimately you want the spectators as close to the action as possible (in order to increase their chances of being nailed by a screaming line drive). The vast majority of ovals don’t allow baseball fans to get close to the action and therefore has the feel of sitting at a symphony – without the tuxedos. You want the fans on top of the field so they can see and feel the action, after all it's critical to see every cup adjustment by your team’s favourite catcher!

Anyway, the two franchises with the greatest facility issues were Brisbane and Melbourne. Brisbane played at the less than suitable Holloway facility while Melbourne were like vagabonds, bouncing around between Geelong and some university while avoiding the Altona Nuclear Waste facility like the plague.  Fortunately both teams securd better locations for the upcoming season – RNA Showgrounds for the Bandits and  the as yet unofficially announced Melbourne Showgrounds for the Aces. While both are solid and established venues, the Defensive Specialist would imagine that a fair amount of work would be required to get each to a level that truly showcases the game and provides the fans with a wonderful experience.

As is often the case in the Defensive Specialists charmed life, a matter only needs to be reflected on briefly before the universe delivers and someone or something answers the call. In this instance, it was in the form of an anonymous message featuring some interesting tales and photos of the evolution of the RNA Showgrounds into a baseball facility. Of course the Defensive Specialist couldn’t wait to bring this information to the baseball loving public.

A baseball loving Civil Engineer and Surveyor by the name of Raymond Kinsella (or Ray to his friends) has provided his services to the Bandits over the past couple of weeks to transform the showground into a baseball field. The process hasn’t been as simple as throwing down 3 bases and erecting a back net. A couple of examples:

Apparently there were blocked drains at Brisbane RNA and on investigation they found it was caused by all these old rotting baseballs from the Bandits old days at RNA. The homeruns had rolled into the drains and sat there for years.

(The Defensive Specialist has to ask, “don’t they have baseball crazed youngsters who’d trample a pensioner for a homerun ball like in every other state?”)

Under the RNA Showground is a road tunnel and Ray had to scope out and report the depth of drilling the back net pole footings back to Brisbane Transport. Ray has been forced to spec the RNA field to a tolerance of millimeters.

The field specifics are as follows:

Leftfield: 325 feet
Centrefield: 395 feet
Rightfield: 290 feet

The outfield fence height is only 1.8 metres

The Defensive Specialist can only imagine the underwear stirrings that every lefty swinger in the league is getting as they read that its only 290 feet down the rightfield line!

All of the following pictures were taken last week. The field will be completed by next weekend after being cored and aerated. 
It looks like the home plate area is going to be set as close to the grandstand as possible but you can see what the Defensive Specialist was talking about when he said that fans would be removed from the action by the oval shaped facility.
Your standard issue back net footing - looks good and secure!
From just behind second base (typically where the Defensive Specialist gobbles up sure fire singles to centrefield for routine outs). 
The view from centrefield.
The batters box - principles of drainage being accounted for.
Sorting out the home plate area. You can see that  a poke down the right field line wont take much to get out.
Setting the foundation
And the tool used to do it.

Anytime a franchise is able to customise a field, the Defensive Specialist gets excited. It's great to see the Brisbane facility beginning to take life and as mentioned above, it's on pace to be ready for the season opener. A special thanks to the anonymous tipster for sending through the shots and a big shout out to Ray Kinsella for his service to the game - if you build it Ray, they will come!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Put a Lid on it

Earlier in the year, back when the Defensive Specialist was scouring the interwebs looking for information regarding the Australian Baseball League you may remember your old pal (the Defensive Specialist) breaking the news that the official hat of the ABL would be supplied by New Era. Being a man of splendid sartorial tastes, this announcement was hailed as a great thing because quite frankly, New Era makes great quality hats.

As the Defensive Specialist has lamented recently, there simply has not been much to talk about regarding the ABL despite it being less than a month away from launching. Sure there has been speculation over roster make-ups etc but nothing really worth sinking one’s teeth into. Fortunately during one of the Defensive Specialist’s daily sweeps of the ABL website, he stumbled across a link actually confirming New Era as the official supplier of hats in the ABL. Being the curious (and frisky) type, the Defensive Specialist clicked on the link and low and behold, there we all 6 team hats and the capacity to actually purchase them! Now every kid can finally walk around with their New Era baseball hat – of course they’ll keep the damn stickers on them too!

The Defensive Specialist took a sizeable gulp when he saw the price - $49.95 which is fairly steep for a hat, especially when you consider you can purchase Major League Baseball New Era hats online for around $30 US (which is now approximately $22 in Australian currency). Anyway, price aside it was an exciting time for the Defensive Specialist because it meant he could step into his tuxedo and patent leather shoes and provide a comprehensive style breakdown of all 6 caps for the good readers.

Without further ado, lets take a swing around the league and glance and every team’s headwear, grading on creativity, style and whether or not the Defensive Specialist would shell out 50 bones:

Rumour has it that Major League baseball had their design team working laboriously to come up with the logo’s and designs for each team. If the Defensive Specialist was Bud Selig (Commissioner of Baseball), he would have the entire team on a performance improvement plan with a view towards termination for this uninspired effort!

Seriously, two C’s humping each other was the best they could come up with? The Defensive Specialist was a bit sceptical of the fierce looking horse logo at first but it has grown on him. Surely having the angry steed on the hat is a better option than the logo for popular corn chips? If you stare at the logo long enough you can definitely trick yourself into seeing the top C riding the bottom C. If you look even harder, the bottom C starts to resemble a horse!

Creativity: 1/10
Style: 6/10. Black and orange work well in baseball although the second C (the one getting humped) looks to be in the shade of apricot, which is decidedly unbaseball.
Total: 7/20
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: No

The Defensive Specialist has long raged against the lame-o Perth Heat logo and was relieved that the crack MLB design team finally made some dramatic changes to it….. oh wait, no they didn’t.  The design has been tweaked by the head 8-year-old design manager, giving it a little bit more of a modern look, but all in all it is still an incredibly basic and boring logo.

Creativity: 0/10
Style: 2/10. Instead of taking the opportunity to reinvigorate the brand, the Heaters have kept their trusty old pair of grandpa slippers. At least black and red is a good uni combo (as long as they never ever roll out the solid black vests with black sleeves or worse yet red sleeves)
Total: 2/20
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: No, and he may resist payment to wear it.

The Defensive Specialist showed Mrs The Defensive Specialist the hat and her first words were, “ geez, it’s hard to make a sock look tough”. She did then follow up and say that it was a cool hat, which the Defensive Specialist absolutely agrees with. While cartoon character logos can be a bit hit and miss, the Blue Sox logo is somewhat endearing and the colours are by far the best in the league – powder blue just works well when paired with navy. On top of all that, think about the marketing appeal of socks and 13-16 year old boys!

(The Defensive Specialist isn’t just raving because he is Sydney Blue Sox member number 383 either.)

Creativity: 9/10
Style: 9/10. The colour scheme is rock solid. The only thing holding this bad boy back from a perfect 10 is the missing powder blue coloured button on the top of the hat. That takes it to the next level of coolness.
Total: 18/20
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: Absolutely, except with membership you get 10% off.

As the uniforms were getting the sign off from teams and MLB, the Defensive Specialist had heard that the Melbourne uniform and logos were an abomination. When the Defensive Specialist finally laid eyes on the Melbourne team hat, he has to admit that….he was pleasantly surprised. The navy blue and red combo works well, the M logo isn’t too bad and the plane flying across it is kind of cool. The Aces could have played it safe and totally average with an ace of spades or something to that effect but instead rolled the dice and came up with the fighter jet that just makes the design different and decidedly better.

Creativity: 9/10. Wasn’t what the Defensive Specialist expected at all, in a very good way.
Style: 8/10. As mentioned, the red and navy combo is excellent and the whole look has an aeronautical feel.
Total: 17/20
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: Definitely

The Defensive Specialist isn’t going you lie to you, anytime maroon is involved in a uniform, the Defensive Specialist has an immediate aversion. That may have something to do with the dreadful school uniform the Defensive Specialist had to wear in his formative years or simply because it isn’t really a sporty colour and is best saved for awful bridesmaid dresses. So the Bandits lose points for that. On the upside they seem to have gone away from pairing it with navy blue, which means they will no longer look like giant baseball playing bruises.

The black and maroon combination works much better and the logo is kind of badass which is a plus. A design flaw that the Defensive Specialist’s keenly trained eye spotted is the fact that the B on the logo actually looks like an R. This isn’t enough to torpedo the look.
Creativity: 8/10. Risky going simply with a logo but they came up with a solid one.
Style: 5/10. Maroon doesn’t work well on sporting uni’s.
Total: 13/10
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: tough call, unlikely.

The Defensive Specialist is totally stuck on the fence on this one. On one hand, the colours (red, navy and a splash of yellow) work really well (as long as they well and truly do away with the red vests and blue sleeves look of years past). On the other hand, the weird teeth biting through a bat causes the uninitiated to stop and gain their bearings, which isn’t a good thing. The Shark logo the team has is pretty cool, unfortunately it wouldn’t translate well to a hat which is obviously why the bat chomping A was used. Many will ask why it doesn’t translate and the answer is extremely complicated – put simply though, cartoon stylised logos (Blue Sox, Bandits) work on hats while more serious logos do not. It’s the rules of fashion – just watch Project Runway.

The font of the A looks really good however so the hat isn’t a total loss. If something could be done with the shark teeth and bat the hat could be a real winner.

Creativity: 6/10. Points for trying something different. Lack of points for not really succeeding.
Style: 8/10. Great colour combos, solid font. Just missed on the logo look.
Total: 14/12
Would the Defensive Specialist pay $50: with a tweak yes, but in it’s current form – no.

Final Rankings
1.    Blue Sox
2.    Aces
3.    Bite
4.    Bandits
5.    Cavalry
6.    Heat

So there you have it, fashion ratings from the fashionista of baseball! The Defensive Specialist is eager to lay eyes on the uniforms in order to provide a similar breakdown. Be sure to hit the poll on the right to cast your vote for the best hat in the league.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Distance yourself from Anger

The Defensive Specialist knows that he promised a comprehensive review of the Sydney Blue Sox seat allocation night for Friday morning but a bad case of hypothermia put a severe crimp in plans. Obviously when the Defensive Specialist promises to deliver, the loyal readers are up bright and breezy in front of their PC’s waiting for the post to drop. You can only imagine the server and modem meltdowns that occurred as people continually refreshed their web browser throughout Friday morning hoping that something would land. To put the meltdown in perspective, think about the booking catastrophe last week with Virgin Airlines and double it!

So for breaking hearts and the Internet, the Defensive Specialist apologises.

It was probably a good thing that the Defensive Specialist didn’t sit behind the Deep in the Hole super computer on Thursday night and try to bang out a review for a number of reasons:

1)    As mentioned, the Defensive Specialist was suffering from severe frost bite in his outer extremities as a result of sitting in the icy NSW night air for 3 hours and any resulting output would have looked like this: SAJHTENDOIHDGIUTGJD:GFIGKGKGKJ:KG:GK:GKENHSHH as the Defensive Specialist’s frozen digits clubbed away at the keyboard.
2)    The 2-hour trek back from the Blacktown Olympic Facility to civilization in Sydney meant that the Defensive Specialist would be working at 12am and as we all know, you should never blog fatigued.
3)    Spending 4 hours in transit and 5 hours in a freezer had the effect of eroding the Defensive Specialist’s usually Zen like persona. You also should never blog angry.

The advantage of delaying this post was that the Defensive Specialist was able to cool his jets and manage the rage. A big part of what makes the Defensive Specialist truly special is the ability to distance himself from anger. When the emotions are heightened, that is when routine is lost and mistakes take place. With a few days behind him, the Defensive Specialist was confident that an objective review of Thursday night could be provided. On top of that, the Defensive Specialist was able to see a doctor and restore the blood flow to his hands.


The Defensive Specialist made the 3-hour journey to the Blacktown Olympic facility from Sydney CBD and was amazed at the line of anxious fans curling around the entrance. At the Defensive Specialist’s rough estimation there were approximately 2346 Blue Sox members itching to get their seats (later confirmation on actual members in attendance: 200). It was at that moment that the Defensive Specialist stared to feel the ABL!
Fans eagerly waited as their names were called to step forward and claim mysterious yellow envelopes. The Defensive Specialist was eager to grab his quickly and quietly, after all, it was the Blue Sox’ big night and the last thing the Defensive Specialist wanted to do was have his name called and for people to flock to him.

The Defensive Specialist snagged his yellow envelope, enthusiastically tore it open and pored through the contents:

1 x membership certificate (see accompanying photo)
1x fixture
1 x Blue Sox sticker white
1 X Blue Sox sticker powder blue
1 x Blue Sox sticker pink (how many dudes cars do you think these will end up on as a joke?)
1 x Blue Sox ruler (is there where the Defensive Specialist uses the blue vein joke he’s been sitting on since he heard the team name? No, it can wait)

The Defensive Specialist stowed the contents back in the envelope and headed for the grandstand in order to catch a glimpse of the Blue Sox as they practiced. Unfortunately, the lights were off and the team was working out on a backfield. One of the down sides to getting a bit older as the Defensive Specialist has is that the eyesight isn’t what it used to be so unfortunately the Defensive Specialist isn’t able to provide any intelligence on the Blue Sox squad as he wasn’t able to make any faces out from 450 feet away.

The Defensive Specialist shrugged off that inconvenience because he knew that he’d have a bird’s eye view of the talent for the duration of the season. The Blue Sox GM came out and explained how things were going to work. People would be led over to the reserved section in groups of 5 in order to make their seating selection. The Defensive Specialist immediately stood up in preparation for the VIP’s to be called first.

The first five were called sans Mr D Specialist, which was a little perturbing, but the Defensive Specialist assumed they were calling people traveling with infants or those who needed additional assistance. The next 5 names were read out, once again with no mention of the Defensive Specialist. The Defensive Specialist reclined in his seat, accepting that dignitaries and life members should get first dibs. The Defensive Specialist searched for excuses why his name wasn’t being called for about 7 more groups until reality set in that the Defensive Specialist wasn’t going to be afforded any sort of privileged treatment!

Obviously the shock of that understanding was confronting, so too was the minus 3 degree Celsius temperature, the lack of activity on the main diamond and the 2.5 hours the Defensive Specialist had to sit and wait. Boredom, cold, hunger and a desperate need to urinate made the Defensive Specialist’s stay agonizing. The Defensive Specialist could see Blue Sox fans who’d selected their seats frolicking with a complimentary sausage and drink but the Defensive Specialist couldn’t move (not even to use the toilet) for fear of missing his name.

Finally after what seemed an eternity, the Defensive Specialists name was called. Unfortunately, it took the Defensive Specialist 5 minutes to thaw out and regain the use of his legs. As he walked towards the reserved section, it became abundantly apparent that all premium seating had been snapped up and that the Defensive Specialist would be filing game reports from a light tower in right field.

The Defensive Specialist wandered directly behind home plate in the hope that a stray seat had been left unclaimed. A number of Blue Sox administrators approached, assuming that he was a crazy person since all seats in this area were snapped up in the first 3 groups. The Defensive Specialist managed to catch the eye of the NSW GM manager who hurried over and said; “Do I have a seat for you!” The Defensive Specialist was flattered that the GM would think to save a seat in the press box, but being a man of the people, the Defensive Specialist would prefer to be part of the crowd. All sense of flattery was lost as the GM led the Defensive Specialist toward the right field light tower….

Despite a lengthy wait, a case of hypothermia, starvation and no chance to see the Blue Sox work out, the Defensive Specialist ended up with a solid seat. Lets hope the action on the field makes the sacrifices worthwhile this season.