Right, 2 weeks seems an appropriate amount of time off between the conclusion of the ABL Grand Final series and the Defensive Specialist switching into off-season coverage mode. The past 14 days were a great opportunity to recharge the batteries after the inaugural season and attend to the many goals and objectives the Defensive Specialist sets for himself on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis – like reading the entire Harry Potter series! (Don’t laugh, that’s 4,176 pages in total or 298.28 pages per day!) Anyway, loyal readers will know that inactivity and the Defensive Specialist cannot coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship, which is why your old pal has decided to cast an analytical eye over the first ABL season and conduct a SWOT analysis.
For those less academically inclined, a SWOT analysis is traditionally a planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats involved in a business venture or project. Before you role your eyes and click off the page fearful of some egghead style analysis, please consider that the Defensive Specialist will not be adhering to any sort of structural guidelines (like internal or external factors) and promises to inject his rapier like wit wherever possible. So let’s get the ball rolling by considering the Strengths of the Australian Baseball league after its first season:
- Well first and foremost the fact that the league actually commenced has to be considered a strength doesn’t it? They say the first step is often the most important on a difficult journey (see the Defensive Specialist drawing Harry Potter like analogies onto this??) so getting the ABL up and running was a huge achievement. The baseball community had been whispering about the reappearance of a MLB backed baseball league in Australia for quite some time, but as each year passed it looked to be fanciful talk. By actually pulling teams together and getting the ball rolling there is every chance that the competition will go from strength to strength (assuming careful management and planning) and become an integral part of the game and its development in Australia. On top of getting teams out on the field in every major Australian market, the ABL and its franchises managed to create a reasonably sound product (quality of games, entertainment etc) that will only continue to grow.
- You’d have to say that fan support was a real strength in season 1 with towns like Adelaide and Canberra drawing consistent numbers, especially when you consider that games were spread across 4 days and often included a Thursday night event. It must be disconcerting that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane had splotchy numbers across the season but with a year under its belt, venues bedded down and hopefully television coverage the crowds will increase.
- While the Defensive Specialist wasn’t able to attend games in each location (the Deep in the Hole budget is still feeling the effects of the GFC), the general consensus was that franchises put a good product on the field every week. It was obvious that a lot of time and effort had been put into in-game entertainment, game day activities and the team in general (solid uniforms, conditions, travel) which once again creates a solid foundation for development.
- Each team has a home. As amusing as that sounds, establishing facilities for each franchise was critical and although it came down to the wire in Melbourne and Brisbane, they found homes. While many would say that the Melbourne Showgrounds is a poor excuse for a baseball field, what were the alternatives? Road trips to Geelong again or worse yet Altona? The fact that hitters can hit pop ups that drift out of the yard for homeruns is both a pain in the backside and a quirk (much like Boston’s Green Monster) that needs to be embraced and incorporated into a team’s game plan. On the other hand, all reports suggest that the field in Canberra has an amazing playing surface and the makings of a fantastic facility.
- A definite strength of the ABL was the level of local talent. While every team had an infusion of imported talent (some more than others), the vast majority of squads were primarily constructed around local Australian talent. For too many years our professional players returned home to Australia and the only preparation they had for upcoming professional seasons was to play in local competitions that in all likelihood did not present the development opportunities that they needed for advancement. By forming a league that operates across the US / Asian offseason our young talent has the forum to compete against their peers and enhance their skill sets. On top of this, non professional players now have the opportunity to compete and measure themselves against the best our baseball community has to offer.For too long we’ve been forced to trumpet the success of long retired players like David Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd because we haven’t had the stage to showcase our current players. While guys like Grant Balfour and Peter Moylan are probably past their ABL used by date (meaning they’re unlikely to ever play in it), the next wave of young players is given the opportunity to creep into the consciousness of children who can say they watched them as a nobody now that they’re in the big leagues – that’s how you build and promote Australian baseball legends (wow, that was getting seriously deep).
- Confirming the point on local talent was the fact that players actually signed professional contracts while competing in the ABL. That may not have been the primary objective of the competition but it has to make the league powerbrokers warm and fuzzy in the trousers to see a number of guys extend their baseball careers. In what other way would 33 year old Chris Oxspring get an opportunity to sign with the Detroit Tigers if he didn’t have the ABL? With greater access to high quality games, we can expect more signings as players are able to showcase their skill sets.
- The quality of imports has to be considered a real upside for the most part as each franchise benefitted in some way, shape or form by having foreigners on their roster (as evidenced by the Heat winning the championship behind the efforts of 2 import pitchers in game 2 &3). The Defensive Specialist mentioned many moons ago how appealing a strong league down under has to be to professional organisations who know its safe (not considering natural disasters), similar in culture to player’s homes (more so the US) and has brilliant weather. While the imports definitely lifted the quality of competition, you’d have to think that the 40 additional games in Australia assisted in their development. The Defensive Specialist will talk more on imports in some of the other sections but for the most part, their addition to the league was a real benefit.
Ok, the Defensive Specialist is heading into novel territory as the word count reaches 1200. Hit the comment section with any other strengths you saw in the ABL’s inaugural season while the Defensive Specialist sets to work on the next phase of the SWOT analysis – Weaknesses, which should appear later this week.