Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.
Australia surprised 2004 with a silver medal at the Olympics in Athens and since then was always considered as one of the favorites going into international Baseball tournaments. But despite a sixth place at the 2007 Baseball World Cup, they weren’t able to repeat their success in most of the last couple of events.
The Australian team was slotted into Pool B of the WBC at the Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico City. Their first opponent on Sunday, March 8th is host Mexico. If they can win, they will likely face Cuba in the second game, South Africa would wait after a loss. Besides Cuba the group isn’t an impossible task for the Aussies. In the second round they would face the two teams of the Asian Pool with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.
Recent Tournament History
As mentioned before the best international result for Australia was their second-place finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In the following 2005 Baseball World Cup they finished in tenth position, before disappointing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. They were shut out in the first two matches against Italy (0-10) and Venezuela (0-2), and also lost the third game against the Dominican Republic (4-6).
In the 2007 Baseball World Cup it seemed that they are poised to repeat their success from 2004, when they were second in Pool B of the preliminary round with a 6-1 record, the same as first-place Cuba. But in the quarterfinals waited Japan and Tadashi Settsu, eliminating them with a 3-0 victory. In the end they flew home from Taiwan with a sixth place.
In March 2008 Australia returned for the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They lost three games to finish with a 4-3 record, missing out on Beijing and the chance to defend their silver medal.
Australia is currently ranked tenth in the IBAF World Rankings.
Australia – Taiwan 1-4
Australia – Taiwan 9-8
Australia – Taiwan 9-3
Australia – Taiwan 4-5
Australia – Taiwan 9-3
Australia – Taiwan 7-6
Wednesday, March 4th:
Australia – Seattle Mariners
Thursday, March 5th:
Australia – Milwaukee Brewers
Friday, March 6th:
Australia – Chicago White Sox
After traveling to Arizona, Australia trains at the Spring Training facilities of the Seattle Mariners in Peoria.
The Australian provisional roster has a bunch of Major League players on it, although reliever Grant Balfour of American League winner Tampa Bay Rays and starting pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith of the Seattle Mariners decided to skip the World Baseball Classic. They will also miss reliever Peter Moylan of the Atlanta Braves, who is recovering from elbow surgery.
Another question mark could be pitcher Travis Blackley, who is trying to make the big league roster with the Arizona Diamondbacks, though he hasn’t make any remarks towards withdrawing from the WBC. His brother Adam Blackley, a former Boston Red Sox Minor Leaguer, signed with the Dutch champion L&D AMSTERDAM a few weeks ago. He also will pitch for Australia in the Classic. Another player with a contract in Europe is shortstop Brad Dutton, who will play for the German team GAUTING INDIANS in the 2009 season.
The rest of the team consists of players from American Major and Minor League teams like Brad Harman (Phillies), Luke Hughes (Twins), Rich Thompson (Angels) and Adam Bright (Rockies) to name a few, from Japanese professional clubs like pitchers Adrian Burnside and Michael Nakamura (both Yomiuri Giants) and from the Australian Baseball Leagues, though most of the legionnaires also played in their home country during the winter.
The 46-year-old former pitcher Jon Deeble manages the Australian team again in the World Baseball Classic this March. He was at the top of the coaching staff in the Olympics in 2004, as well as the 2006 World Baseball Classic and at the recent tournaments on the international Baseball calendar. He also worked as a coach and minor league manager in the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox organizations (First Base Coach in the MLB in 2005). Deeble is the coordinator of scouting for the Pacific Rim region for the Red Sox.
Obviously the Australian team doesn’t have a roster filled with MLB stars on hand during the World Baseball Classic and the missing pitchers Rowland-Smith, Balfour and Moylan hurt their chances. But advancing in group B should not be impossible. Another plus for the team is the timing of the WBC, as most of their players are coming fresh from their season in Australia, although this is true for their opponents in group B as well. The opening match against Mexico will be the key.
Photo: © IBAF, www.ibaf.org