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wpe6DD.jpg (5528 bytes) Issue: March 26th, 2007
 Story 071803
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THE PITCH
 
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL UPDATE
 

Thursday 8 March 2007

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SILVER AND GOLD

Deeble Led Aussies in ’04 Games and Helped Sox Land Dice-K

Gordon Edes, The Boston Globe – 2 March

She had sent him to the back of the line when he'd come for his baseball uniform.

"You're not an athlete," she had sneered, "you're a coach."

And so he was left with this. Pants too small for a Little Leaguer. The shirt? "You could have fit two Big Papis inside," Jon Deeble said.

Deeble was an Aussie in Athens, coaching a team seemingly as ill fit for the odyssey that lay ahead as the size 26 pants and XXXL shirt he'd just been handed. Only four years earlier, in the Sydney Olympics, Australia had held the home-field advantage, and finished next to last.

Every Aussie team was assigned a hero that Olympics to serve as an unofficial mascot and cheerleader. The Aussie baseball team got Peter Brock, the legendary auto racer. "Our Dale [Earnhardt]," Deeble said of Brock, who died last year in a crash .

Brock was gung-ho when it started, said he'd take the boys for a spin in his car, but after the Aussies were beaten in their first game, Brock vanished. "Give us Neville Nobody," Deeble had said this go-round. "The lowest-profile guy you got.

"They gave us Russell Mark. He's a shooter ."

Mark was a gold-medal marksman, assigned to one of the great long shots in Olympic history. Americans can have their Miracle on Ice. In 2004, Deeble and his blokes were about to fashion one of the most improbable runs to Olympic glory as any team in any sport ever had, one that would require them to beat Japan twice, including a 1-0 win against Daisuke Matsuzaka, and brought them face to face with mighty Cuba in a gold-medal game they might have won if not for a terrible umpiring call.

Deeble would again come face to face with Matsuzaka, this time while working for the Red Sox. As the director of Pacific Rim scouting, he dogged Matsuzaka for years and laid the groundwork for the Sox' successful quest to acquire the Japanese ace.

No one is more zealous than Deeble in his belief that Matsuzaka will be as dominating in the big leagues as he was against the rest of the world. But for one incredible day in Athens, Dice-K, despite striking out 14, could not conquer Deeble's Aussies. For the rest of this lengthy article click here.

BLACKLEY GETTING CLOSER TO A RETURN

Australian left-hander hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2004

Jim Street, www.mlb.com – 7 March

When Travis Blackley (Cheltenham VIC) made his Major League debut against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on July 1, 2004, he was a wide-eyed, fuzzy-faced kid from Australia, full of confidence.

Two months later, he was shell-shocked, injured and wondering if he would ever throw another pitch in the big leagues. He still hasn't made it all the way back, but he's getting closer and feels good about his chances of resuming a rudely interrupted career.

"I feel like I am, playing-wise, in better shape now than at any time in my career," he said. "Everything is coming along good."

A lot has changed since that sun-splashed afternoon at Safeco, where he held the Rangers to one run over five innings and was the winning pitcher in the Mariners' 8-4 victory in front of 35,966 fans who welcomed him to The Show.

Blackley now has a wife and son, a short haircut, and the wildest-looking tattoo on his left leg that you'd ever want to see. But he still has just one Major League victory.

The tattoo required three six-hour sessions which hurt quite a bit. But that's nothing compared to what he's gone through the past three years trying to get back to where he was as a 21-year-old big-leaguer.

Sitting in front of his locker at the Peoria Sports Complex, the 24-year-old talked about his past, the future and points in between. He realizes now that he probably was promoted to the big-leagues before he was ready, and still remembers the exact date of a game he calls, "Hand Out Bombs Day".

That would be July 16, 2004, when the Cleveland Indians rocked him for three home runs and seven runs in two innings at Safeco en route to an 18-6 victory.

That brief outing proved something to Blackley.

"I really thought I was ready when I was called up," he said, "But looking back, I don't think I was."

In retrospect, Blackley believes he didn't experience enough adversity in the Minor Leagues to prepare him for rough outings in the Majors. He just didn't know how to handle it, and the fact his arm gave out was the final blow.

"I had always won and had a great team behind me," he said, referring to his 17-3 record for San Antonio in 2003 and seven consecutive wins with Triple-A Tacoma prior to being promoted to the Majors the following summer.

"The second game I pitched [with the Mariners] was OK, and then I got smashed pretty good," he said. "That brought me down. The Cleveland game was the worst."

In his next start, Blackley walked nine batters during a four-inning stint on July 26 and was sent back to Tacoma on Aug. 1st.

As it turned out, the debut game was to become the highlight of his '04 season, which ended with him being placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis.

Further examination revealed two small tears in the labrum of his left shoulder and he spent the entire 2005 season recuperating from surgery. Blackley returned in '06, starting the season with Double-A San Antonio (8-11, 4.06 ERA) and ending it with two starts for Triple-A Tacoma (1-1, 4.09).

His final start of the season was a dandy -- six one-hit shutout innings against Salt Lake.

Blackley thought he would be among the Mariners' September callups and initially was disappointed that the call never came.

But he realized that pitching 156 innings one year after surgery was plenty, and didn't take the non-promotion personally.

"There was no need for me to throw 10 to 20 more innings," he said. "It would have been a risk, you know. I don't want to be spending my life in Triple-A. I don't mind being there at the moment, but I don't want to stay there."

HUBER WORKS VERSATILITY TO HIS FAVOR

Jim Street, www.mlb.com – 6 March

Position changes have become a way of life for Justin Huber (Emerald VIC).

He was a catcher when signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Mets in 2000, he moved to first base two years ago after being acquired in a trade for Jose Bautista, and he's now playing the outfield as well as first base.

"He's a man without a position," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, "but he has youth on his side, and the versatility of a baseball player is real important. Justin's versatility will get him to the Major Leagues and his bat will keep him in the Major Leagues. We like him a lot."

Huber, a 24-year-old from Australia, realizes he's probably better off in the long run playing several positions than concentrating on just one, and is more than willing to do whatever it takes to reach the big-leagues and stay there. He's had two proverbial cups of coffee -- appearing in 28 games, batting .218 in 2005, and playing in five games last season, going 2-for-10.

The season was spent mostly with Triple-A Omaha, where he batted .278 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say it was a disappointing season," he said, "but it wasn't exactly the kind of season I wanted, or needed. There were some good moments, but a couple of things rubbed salt into some wounds as the season went on. I pulled a hamstring and then jammed a thumb."

As a result, he never was able to get into the groove he had in 2005 when he led the Texas League in batting with a .343 average and was named the Most Valuable Player in the Futures Game at Comerica Park in Detroit.

"My goal in this camp is to do what I can when I get the opportunity to do it."

For the remainder of this camp, Huber will split his time between left field and first base.

"I'll keep working on both because that could help me down the track," he said. "There's a pretty full squad in all positions here, so I know I have to be more versatile."

Huber, who will likely open the season with Omaha, said he has adjusted better to the move from first base to left field than he did from catcher to first base.

"That was a challenge because I never took ground balls until I moved to first base." he said. "When I wasn't catching, I would catch fly balls, but that was it. I took to the outfield pretty good, but fielding ground balls was brand new to me.

"It was actually very interesting and I'm getting the hang of it. The whole game is challenging and I have to learn to deal with it."

DON’T MESS WITH MOYLAN

David O’Brien, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog – 7 March

Aussie Aussiie Aussiie!… Here’s some advice. If you’re ever around Australians, especially an Aussie relief pitcher with a biting sense of humor, don’t do their famous chant unless you do it right. A few days ago, when I was only two cups of coffee into a morning, quick-witted Peter Moylan (Melbourne VIC) walked by on his way to the Aussie corner (him and reliever Phil Stockman) of the clubhouse and I gave him a weak, “Aussie Aussie, oi.” It was pathetic, I’ll now admit.

I couldn’t remember the exact cadence of the sporting chant his countryman use, but that wasn’t it obviously. “See there, you embarrassed yourself, mate,” Moylan said in his thick accent. “It’s ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi,” three times.” Then he shook his head at my Yank usage of a term apparently viewed as overused by some Aussies. “Rather primitive if you ask me,” Moylan said.

A MOST COMPELLING FELLOW

A Nats Blogger Chats with Chris Snelling

<http://nats320.blogspot.com/2007/03/most-compelling-fellow.html> – 4 March

Considered by Current Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Pinella as one of the finest young hitters in the game, capable of winning Batting Titles, Chris Snelling (Gorokan NSW) was a Top Prospect for The Seattle Mariners for the past five seasons. Yet, 10 different surgeries, seven on his left knee alone have stalled his once promising baseball career. Still only 25 years old, Chris is no longer swinging the lumber in The Pacific Northwest. Instead, number 8 is attempting to resurrect his game, competing for a job with Our Washington Nationals for the 2007 season. Snelling was acquired along with Emilaino Fruto for Jose Vidro over this past winter. A trade praised by many fans, to be a steal for Washington.

From Day One during our recent trip to Nationals Spring Training, no player The African Queen and I came across was more interesting, different, or just plain fascinating to speak to, than Chris Snelling. First, we found Snelling sitting in the Dugout introducing himself to Travis Lee , in an amusing conversation between two players that had never heard of each other.

Later, Snelling's leather & twine bound fielding glove (the same one he has used since High School) was the talk of camp. Even Manager Manny Acta got a kick out of it.

Finally, thanks to Todd Jacobson from The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, I was informed of
Chris's Penchant for Yoda, The Star Wars Character. This guy was quirky. And, being from Australian made him all the more interesting. All good style points in my book. I really wanted to get to know him better. Chris Snelling is one of those athletes you could talk to for hours, and never get bored with the chat.

Fortunately, I got the chance to speak with him in The Team's Clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.

Chris--What's the story on Yoda?

"Because I like how he thinks. I like how he talks. Yoda's got a good thing going. Its just a good luck charm that I have. My whole thing with Yoda actually got sort of given to me by a friend. And, the reason why I like Yoda is because I have been hurt (injured) a lot. There have been other times when I felt like quiting. Because, I would get healthy and then all of a sudden I would get hurt again--out another year. I like the whole thing where he (Yoda) says, ‘Try not. Do or not. There is no try.’ So, in my mind, when I was going to quit (baseball), I told myself I was really going to come back or not come back. I hate when people say ‘I am trying to come back’, or trying to this or that. Anybody can try, like ‘I am trying to get up and walk right now, and walk away from you and your question (both of us laughing). You know what I mean. Anyone can use try forever. But, you really must DO."

What the story on your glove?

“Its my glove, I love it," Snelling told me. "I am very comfortable using it. I really don't want to give it up. I just got it repaired—it needed some work."

But, is it a legal glove bound like that?

"Yeah, as far as I know. I hope you are not trying to get me in trouble." (No, I just don't recall seeing anyone use a glove repaired like that in a game before-SBF) "Its legal, I plan on using it."

Although born in Miami, Florida, where Chris's Dad was a Professional Tennis Coach on Turnbury Isle, Snelling grew up in Australia, in a town called Gorokan, a few hours north of Sydney, Australia. How different was growing up in Australia as compared to what you now know of The United States today?

“I think growing up in Australia gives you receive a whole different look at the world. Although I grew up, for a short period, in Miami, I don’t remember much. People are more laid back there (in Australia). Australians are more fans of sports, than passionate. We like our sports, but there is a whole lot more important things to do in life. Things to experience, outside of sport. And, I enjoyed those experiences. So do many Australians.”

I am a big fan of Australian Rules Football. The Carleton Magpies are my favorite team—SBF

“It’s a good game. Exciting, always moving. Its played more down south where the Victorians play it. We have the Sydney Swans. I guess its OK, if you are a Carleton Fan.” (both of us laughing)

I read where at the age of 15, you played in the Professional Australian Baseaball League?

“Yeah, its true, I learned a lot of baseball, playing regularly against some good players. I couldn’t hit worth a lick then. But, it really helped my development. There were some good quality players, although that league does not exist anymore." (Toronto Centerfielder, Vernon Wells was a teammate of Snelling’s and Los Angeles Angels Shea Hillenbrand also played in the ABL)

Yet, being from a small town, the opportunities to play baseball still had to be limited. How is it that you developed into a good contact hitter?

"My Dad was a Tennis Coach, I hit a lot of tennis balls as a child. My hand and eye coordination was good. When I started playing baseball, that practiced skill transferred over with me at the plate (batting)."

What’s the story on your knee brace you are wearing now?

“I have had seven knee surgeries and I need some help. (how long will you keep it on?--SBF) “I don’t know. I am working hard so I don’t have to. Last year I wore it for the first time, and I absolutely hated it. But, I think (the hate) was more of a mental thing. In my mind I said to myself: ‘I can’t do anything with my knee brace,’ and it held me back. I look back on it now and say that was a bad way to look at the situation. Bottom line, its helping me stay healthy. I don’t know how long I am going to wear it full time. As long as it keeps me healthy on the field playing, I will keep wearing it.”

Does your knee brace hamper your outfield play. Can you run full out? Any limitations?

“No. Physically, no. I have 100% movement and mobility. There are mental hurdles that I have with it. Last time I tore my knee, was hitting a baseball. I have never heard anyone tearing their ACL (Knee) hitting a baseball. So, there is this mental feeling: ‘Oh, anything can happen.’ But, once you get over that, test the waters, do things, and say to yourself: ‘ I did OK, that felt good, I can do that now.’ Right now, I feel like I can do everything well, and pretty much what everyone else can do and what everyone expects of me.”

If you are playing the outfield and there is a shot to the wall, will you climb the wall to attempt the catch?

“Yeah, either that or run right into it!! (Both of us laughing). I don’t know how high I can jump, but I will definitely make the play, or at least try.”

You are out of options?

"I don’t know of follow any of that stuff. Whatever people tell me. I don’t know. That’s why we have agents."

You just show up and play.

“And, that’s the best way to approach it. The only thing on my mind is winning. So much happens outside your control (as a player), The team has their way of doing business. I can only do my very best on that playing field and hopefully fit into those plans. Whatever your job is to help the team win. Everything else doesn’t really matter.”

Were you stunned to be traded to Washington?

"No, not really. It happens and it is also out of my control. But, it’s the same game playing for any team. So if I play well, I will have the opportunity. I really only want to win, each and every game. I enjoyed playing for The Mariners, but I didn’t stay healthy."

Is it odd being a a new clubhouse where you are not familiar with everybody?

“Its never easy. Change is never easy. Meeting new teammates is never easy. But, we are all here for the same things (playing baseball). So, we all have a lot of common ground already, without ever meeting."

Chris had to go off to a team meeting, so our conversation came to a too soon end. But, I found him captivating, well worth getting to know better. And, I only hope Chris Snelling can over come his injuries. I really could have talked with him all night long. He is just that compelling a figure.



60 SECONDS WITH MARLINS LEFT-HANDER PAUL MILDREN

Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post – 5 March

Staff writer Joe Capozzi spoke with Marlins left-hander Paul Mildren (Myrtle Bank SA), who comes from a land down under.

Have you gotten over the death of the Crocodile Hunter?

That was the day I was leaving Carolina to go back to Australia and it was all over the news. It was massive back home, kind of like when Princess Diana died. People were pretty distraught. He (Steve Irwin) was a massive icon for Australia.

You don't think he was bit overrated?

No way. It wasn't an act what he was doing. He was definitely an exuberant and exciting guy who just loved what he was doing on camera.

Ever meet him?

I've never met him, but I've tackled crocodiles. No, I'm kidding! Although a lot of people think that's in my off-season training.

Russell Crowe: Misunderstood?

Without a doubt. He's actually half-New Zealander. So when he does something bad, we don't claim him. And when he does something good, we say he's Australian. Same as Mel Gibson.

Ever surf the Great Barrier Reef?

No. I'm from South Australia so we get a lot of sand breaks. I surf off the York Peninsula.

Sharks?

Lot of sharks. We've got some of the worst shark attacks in Australia. If I hit them, I hit them off with my right hand.

You've been that close?

No, no, no! But I've been close to dolphins. Just this off-season I was surfing and a family of stingrays went underneath me. I was, 'Hey, I'm outta here.' When I see something in the water apart from another person, I get out of there.

Any close encounters with kangaroos?

I've hit a couple with my car.

But they're bigger than dogs!

They're like deer. We don't have big interstates so when you get out in the country there's small roads and no fences. They get attracted to the car lights and come bounding onto the road.

Your teammates always ask you about kangaroos, right?

They get on me, "Did you ride a kangaroo to the stadium? Do you have a koala as a pet?" The other day Logan Kensing actually asked me if could bring him a Tasmanian devil as pet. I've heard them all.

LINDSAY ON THE MEND

Thomas Harding, MLB.com – 4 March

Right-handed prospect Shane Lindsay (Bacchus Marsh VIC), who underwent surgery to repair labrum fraying, is in Minor League camp but is limited to his throwing program. He will not throw off a mound until April.

"We hope that after extended spring training into the opening of the Tri-City [Short-Season Class A Northwest League] season, he'll be ready," said Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson, who added that the Rockies hope Lindsay will able to pitch at advanced Class A Modesto by season's end.

Lindsay was MiLB.com's Short-Season Pitcher of the Year and Northwest League Player of the Year at Tri-City in 2005.

AT A GLANCE

· Trent Durrington (Broadbeach Waters QLD) has signed with the Cleveland Indians and left for Spring Training this past week.

· 18-year old West Australian pitcher Liam Hendriks has signed with the Minnesota Twins. He’s expected to attend extended spring training ahead of a 2007 season at Rookie ball.

· Turns out Hanshin Tigers’ Jeff Williams (Page ACT) has a supporters site which includes occasional blog enteries from the pitcher – in English and Japanese: www.jeff54.net.

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