Aaron Whitefield: From U-19 Softball World Cup to Premier12

Aaron Whitefield: From U-19 Softball World Cup to Premier12
Aaron Whitefield, current Australia Baseball National Team center fielder, started playing softball as a kid and represented his country at the U-19 Men's Softball World Cup 2012

Aaron Whitefield had an outstanding game at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday, and was one of the key players in the historic first-ever victory of Australia over USA in a top-level baseball event. In the first inning, he drove in the only two runs of the game for Australia, while in the eighth he made a spectacular diving catch that saved the game for his team. Not bad for someone who started to play baseball just five years ago: he played softball in Australia before switching to baseball, and represented his country as a youth softball player.

Whitefield was born in Brisbane, Australia, on 2 September 1996. His parents, John Whitefield and Nikkie Molander, are lifelong softball players, so Aaron grew up in a softball field.

“My parents always played softball, and as a kid I played all sport around. But I had a few injuries doing contact sports, so I started to play softball at the age of 14”, remembers Whitefield.

The Premier12 is not the first international event for the Minnesota Twins prospect. Aaron wore Australia’s uniform at the WBSC U-19 Men’s Softball World Cup 2012 in Parana, Argentina, where he earned a bronze medal.

“It’s always a placer when you represent your country, and softball was my first taste of it. I was proud to represent my country, such an honour. Any time I can still represent Australia is a huge honour for me,” he said.

Whitefield was the starting shortstop during that softball world championship, hitting .370, with 2 doubles, 4 runs and 4 RBI.   

“My parents went to Argentina to see me play. It was a medium-size softball park, but there were people everywhere, people on top of buildings watching the games, it was fully packed. I remember how passionate Argentines were watching us play. I remember how much they valued us as players, and how much they love the game. It was an awesome experience.”

It was Aaron’s last high-level softball tournament. When he came back to Australia, a scouter from the Cincinnati Reds invited him to a tryout. Then played one year in a local baseball club in Brisbane, and in 2015 he turned pro in the Australian Baseball League. He played for Brisbane Bandits from 2015 to 2017 winning three consecutive titles, the Rookie of the Year award in 2015, and the MVP honour in 2016. Since 2015 is part of the Twins farm system. So far, he’s played 357 games in four levels in the minor leagues, including 31 AA games.

Asked about switching from softball to baseball, Aaron remembers: “It’s a different story, I had a lot of success early in my baseball career, especially the first three years both in Australia and USA. But then, playing at higher levels in USA, I started to feel the difficulty of playing a long 160-game season, being physically and mentally ready to play a long season. Last year I had an injury and I missed part of the year, so for this year I’m getting my mental side right. I’m trying to find a balance between being physically and mentally being ready. I think it’s going to be one of my best years.”

Baseball and softball are different sports, and Whitefield explained his experience in both disciplines. “In my experience, I found it easier to make contact in baseball, but harder to drive the ball. In softball is the opposite, it’s harder to make contact but it’s easier to drive the ball: if you hit it, it’s going to drive. The other big difference is that, in softball, the ball can rise; in baseball is always coming down. So it’s also a big change.

“In defence, you must move a little bit quicker in softball to field and throw, while in baseball you can be more technical, fundamentally right and take your time. But there are also a lot of similarities, for example in the outfield I use the same footsteps. But I’m still learning some little things about playing baseball, in the end, it’s only my fifth year as a full-time baseball player.”

He’s not the only member of the family representing Australia at the highest level. His younger sister, Tamieka, is also a high performance athlete: she represented Australia at the Junior Women’s Softball World Cup 2017 in Clearwater, and finished fourth place in the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship 2018 in Chiba, Japan.

“She also plays for the national team, and they qualified for the Olympic Games. Would be amazing for us to play baseball and softball in the Olympics at the same time.”