Federation Focus: Australian baseball is thriving from youth to pro levels

Federation Focus: Australian baseball is thriving from youth to pro levels
Baseball was introduced in Australia in the 1850s by gold miners. We look at how it evolved, leading to the current Australian Baseball League and the discovery of Baseball5.

Baseball Australia is the governing body for all levels of baseball throughout the country. It also acts as the international liaison and represents Australian Baseball at all International Forums.

Baseball Australia (BA) is chaired by David Hynes. Chief Executive Officer Cameron Vale confirmed via e-mail that "in Australia, all sport is currently not able to be played, including schools programmes, but as Australia is having success with flattening the COVID-19 curve, we are likely to see sport back in Australia at all levels in June/July."

Australia has been successful in developing baseball players over the years. As many as 34 Aussies have made it to the Major League Baseball (MLB) level in the USA.
MLB opened its 2014 season in Australia, with a series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Australian baseball has been very well represented also in the professional leagues of Asia.

"Australians love sport at all levels, so we have a very strong sporting system in Australia, in particular at grassroots. The volunteers at baseball clubs at grassroots are the backbone of our success," commented Vale.

He added: "Supporting that, our players have an Aussie spirit of hard work and ambition. We believe we can do anything in this country, and our players are a fine example of that."

The top achievement by Baseball Australia on the international stage is a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. After eliminating the highly favourite Samurai Japan in the semifinal, Australia lost a controversial final against Cuba.

Baseball Australia is the 100% owner of the Australian Baseball League, ABL.

"Previously it was owned by MLB in 2010-2016, and without their investment, during that period we wouldn’t have had an ABL. Now the ABL is backed by private owners across our eight teams, which include a team from New Zealand (Auckland Tuatara) and one from Korea (Geelong-Korea) that have added to the ABL success. The relationship between the ABL and Baseball Australia is strong. We believe a strong National League is important for athlete development, participation growth and commercial success, and we also plan to have a Women’s ABL, post-COVID-19."

Australia is a huge country. Does this affect your activity as a Federation?

"Yes, mainly the cost of domestic travel for national events and our national league. We have a sport though very well run through clubs (grassroots) our State Associations through to BA."

What’s the main activity that Baseball Australia has when it comes to grassroots-level?

"Little League and T-Ball, although now Baseball5 is emerging very quickly."

Vale announced in November 2019, during the WBSC Congress in Osaka, Japan, that Baseball5 would be introduced into schools through an agreement with Sporting Schools Australia.

"Baseball5 has taken up significant growth in our first term of the school year, that in Australia runs in February and March," commented Vale. "A total of 80 schools completed our programme with 7,808 participants. Our previous highest with T-Ball was 58 schools, 4,861 participants."

On a final note, Vale added: "Baseball5 is not competing with baseball and softball. It can actually augment exposure of kids to the basic concepts of baseball and softball. It can lead to more participants in the middle term. A surf club and a skiing club have asked Baseball Australia information about Baseball5 events. Baseball5 can offer a good opportunity for social competition for adults."

The Birth and History of Baseball in Australia

Miners went from USA to Australia in the 1850s. They were searching for gold in the Yarrowee River, in the Central Highlands of Victoria, where today over 100,000 people live in the city of Ballarat. On their rest days, they played baseball.

Gilderoy Wells Griffin, a controversial United States Consul to the colony, formed the New South Wales Baseball Association in 1885, the first state controlling body in the country.

Harry Simpson, a member of the A.G. Spalding World Tour, was instrumental to the initital development of baseball in Australia. He formed teams in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney, before moving to New Zealand. He died suddenly in 1891.

In 1890, Victoria played South Australia on the East Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was the first Interstate Championship. For the record, South Australia won the series 2-1.

A team of players from Victoria and South Australia toured across the U.S. in 1897. They played over 20 games on the first overseas tour by an Australian team.

The first Australia Championship was played in 1910. The first Australian Schoolboys Interstate Series happened in 1912.

The Australian Baseball Council was established in 1913. Also in 1913, the first president of the South Australian Baseball League, Norrie Claxton, donated the trophy to be awarded to the State winning the annual Australian Championship. The trophy is awarded to the National Champions to this day.

Women's Baseball was introduced in 1918.

The BA Hall of Fame