By Dylan Moran
Baseball is ramping up to become New Zealand’s next big sport.
The first step is the signing of 17-year-old Te Wera Bishop to the Boston Red Sox. He’ll fly over to Florida on March 3 to join the team for spring training, before likely spending some time with one of its minor league affiliates learning the craft of America’s past-time.
It is particularly impressive given that Bishop only got called up to the Black Sox last year.
But he managed to impress at last month’s Oceania AA Baseball Champs, trying out for several US Major League teams before the Red Sox made him an offer.
“The great thing about Te Wera is that he's so raw that his rate of improvement could be incredible every day; the Red Sox scout said that’s the most exciting thing for them,” Baseball NZ executive officer Ryan Flynn says.
“They’ll look at his primary position as a catcher, then look at secondary positions such as the outfield. He’s so strong and has a great arm, and can already get his bat through the zone; he’s got so much power.”
However, getting a player signed by one of the MLB’s most storied franchises isn’t the only exciting thing on Baseball NZ’s list.
Mr Flynn is working on securing a New Zealand franchise in the Australian Baseball League, which is also 75 percent owned by the MLB and has just finished its inaugural season.
Mr Flynn believes such a move could be huge for the sport in New Zealand, and a step away from softball could be just what the country needs.
“The key is, we’ve got to get our kids in this country playing more baseball. If we can do that, New Zealand could be in the top 15 or 16 in the world in the next five years. We could be the Cuba of the South Pacific,” he says.
It is a view which is reciprocated by the MLB, who are reportedly looking at bringing a regular season game to New Zealand by 2013.
Given Prime Minister John Key’s son is another one of the sport’s rising stars in New Zealand, it’s sure to attract more new faces.
Football saw a massive increase in its fanbase through the establishment of the Phoenix in Wellington and the All Whites’ performances in qualifying for the World Cup and at the tournament itself, and Mr Flynn believes the stars are beginning to align for his sport as well.