After six months of negotiations and hundreds of emails and phone calls, Baseball New Zealand has secured a visit by one of the best young players in Major League Baseball with New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius set to visit the country in January.
Gregorius' stock has risen dramatically after being chosen to replace Yankees shortstop legend Derek Jeter, who played the position for 20 years before retiring from a sure bet Hall of Fame career in 2014. Gregorius last year put up All Star numbers after replacing the former Yankee captain, and the best is surely yet to come for the dynamic infielder who has made the Bronx his home.
"Having a player with such a high profile in one of baseball's biggest markets (New York) and team (Yankees) is a huge coup for our programme," said Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn. "Gregorius is really making a name for himself and is the cornerstone of the current rebuilding we're seeing at the Yankees following the retirements of Jeter, (1st base) Mark Teixeira and (3rd base) Alex Rodriguez.
"At just 26-years old, Didi's career is just starting to take off, and he's a cornerstone of the Yankees youth movement," said Flynn, who has worked tirelessly to bring Didi to the country, adding, "We had former Yankee Curtis Granderson here five years ago and his visit helped kick start our programme, and we believe Gregorius' visit will only enhance our rapidly growing base of players and clubs."
Gregorius himself can't wait to land in New Zealand, he said in a recent exchange online. "I really enjoy traveling and have been all over the world, and New Zealand has been on the top of my list of places that I wanted to visit and I'm really excited to be getting this opportunity. I'm really looking forward to experiencing the culture and meeting the people of New Zealand."
Since being traded to the Yankees from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius' game has improved immensely on both sides of the ball. Known to possess a great glove and arm, he finished last season with a career high of 20 home runs and has developed into an offensive threat at the plate. Gregorius said he's looking forward to working with plenty of New Zealand's young baseball talent: "One of my greatest passions in life is giving back and working with younger players," he said via email from his home in Curacao, adding, "I am excited to share some of my baseball knowledge with the young players and coaches of New Zealand and hopefully make them Yankees fans.
"I hope to bring more attention and an added excitement about baseball to New Zealand and hopefully we'll see some of these young players in the big leagues one day," Gregorius added.
"We've had great support from professional players over the past five to six years including "Adopted Kiwi" Mark Melancon, Nick Hundley and Paul Goldschmidt, and Didi's visit will compliment a lot of the work these previous visitors have done on our behalf," said Flynn. "Bringing a player from the most storied Major League Baseball franchise ever (Yankees) is a fantastic boost for the sport here and will only help us to cement our place on the New Zealand sporting landscape."
Gregorius will arrive on 9th January, with a visit to Christchurch on the 10th and 11th and he will head to Wellington for the night of the 15th of January, with the remainder of his time spent in Auckland till he departs on the 19th.