Baseball: Learning the rich tradition of hating the Yankees

By Dylan Cleaver

Te Wera Bishop has a long road ahead of him before he plays a game for Boston.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Te Wera Bishop has a long road ahead of him before he plays a game for Boston. Photo / Richard Robinson

As he proudly buttoned up his Boston Red Sox shirt in front of signage displaying countless pairs of red socks, Te Wera Bishop could have easily been mistaken for just another multimillion-dollar superstar.

The reality is a bit different.

While giants of the sport Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford signed multi-year deals - worth US$154 million ($199 million) and US$142 million respectively this offseason - and are almost certain to be in the Red Sox's opening day lineup, Bishop will be lucky if he sees the inside of Fenway Park as anything other than a spectator for at least the next five years and should think twice before making a downpayment on a Hummer.

The details of Bishop's contract were not disclosed yesterday, but it was hardly important: it was a day to celebrate the first New Zealander signed to one of baseball's great franchises.

With seven World Series titles, Boston sit behind only the New York Yankees (27), St Louis Cardinals (10) and Oakland/ Philadelphia Athletics (9) as the most prolific winners of the sport's biggest prize.

But it is their history of failure and tortured defeat, particularly at the hands of the despised Yankees, that has defined the club.

Only recently, starting with the epic 4-3 victory over the New York team in the 2004 American League Championship Series, has that perception begun to change.

Asked whether he had learned to hate the Yankees yet, Bishop, known as Beau, would have instantly won the hearts of Red Sox Nation when he replied simply: "Ah, yeah."

Bishop counts second baseman Dustin Pedroia and fellow catcher Jason Varitek as particular heroes and can't wait to get the chance to train alongside them at their Florida base.

"It'll be mean, it'll be cool," Bishop said.

No New Zealander has made it to the Big Show yet, despite the likes of Travis Wilson, Gus Leger and Scott Campbell being signed to Major League teams.

There is no guarantee Bishop will make it either, with Red Sox scout Jon Deeble admitting he was four or five years behind most players his age.

"He's got the raw tools we look for in a baseball player. He's going to have to have a great work ethic because he's a little bit behind the eight-ball because most 17-year-olds have played 300 to 500 games," Deeble said. "When we asked him to make changes he showed us the ability to make adjustments and in baseball that's big.

"We have to be patient with Beau. Success is not going to come straight away. It's going to be a long-term proposition."

For his part, Bishop is ready for the friendly fire he's going to get from his softball compadres, having just cracked the Black Sox last year.

"You know there'll always be grief, but I know they're backing me. You won't find a single softballer who wouldn't give pro baseball a go if given the chance."

Deeble hopes the correlation between softball and baseball will see New Zealand emerge as a hot-bed for talent, but there are a few fundamentals that mean the adjustment is not as smooth as some would imagine.

In softball, the considerably larger ball comes at batters on an upwards trajectory, in baseball it angles down.

The reason why he'll be brought back from extended spring training at Boston's Florida base and sent to the Australian academy system on the Gold Coast is that he will get far more at-bats there.

"It is important for him to see a lot of pitching," Deeble said.

Bishop said he had not even entered a baseball batting cage when Deeble contacted him. The first time he had swung a bat in anger at a baseball was three weeks ago.

"It was different, but I thought I adjusted well."

The dynamics of glovework and fielding seem to mesh easier than batting and Deeble said he noticed that softballers have very good throwing mechanics; better than cricketers.

"He's got a tremendous arm," Deeble said of Bishop. "His hands are very good. He's obviously got raw power watching him swing the bat, but in saying that he's got to make a lot of adjustments. It's a long road for him and there's a lot of work ahead."

Porirua-raised Bishop is looking forward to starting work. Te reo schooled, Bishop is fluent in Maori as well as English, but will quickly find baseball has a language all of its own. It's not called America's pastime for nothing.

"Ever since I was little I'd watched baseball on TV, wishing it was me there."

Which team did you support?

"Boston."

Good answer.

- NZ Herald

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