Four of New Zealand's top baseball prospects head to the Gold Coast in Australia today knowing a strong showing at the month long MLB academy could be their first steps towards making a career of the sport.
NZ Diamondblacks players Jason Matthews (Alfriston College) and Kyle Glogoski (Howick College) will be joined by Elliot Johnstone (Sacred Heart College) and Correze Nepia (Auckland Grammar) for four weeks of intense coaching, training and playing alongside the best young players in Australia and the wider region.
"I'm really looking forward to going this year and catching up with some of the friends I met last year," said Kyle Glogoski, who is attending his second academy, adding, "I'm also looking forward to comparing myself alongside some of the top players from my age group from different countries as this year will definitely be a lot of fun as well as being a very big year for making things happen."
This year has already been a big one for the 17-year-old pitcher who performed outstandingly for the New Zealand Diamondblacks at February's World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Sydney and was also named Howick Sportsperson of the Year on top of the Baseball NZ Under-18 Player of the Year.
Glogoski definitely sees the academy as another step forward in his career and says, "It's another chance to put myself in front of a lot of high level coaches and scouts who can really help me improve my pitching game and take it to the next level.
"The one thing I'm looking forward to is facing highly talented hitters which will give me good experience going forward on handling tough at bats," said Glogoski, who already has experience of not only last year's academy but a playing stint in Australia with the Sydney Blue Sox Under-18 team in 2015.
The academy participants have been split into two teams for the month, and Glogoski will be joined by Jason Matthews who, following the month in Australia, is heading straight to Southeastern Community College in Iowa-while Johnstone and Nepia will take the field as teammates in multiple exhibitions against Glogoski and Matthews.
Pakuranga resident Correze Nepia is going to his first academy and is the oldest son of former Blues and Crusaders rugby prop Kevin Nepia, who himself plays social baseball for the Howick-Pakuranga club for which he is president.
The young outfielder was a member of the New Zealand Under-18 team which played in the Oceania U18 Championships at McLeod Park in Te Atatu in January 2015, and his younger brother Keaton is a promising baseballer, too, having represented his country in the 2014 New Zealand Ripken All Star team.
The learning opportunities and pathways for the nation's young baseball players are steadily opening up across the globe, as this year there are well over a dozen young Kiwis either playing professional or college baseball in addition to the four players heading to the Gold Coast as they bid to play at the highest level in the sport.
Very few sports in New Zealand can offer young players opportunities such as this, according to Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn. "These kids have worked really, really hard to get chances like this and the likes of Kyle, Elliot, Correze and Jason have put in the training time to prove to us that they have the ability to go further in the game.
"It's also great to see the likes of Aucklanders Quinten Niu, Ben Thompson and Cantabrian Matt Boyce and latterly Connor Gleeson preparing for their college careers with stints in Canada, which unfortunately at this moment could not happen if they remained in New Zealand," said Flynn, who added that many sports "work to keep their best players in the country, whereas in a sport such as ours, for young men to take the next step and make a real go of going to college or play professional ball, they currently must leave our shores to do so. And we're proud of how many of our young men are doing exactly that."