Thirty-five of New Zealand's top young baseball players from across the nation and Australia will converge on Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga in Auckland this week as two youth age-grade national baseball teams prepare to depart for two of the biggest world championship events on the global baseball calendar.
Under the guidance of former Japanese national team and professional pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu, the New Zealand Under-15 team will play the role of underdog against the baseball giants such as Venezuela, the United States and Mexico at the U15 Baseball World Cup in Iwaki, Japan, while the U13 All-Star team are bound for the USA to play in the prestigious Cal Ripken World Series.
"Baseball has grown into a real cultural melting pot over the last few years," according to Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn. "This is probably the strongest group of young players, from the most diverse backgrounds, we've ever pulled together for these important tournaments." Flynn mentioned that each team has representatives from across the nation, as well as Australia, and includes a surge of ballplayers represented Maori and Pacific Islander communities in the country.
"This cultural diversity is also visible in our coaching staff with (former Japanese Olympian, Professional Pitcher and North Shore resident) Naoyuki leading the U15 team with fellow countryman and now North Shore resident Toshiki Nakao amongst the group," said Flynn, adding that national coach Riki Paewai will serve as the pitching coach for this important team.
The team assembled over the weekend at Lloyd Elsmore Park in Pakuranga for their final training camp before heading to Japan and will be joined on Wednesday by the U13 Ripken All Star team that will be led by three former professional players, Randy Yard, Andrew Marck and former New York Mets pitcher DJ Carrasco.
"We have made a conscious effort to build our game and promote it as a sport for all people, to make it accessible, affordable and welcoming," Flynn said, "and these team rosters show we are heading in the right direction."