A partnership between Baseball New Zealand and one of Japan's top clubs could see New Zealand's first professional baseball team flourish from opening day.
The Australian Baseball League (ABL) confirmed earlier this week that they would be welcoming franchises from New Zealand and Korea into the competition this season, expanding the league from six to eight teams.
The New Zealand team was expected to made up of 12 imports and 10 Kiwis, with plenty of talent on the roster. Baseball New Zealand chief executive Ryan Flynn told the Herald on Sunday an unidentified club in Japan's Nippon Baseball League – the No.2 professional league in the world behind Major League Baseball – had already agreed to send players to the New Zealand side every year.
"That's huge," Flynn said.
The organisation were also in talks with former MLB pitchers John Holdzkom (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Scott Richmond (Toronto Blue Jays) about playing a role in the team. Holdzkom was the first New Zealand representative to pitch in the majors, while Richmond was the first New Zealand citizen to do so.
"Those are two guys we're very interested in."
They'd likely join fellow former MLB pitcher Josh Collmenter (Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves), who was expected to be among the first players signed for the team.
Collmenter told the Herald last week he was keen to suit up for the New Zealand franchise. He will be joining the Baseball New Zealand staff in a coaching role later this month, as a pitching coach for the under-15 development team.
Flynn had also been in touch with several MLB teams about the potential for some of their lower level players to join the New Zealand club as the ABL runs during the MLB off-season.
He believed the organisation was in "a very good place with the roster and coaching staff," but said there was still plenty of work to be done before opening day of the 160-game season.
The season is expected to begin in mid-November, at which point the New Zealand team may not have signed off on a permanent home ground. They were, however, expected to host their home games at North Harbour's QBE Stadium.
It's been eight and a half years of hard work for Flynn and the organisation to get to this point, but he said they had more work to do to make it a worthwhile endeavour.
"There is a lot to do. There's no time for any victory laps or any dances in the park. This was a brutal race to get off the ground and be approved, now it's going to be a brutal race to map out what this looks like.
Flynn was hoping the yet-to-be-named New Zealand ABL team would follow in the footsteps of the New Zealand Breakers, who have maintained a loyal fanbase since their inception in 2003.
"Not everybody who's been to a Breakers match over the past decade knew much about basketball – not everybody. A lot of people got into the excitement of a well-packaged product and slowly learned to love the game and the players and what was being created in the country with basketball.
"The bottom line for me is we get this off the ground and start building something that has lasting power."