Apologies to the non-baseball fans checking in. I'm going to talk some serious baseball here having been fired up by an exhilarating game the boys and I saw in Perth tonight that featured several Minnesota Twins prospects and over a dozen players selected for the Australian team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC).
We saw New South Wales play the Perth Heat tonight in Perth in Game 2 of 3 of the Claxton Shield Grand Final (see game stats). The big story was the significant roles played in this game by players currently in the Twins farm system: Brad Tippett (P) playing for New South Wales, and two other players from the Twins system playing for the Perth Heat against Tippett - Luke Hughes (3B) and Allan de San Miguel (C). A fourth Twins prospect, Liam Hendriks, started and got the loss in Game 1 for the Perth Heat last night. All four are native to the Perth area. Between the New South Wales and Perth teams, there are a total 13 players here in this series who are on the provisional roster for Australia's WBC team, and 10 currently signed with Major League teams. Add to that, Perth's assistant coach and former Yankee, Graeme Lloyd, told me tonight he'll be coaching for Australia in the WBC. In other words, this is about as big as baseball can get here in Perth, also known as the most remote capital city in the world.
The Perth Heat won the thrilling Game 2 tonight with a solo home run by Nick Kimpton in the top of the 9th (home teams alternate in this series even though all 3 games are here in Perth). The Claxton Shield is the highest level of domestic baseball competition in Australia. The series is now tied going in to the decisive Game 3 which will be played at 4:00am Sunday (Minneapolis time). You should be able to listen live to it here or catch the details here. There were about 3,000 in attendance for Game 2 at Baseball Park just south of Perth.
Hughes carries himself with a look of maturity and confidence in the field and at the plate. Tonight he was 3 for 5 with an RBI single, a triple, and another single off Tippett in the 7th. He struck out twice, but reached the first time on a passed ball - his second K was thrown by Tippett in the 9th. Hughes stole 2 bases, and scored twice from 2nd. He was without an error playing third with a putout and an assist (threw a rope to first with a foot on the third base bag), and played a part in a crucial inning-ending run down between third and home. His one big mistake was getting caught off 2nd for the third out on a line drive to the left fielder when the game was tied in the top of the 7th.
Tippett looked sharp in 3 and 2/3 tense innings of relief. He came on in the 6th with the bases loaded and one out, and pitched out of the jam to preserve a 4-4 tie. He held the tie at 4-4 into the 9th, until he gave up the eventual game winning solo home run with one out. To Tippett's credit, playing at any higher level of baseball surely would have meant a closer would have come in to pitch the ninth for him. He took the loss, while giving up the 1 earned run on 4 hits with 0 walks and 3 strikeouts.
Twice the Perth Heat preserved the 4-4 tie with putouts at home on throws first from center (bottom of 6) and from left - both masterfully caught by the plate-blocking Twins prospect Allan de San Miguel. The second putout at home was a very close play for the third out in the bottom of the 8th. de San Miguel also looked decent at the plate going 1 for 3 with an RBI and a strikeout.
As I said, this is about as good as baseball gets in Australia. The kids were so pumped on the way home. Dane had escorted a Perth Heat player during pre-game introductions and stood with the team on the 3rd baseline for the Aussie national anthem. Following the game, they all got autographs from, and photos with, the three Perth Heat Twins prospects and with Graeme Lloyd (thrilled to be next to a two-time World Series pitcher).
As Twins fans, we'll be closely watching the Australian team in the WBC since they've got 7 Twins prospects on the provisional 45-man roster.
Not sure if the well of talent is soon to run dry here in Western Australia. 26 major or minor league players have come out in the last decade from the Western Australia Institute of Sports. However, WAIS is dropping its support of baseball now that it isn't an Olympic sport. (They lose federal funding that supports Olympic efforts.)