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Baseball talent pitch potentially worth 'millions'

Last updated 05:00 26/04/2013

HAMISH MCNICOL

Baseball New Zealand is hoping a Government-backed investment will lead millions of dollars of greater investment around the bases and sliding into the "mythical land of baseball talent".

Government agency Sport New Zealand, formerly Sparc, has committed to a $40,000 investment in baseball over the next two years.

The investment is targeted specifically at getting more Kiwi kids active and playing sport and is the first time Baseball New Zealand has received such funding.

Baseball New Zealand chief executive Ryan Flynn said that, while the organisation had received larger grants in the past, this was easily the most important.

"The significance of it is the ability to leverage it with trusts and sponsors, and Major League Baseball. That's where it comes into play."

Major League Baseball is the United States' professional baseball league, where the average team is worth US$744 million (NZ$872m), according to Forbes Magazine.

Flynn said New Zealand had the potential to be as good as any nation in the world in baseball.

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"Every day I see another 14-year-old who throws the ball just as hard as any American kid in the entire country of America but he hasn't been seen.

"It really could be a mythical land of baseball talent, like the Dominican Republic, who have millions and millions of dollars poured into that country."

A $3m investment in a national facility and a yearly $1m operating budget were required to get the ball rolling, he said.

"It's an impressive showcase if we had a main stadium where we could invite international teams, where we could have an Australia Baseball League franchise.

"An ABL franchise is incredibly crucial to our growth, in that our kids across the country see that they can play professional baseball domestically like the Breakers, the Phoenix, the Warriors, the Mystics - that's crucial," Flynn said.

The country's baseball is currently operated on a budget of about $200,000 a year, predominantly sourced from TAB funding.

"That's our general fund to be able to operate all of baseball in this country.

"Regional rugby and cricket associations spend that in a week."

Although backed by some in-kind sponsors, Flynn hoped the Sport NZ allocation would attract further funding.

"We're hoping that, in the next year or two, there's an individual or a company that wants to come in and basically own baseball for a small amount of money and basically change the lives of thousands of kids.

"It's a work in progress, we're talking to people."

Flynn said he had also started talking to MLB about getting coaching and academy help.

He expected a $250,000 investment in a high-performance academy would mean they could regularly train 80 to 90 prospects, with the hopes of attracting college scholarships or professional contracts.

"If we're known as a mystical land of talent, baseball talent, then the money will flow in from individual teams and MLB."

He said he had heard of an Australian baseball player who had recently earned a $500,000 signing bonus on a professional contract.

New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez is signed to a 10-year, US$275m contract, making him the highest-earning player in MLB.

Flynn had approached MLB franchises San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners, which had invested in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, to see if they would invest in New Zealand.

"Seven or eight young men [from New Zealand] have played professional baseball in the last 15 years and that's without even a great baseball programme.

"Can we develop world-class talent for MLB? There's no question, none."

Last week, 17-year-old Wellingtonian Iranui Holthausen went to a Major League Academy in Perth, from which he will eventually head to the US for 35 days of baseball.

Fellow Wellingtonian Te Wera Bishop signed for MLB's Boston Red Sox in early 2011.

Baseball New Zealand had a 4000-strong membership in 2011, while Softball New Zealand boasts more than 33,000 members.

- Stuff

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