Australia's manager Jon Deeble walks from the mound at the start of a game against South Korea in their World Baseball Classic first round game at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, Monday, March 4, 2013.
Australia's manager Jon Deeble walks from the mound at the start of a game against South Korea in their World Baseball Classic first round game at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, Monday, March 4, 2013. AP Photo - Wally Santana

Australia's "Mr Baseball" is famous everywhere but here

TEAM Australia's senior head coach Jon Deeble is barely recognisable in his home country.But that is a vastly different story when he goes to Japan or Boston.

Australia's "Mr Baseball" also has a role as Asia-Pacific talent scout for the famous Red Sox club.

When Deeble goes to Japan on scouting missions, he gets mobbed by reporters who hammer him with the same question ... "Just how did Australia beat superpower Japan twice at the 2004 Athens Olympics?"

That was on the way to the underdog team winning an historic silver medal.

Beating Cuba in the final would have been one of the great team upsets in Olympic history.

It has been almost 10 years since Deeble's team shocked the baseball world.
Deeble also took the time to chat to me about some other fascinating stories.

Some of those included the covert missions he went on in far-flung areas of Japan, as the only westerner in town, in his efforts to scout and sign star Red Sox relieving pitcher Junichi Tawaza.

Somehow, he and fellow scout at the time, Aussie baseball legend Craig Shipley, pulled that one off.

Deeble recently ran a Major League coaching academy for Australia's brightest young talents on the Gold Coast, and spoke glowingly about the sport's future, after Team Australia's resounding success back in March.

Then, they pulled off yet another big upset, shutting out big-league team the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0, just before the historic Opening Series in Sydney that also featured the LA Dodgers.

Here is Jon Deeble's story ...

How has the MLB Australian Academy camp gone?

"It's been fantastic. We've had 78 kids in, we've had up to a dozen girls who are going away to the world championships, and we've had some kids preparing for the under-15 world championships.

"We've had a mixed bag, but we've had three teams and it's worked like clockwork. The kids have been phenomenal.

"I would say it's been the best camp we've ever had."

With these camps only getting better, is this where we're going to start to see hopefully MLB or high-level players going to America?

"We got 28 kids signed out of here 18 months ago for a total of $4.5 million.

"(Melbourne teenager) Brandon Stenhouse signed with the Yankees at this camp in January.

"This year we're probably going to get a million dollars worth of kids signed between now and Christmas.

"We've got some really good kids coming through this system.

"The coaching staff have been amazing. We've got a lot of (former) Major League guys here and they've worked fantastic with our coordinators."

How does this facility get the best out of the players?

"It's great because we've got access to batting cages. It's all astro turf. We're getting a third field put in. We're able to work with 90 kids here, and there are not many other places you can do that."

What do you think of the Australian Baseball League and the way it's growing and continuing to develop Major League talent?

"It's fantastic, and it's fantastic for our kids. They can see a pathway and they're saying 'these guys played here, so it's achievable to go over to the States and play'.

"We've got a lot of good rookie ball kids. There are a lot of good 18 to 20-year-old kids."

What's coming up for the senior Australian team?

"It's a good question. We did so well in March. I think we're looking at some Asian games towards the end of the year.

"We've got to get ourselves into the top 12 for a premier tournament next year.

"There's a lot on at junior level, and not so much for the seniors. But we've got to start pushing these kids through the system."

How well primed is Australia to capitalise on its Opening Series success from back in March, after beating the Diamondbacks and going so close against the Dodgers?

"It's hard because you've got to keep playing. But we got a lot of publicity, and hopefully we'll get some more kids playing.

"If we can keep broadening our base, there will be more kids to pick from.

"It's always hard because you've got the AFL, rugby, cricket. Everyone's fighting for the same players.

"But we're one of only a few sports that has had increases over the past five years with our participation.

"We really need to get some more kids playing more games. That's what we're working on - broadening our base at the bottom.

"The University of Hawaii was in here (on the Gold Coast), San Diego and a few other colleges, and 23 of the 30 Major League teams have been here."

The silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. How good was the whole experience?

"We nearly pulled off a bigger victory than the US beating the Russians (for the gold medal in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics).

"With a bit of luck we could have got that gold medal.

"It was a special group, and what they achieved was staggering.

"I often talk about (former Australian Major League stars) Graeme Lloyd, Dave Nilsson and Jeff Williams. Every time that I've played or coached, we've always had to go to these tournaments and play above ourselves.

"Those guys played at the high levels, and I think when they played they were able to drag these other guys up with them.

"(Pitchers) Phil Stockman and Chris Oxspring were also there, and they got to the big leagues too. But the rest of the guys were able to be dragged up to another level.

"I just think that they led from the front.

"So it wasn't as if they went in there overawed. It was like 'guys, come with us because we can beat these guys'.

What were the celebrations like?

"They were special. But I reckon if we had another day to prepare and get our thoughts together, and regrouped and said 'look guys, a silver medal is not acceptable', who knows?

"But things were going so quick, your head was spinning. It was like 'we've beaten Japan twice and now we're playing for a gold medal'.

"We were right in that ball game, and we had an unlucky break when the ball hit the fence and their guy caught it, and the umpire gave our hitter out.

"That cost us two runs (in the 6-2 loss to Cuba in the final).

"It was a special time for our guys, and I'd like to have a reunion for them all to catch up.

"Every one of those guys played unbelievable."

How well did Lloyd, Nilsson and Williams lead the way?

"Whenever there was a problem they'd handle it before it got to me.

"Oxspring and Phil Stockman were also a part of that. It was a tight-knit team.

"Phil Jauncey our team psych played a big part in it. He had the ability to get everyone to feel responsible for what they were doing."

What were some of the highlights of beating Japan?

"I think some of the individual things. (Daisuke) Matsuzaka (a big-league pitcher) ends up signing for $100 million (at Deeble's club the Boston Red Sox), and we beat him.

"Back when I played, you'd get a lead against Japan and they'd come back and score eight or 10.

"I remember a game against them we were up by two, then we were down by two, then Nilsson came up and hit that home run, and put us up by three or four, and then we just kept going.

"Twenty years ago we would have given that lead up.

"Nilsson (Australia's first MLB All Star player and former catcher in the big leagues) did a great job with our pitchers. He had a real knack of understanding swing paths and bat paths, and hitters' tendencies.

"Even though Jeff Williams was a closer, he threw three innings a couple of times, but he wanted the ball still.

"Their belief and the way they worked together was special.

"Nilsson and Lloyd were at the back end of their careers. But our view was 'let's get them for a couple of years and where they're still capable of performing'.

"I think Lloydy's leadership was more valuable than his performances. He came in and got a big double play for us in the gold-medal game (in the 6-2 loss to Cuba).

"David played unbelievable, Williams was fantastic, Oxspring and Stockman threw the ball well. It was a big team effort.

"The last player was 'Gonzo', (former Brisbane Bandits general manager) Paul Gonzalez. David convinced me to put him on the team because of his experience.

"He hit that big home run in the gold-medal game. He was down here the other day and we had a laugh about that.

"I told him 'David was the one that convinced me to put you on'.

"Our coaching staff were up all night - they didn't sleep because they had so much work to do. You got used to no sleep over the 10 to 12 days during the tournament, and the living quarters were so small.

"They're all good memories. But it's gone so quick - it's 10 years ago now."

You played a big role in scouting Matsuzaka to the Red Sox. You also played a big role in getting fellow big-league pitcher Junichi Tazawa to the club ...

"Ship (Craig Shipley - an Australian and former MLB star who worked as a special assistant at the Red Sox with Deeble, before taking up the same role at the Arizona Diamondbacks) and I saw him (Tazawa) in a tournament in Taiwan with a lot of other scouts there.

"Then I went up and saw him in the mountains, and I reckon I was the only westerner they've ever seen.

"He pitched well and then Ship and I went back to see him in March and he struck out 20 in a game.
"Then we offered him some money and he said 'I'll sign with you, but I'm not going to do it until November'.

"The next year he went out and beat the New York Yankees, and he was a starting pitcher.

"Now he's in our (Boston's) bullpen and he's done really well. He's got desire, he's tough. He's won a World Series too.

"Matsuzaka was really good. He got injured for us, but he's back in the big leagues pitching for the New York Mets now.

"(Hideki) Okajima was another guy (pitcher) that we got out of Japan and he made the All Star game in his first year.

"So we've had good success over there. They're bloody hard to get out of Japan.

"The three we've picked up have all done very well."

How hard was it keeping a low profile with Tazawa?

"We went to the tournament in September where he was pitching at the Tokyo Dome.

"We were sitting high up in the right-field bleachers using binoculars to see where the other scouts were, because they all got onto it.

"But to his credit he committed to us, and jeez, he's had a good career. He's been with us four or five years, and he's come back from Tommy John (elbow) surgery.

"It's a great story because he wasn't a professional. He was playing for a gas company team - he wasn't even up there.

"He was a needle in the hay stack; a diamond in the rough. He was going to go in the first pick in the draft out of the industrial league, but we grabbed him before that.

"I think they've suspended him for two years when he comes back because he didn't go into the professional leagues from the industrial league.

"But our view is they had a chance to sign him out of high school and they didn't do it."

Did you have much intelligence on him?

"It was all just through scouting trips. We saw him a lot, in maybe 15 games. Just the way he competed on the mound, he was a gamer.

"He wanted the ball. On his gas team I think he got four wins and two saves in eight days. They threw him a lot."

What's it like being a talent scout through Asia - is it living out of a suitcase a lot?

"Yeah. Technology's changed from early on. You can now see games from home with video. It's tough, but it's enjoyable. It's the best job in the world.
"But the travel does get you down. The Red Sox have been fantastic. There are 30 clubs trying to get one player, so you've got to get out there and work hard.

"The travel's the killer. You get to Japan and then you've got a two-hour bus ride to get into the city.

"It's the same in Taiwan and Korea. You have to battle and you have to go to places.

"I could write a book on some of the things I've seen."

Can you tell us some of these things?

"I remember Craig Shipley and I were going up to look at a player and we were literally in the mountains.

"We got up there and we couldn't get back down. There were no taxis up there. We started walking.

"I had running shoes on, he had good shoes on. We had to walk all the way down this mountain.

"It just went forever and ever and ever. And then we came across a restaurant that was like a Teppanyaki bar.

"So we ended up going in there and eating. We didn't think we were going to get home.

"We called a taxi to come and get us from there. We went back up the mountain, and from there we convinced some rugby guys to give us a lift back down in a tiny car.

"Ship and I were in the back of the sedan squashed in.

"We've had a few laughs over the years. You need to have fun with it all."

What was it like last year when the Red Sox won the World Series? Were you over there for the celebrations?

"I was over there for the first two games. They invite you in. It was cold.

"Then I came home and watched the rest from here. It was fantastic.

"The job our front-office people did was fantastic. I was watching it here on the Gold Coast.

"I got another World Series ring. That's four now."

Obviously they are your most prized possessions ...

"Yeah. I don't wear them. I was with the Marlins in 1997. I was coaching in the minor leagues over there, then 2004, 2007 and 2014 with Boston.

"The first one (at Boston) was special because they hadn't won in 86 years, so there are 86 diamonds in the ring.

"I've been bloody lucky. You get with the right organisation and the right people and good things happen.
"I get a little embarrassed. David played eight or 10 years in the major leagues. I didn't play a day there and I got four rings and he didn't get one."

It's a hell of a career you've had ... your four Major League rings, your silver medal in 2004 and the Intercontinental Cup (which Australia won in 1999, with Deeble as bench coach and current Australian cricket fielding coach Mike Young as the manager) ...

"Yeah, and I got to coach in 2005 which was also special, and that was due to (former Red Sox general manager) Theo Epstein and Ship giving me the opportunity.

"I was in Spring Training and I was throwing batting practice, and they asked me to stay with the team.

"I was scouting at the time, and then on Opening Day our manager went to hospital. He has some chest problems I think.

"So then I ended up being the Red Sox bullpen coach on Opening Day - at Yankee Stadium. Then we went to Toronto and I was the bullpen coach again, and then I just went back to throwing batting practice.

"I was in the right place at the right time.

"But my family was out here and it was hard, so I ended up being in charge of the Asia-Pacific area."

Seeing Tazawa win a title last year must have been so satisfying ...

"It was. He was fantastic. He played a great role and he's just a good guy."

How big is baseball in Boston and Japan?

"Boston's amazing. I tell people it's like everyone in Victoria barracking for Collingwood, and then you multiply it 10 times.

"You go to a doctor during the World Series and they've got a Boston hat on. And all the flight staff have got Boston hats on at the airports.

"Then the streets around Fenway Park - it's amazing, and even on a normal day it's amazing.

"I think it's hard for people here in Australia to comprehend how big it is.

"It's a special place, Fenway. I always tell people if you get a chance you've got to go there.

"Japan's the same. No one knows me here, but in Japan as soon as I go and sit in a stadium, I get 10 to 12 reporters all wanting to know how we beat the Japanese in 2004.

"That's been going on for years. Someone always wants to come up and talk about what happened.

"That's because the whole country was crushed. And that's why we still get the chance to go over there and play them.

"We played them in March and we should've beaten them but we didn't.
"It was because of 2004 that they want to keep playing and beating us. We played them twice and the place was packed - there were over 40,000 for each of the games in Osaka.

"I love going back there and playing."


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