Cronk and Copley just two stars baseball has lost

PRIORITY and retention of teenagers are the key buzz words now floating around Australian Baseball corridors, following the unprecedented exposure of the game Down Under during the recent Major League Opening Series in Sydney.

That is because the sport has already lost a stack of tremendously talented players, including the likes of NRL stars, Queenslanders Dale Copley and Cooper Cronk.

Broncos flyer Copley revealed to APN last December that he represented his state in baseball at under-14 and under-16 level.

He played alongside Logan Wade, Andrew Campbell, Brad Dutton and Mitch Nilsson, who are all part of the Brisbane Bandits' roster in the Australian Baseball League.

Australian Baseball's head of coaching and development, Peter Gahan, said he was still haunted by losing Copley to the Broncos, who threw more money and resources at him as a teenager.

Gahan said Copley could have reached astronomical heights in the game.

"Dale was one of our best hitting prospects since (Australia's first MLB All Star) Dave Nilsson," he told APN.

"He was extremely promising. But the Broncos presented themselves very well and we just couldn't compete with them.

"Cooper Cronk was also a very good baseballer, so we're working hard on how to better retain our talented young players."

The Big Show has abruptly left town, and the SCG has gone back to preparing for a rugby league game next Saturday.

So where does this leave the future of the sport now?

Well, top officials believe it is set for an exciting new era.

That is despite its history of losing quality players to other, more cashed-up sports.

The Australian Sports Commission's recent decision to cut its Winning Edge funding led to some panic among diehards within the small sporting community, particularly with baseball no longer a part of the Olympics program.

But Gahan, is still confident he can help grow the game, even after the conclusion of the hugely-successful MLB series road show left fans in limbo.

"We are going to implement new player pathway systems which will be different from the previous model," he said.

"All the emphasis now will be on grassroots participation, and growth and the retention of players in their teenage years.

"It will be impossible to retain them all, but our new programs will make that retention our priority."

For a start, the first national championship for youngsters will now be at under-18 level.

A  Little League model is now favoured for younger players, where Australia's champion junior club teams will have the chance to play at the hugely-popular annual junior World Series US event.

"We just couldn't compete with the likes of swimming and hockey in the Winning Edge program, but we haven't totally been cut off by the sports commission," Gahan said.

"We still receive whole-of-sport funding not marked for high performance, which is why we're now focusing more on further developing our participation pathways."

As a result, the camp for Australia's best young players at the Major League Baseball Australia Academy on the Gold Coast will be shortened to a three-week one.

But Gahan has faith in the new model, pointing out Baseball Australia will also look more closely at developing the skills of its local coaches.

Melbourne Aces short stop and former Major Leaguer Brad Harman has already expressed his interest in coaching our best young talent once he finishes his terrific career.

"There's been a paradigm shift and so far it's going down well," Gahan said.

"We're confident once this new program is established that we'll improve our player retention rates."

And maybe then the next Dale Copley will be our next Major League All Star.


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