Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Australian Baseball League Explained

I thought that I'd provide a bit of an introduction for my non-Australian readers about the Australian Baseball League, as well as a series of articles on "Choosing a team to follow in the ABL". So, here are some quick and dirty facts about the Australian Baseball League to get you started.

  • Played: The Australian Baseball League (ABL) is played during the Australian summer, usually commencing in late October / early November, and finishing in late January / early February.
  • Background: The league is being bank-rolled by Major League Baseball for 5 years as an alternative "winter ball" destination, and expanding consumer market.
  • Started: The first season of the current ABL was the 2010-11 season, making the upcoming 2013-14 season its fourth year of operation.
  • Teams: The ABL consists of six teams: Adelaide Bite, Brisbane Bandits, Canberra Cavalry, Melbourne Aces, Perth Heat and the Sydney Blue Sox.

  • Players: Each team has an active roster of 22 players, with an additional dozen or so players in reserve for use throughout the season. The focus of the league is on developing Australian players, however each team is allowed a limited number of "imports" (ie non-Australian players) on their roster. All of the teams except Canberra are allowed eight imports (non-Australians) on their roster with a maximum of four position players - including the designated hitter.). Canberra because of it's much smaller player base is allowed twice as many imports (16 imports, of which eight can be position players - including the designated hitter.) Although they can have up to 8 position players on the roster, Canberra must have at least two Australians playing positions during each game.
  • MLB Affiliations: The ABL states that during the 2012-13 ABL season, 28 of the 30 MLB teams had affiliated players in the ABL. I'll take their word for it so that I don't have to bother trying to count them. The ABL also has partnerships with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and the Korean Baseball Organisation, with several teams regularly fielding players from those organisations in addition to MLB affiliated players.
  • Attendances: Are not very high by Australian sporting standards. Average attendance per game is about 1300. By comparison, the domestic Twenty20 Cricket competition has an average attendance of nearly 15,000 per game, whilst the major football code - the Australia Football League - averages nearly 36,000 per game.
  • Championship Series: The first two seasons had finals series consisting of the top 4 teams. The 2012-13 season consisted of a finals series featuring only the top three teams (2nd vs 3rd play off to challenge 1st for the Championship Series). The championship team win "The Claxton Shield" - a trophy that has been the pinnacle of Australian baseball since 1934.

  • Quality: The general feedback I've seen in player interviews is that the ABL is roughly equivalent to about high-A level baseball, but it's not an easy correlation as there are a broad range of players. Four import players have reached the Majors after playing in the ABL (Brandon Barnes, Didi Gregorius, Donald Lutz and Cody Clark), whilst there were 10 players with MLB experience playing in the ABL during the 2012-13 season.
  • All Star Game: The last two seasons the ABL has held an All Star game during the mid season break near Christmas time. The format is Australia vs The World, with the World team featuring the best of the import players in the league for that season.

  • Asia Series Participation: The ABL Champion (usually crowned in early February) is invited to compete in the Asia series the following November in a round robin format with the champion teams from Japan (NPB)  Korea (KBO), Taiwan (CPBL) and China (CBL). Of the two Asian Series competed in so far (Perth Heat in 2011 and 2012), the ABL Champion team has yet to win a game. [Update 28th Feb 2014: Since this article was originally posted, the Canberra Cavalry succeeded in not only winning a game, but winning the 2013 Asia Series.]
  • The "original" ABL: There was a previous incarnation of the Australian Baseball League that started in 1989 by the Australian Baseball Federation before folding in 1999. MLB and the Australian Baseball Federation have drawn upon the lessons learnt from the previous ABL to try and ensure that this incarnation is self sufficient financially before the end of MLB's backing.

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