Baseball: Silver lining for Auckland Tuatara in timing of COVID-19 pandemic

The Auckland Tuatara made the playoffs last season
The Auckland Tuatara made the playoffs last season Photo credit: Photosport

Auckland Tuatara fans could be in for a glimpse of the future later this year, when the Australian Baseball League season gets underway.

With Major League Baseball (MLB) currently dormant due to COVID-19 and serious doubts over the prospects of a 2020 minor league season, big clubs will be looking to farm out their hot prospects.

The Tuatara have a proven track record of developing talented MLB hopefuls, with the likes of Brandon Marklund, Josh Morgan, Jared Walker and Jared Koenig all enhancing their reputations with the infant NZ sporting franchise.

General manager Regan Wood is in daily discussions with several MLB clubs and the signs are pointing to several "elite" recruits joining the Tuatara's third-season roster.

"The good thing for us is, right now, we are the pretty girl at the dance and everyone wants to dance with us, so we should get some highly talented young players coming our way," Wood has told Newshub.

"When you talk to the big Major League clubs like the Oakland A's or Texas Rangers, they are telling us they want to send their elite prospects down here to get some work in - some game time work.

"So we need to assess how we make that work and we are planning as if we will get those guys - if America can sort itself out. 

"We are hoping we can go to Grant Robertson [Minister of Sport] and show we are bringing elite level athletes into the country, and find out what protocols we may need to follow."

In another positive, Kiwi prospect Kyle Glogoski is also back on the wishlist, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the young Aucklander home from his base in Philadelphia.

The Phillies minor league star and a legitimate potential Major League pitcher starred in his limited appearances through the first two seasons.

While Wood admits work still remains for the green light on Glogoski's return, the 21-year-old needs game time to further his development and strengthen his arm.

"Kyle Glogoski is home at the moment, so we perceive that if he doesn't get many or any innings through Minor League baseball, the Phillies will be keen for him to pitch again in the ANBL.

"Brandon Marklund from year one is in the same boat. They need a workload, rather than restricting workload management, as we have had to do in the past. 

"Hopefully they will both be pitching for the Tuatara next season."

Overcoming tragedy

The North Harbour-based franchise rode a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the 2019/20 season.

The club suffered through the tragic death of American import Ryan Costello a week before the start of the campaign.

Results were hard to come by in the first two weeks, but a stellar mid-season run lifted the club to the top of the Northeast Division.

The Tuatara were bundled out by eventual champions the Melbourne Aces in two highly competitive playoff games, but regardless, the fourth-best record in the league was a wonderful achievement for a side affected by tragedy. 

"[Costello's death] made an enormous impact on those young men's lives," Wood told Newshub.

"Very few people have experienced death and as a professional athlete - a young professional athlete - it's like a bomb has been dropped on them. 

"Ryan Costello would have been a great player in the ANBL. It was an absolute tragedy and we want to continue to honour him moving forward. 

"His passing brought us together last season and we want to pay tribute to Ryan's life where possible.

"We knew we had the talent to compete at the head of the league, but it was still very satisfying we made the playoffs, given the injury woes, losing key players to the US and Ryan's passing."

Wood also reveals the club would have faced financial ruin, if the coronavirus pandemic had struck New Zealand a few months before it did. 

"We are pretty lucky with the timing," Wood said. "There is some funding available there, but at the moment, Sport NZ is looking after winter sports and that's totally understandable. 

"We should be fine, given the season isn't underway until the end of the year."

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