Baseball: Auckland Tuatara to play all games at home under new ABL season model

The Auckland Tuatara will play all of their games at home under the Australian Baseball League's new model for the 2020/21 season.

On Thursday, the league confirmed that Auckland hosting an international 'hub' in a dual conference structure was their preferred solution for next season to combat the travel difficulties imposed by COVID-19.

The Tuatara will be joined by Geelong-Korea, with the Adelaide Giants and Brisbane Bandits also entering the Auckland-based 'International Conference', after playing each other in a home-and-away in Australia. An expansion team from Japan or Taiwan may also join them.

All games will likely be played at the Tuatara's regular venue of Albany's QBE Stadium.

Baseball: Auckland Tuatara to play all games at home under new ABL season model
Photo credit: Supplied

Across the Tasman, the 'Australia Conference' will include the Canberra Cavalry, Melbourne Aces, Perth Heat and the Sydney Blue Sox, who will play home-and-away, with no crossover play between the two conferences until the playoffs. 

Each team will play 24 games - reduced from the standard 40 - in a condensed schedule that will begin just before Christmas, then run primarily through January.

The winners of each conference will play each other in the championship series, with the format and venue yet to be confirmed.

The 'Australian Conference' will continue with nine-inning contests and more traditional weekly series, while the 'International Conference' will play seven-inning games and start its season a fortnight later.

"Our hand has been forced by the pandemic," says ABL chief executive Cam Vale. 

"But we’re really excited about the structure of the upcoming season and how it can shape the league moving forward.

“We’ve faced massive obstacles just to get to this point and our work isn’t done yet, but in front of us now is a really appealing model to work to.

"A New Zealand hub allows us to overcome the possibility a trans-Tasman bubble will not be set up by our season to allow weekly in-and-out travel, which would have put a huge question mark over Auckland competing."

"This is our intention with the Auckland hub, but as is required during these times, we haven’t ruled out this hub being in Australia and need to explore that option as well."

Geelong-Korea will join Auckland for the entire season while the Giants and Bandits would start in Australia before shifting to the New Zealand hub.

Vale realises there's still plenty of work to do with both the NZ and Australian Governments to gain relevant border exemptions, but is confident they can find a way to make the structure work.

"It's too early for Government departments to give us green lights now, given how quickly circumstances surrounding COVID can change," he says.

"But we are building the strongest possible case to present to Government on mitigating risk and how a competition like the ABL can also be part of both a new COVID-19 normal and the recovery phase."