Shot in arm for ambitious Aussies: Atherton

BASEBALL

Los Angeles Dodgers star Zack Grienke may have been nonplussed by Major League Baseball's Australian experiment, but big league aspirant Tim Atherton believes it may have inspired a whole new generation of Aussie baseballers.

Atherton, who calls Shellharbour home, is currently on the minor league books with the Oakland Athletics.

He grabbed the attention of the As' coaching staff by pitching Team Australia to a 5-0 shut-out of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.

"As I was leaving, Oakland said to me it would be a great opportunity and 'we'll be watching you', so it was an an audition to launch my career this year," Atherton said.

"Putting us up against major-leaguers is the best test. If you want to be the best, you've got to play the best and beat the best.

"We're still in spring training, so no teams are set in stone yet.

"Hopefully it might put me a bit higher in the pecking order when they make calls for the major leagues."

His personal aspirations aside, Atherton hopes the four-day baseball extravaganza will lead to a surge in young Australians taking up the sport.

"I hope this is not only a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I hope it launches a new wave of baseball players in Australia," Atherton said.

"I hope there's a whole wave of 10-year-olds that see the action and want to pitch like me one day or see a particular player and say 'gee, I want to do what he's doing' and 10 years down the track they're looking at going to America as well."

Atherton first went to the United States as an out-fielder with the Minnesota Twins in 2008 but since 2011 has spent four seasons shifting to the mound.

He feels he's ready to take the next step after doing enough last season to be picked up by the As.

"The long-term goal is to crack the major league," he said.

"I had a really good year last year that helped me get noticed by the Athletics and they've picked me up. So, if I can duplicate what I did last year, this year is looking pretty promising."

Atherton said he expected benefit from the trail blazed by Australian firebrand Grant Balfour, who spent the bulk of his major league career in Oakland.

"He's definitely paved the way for Australians - just in his demeanour," Atherton said.

"Obviously he's one of the best in the game but just the way he carries himself - it's certainly set a good precedent for me being at Oakland, which is his old club.

"He's not a scared little Aussie playing in the American sport. He's taking it to them and challenging them.

"Just his composure on the mound and the stance and status he portrays puts fear into the hitters' eyes and that's what I want to do."

Atherton wasn't the only player with ties to the Illawarra to feature in the four-day gala.

Former Wests Cardinals player Matt Williams was used as a relief pitcher in Thursday's match against the Dodgers.

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