Wollongong’s case for an Australian Baseball League team has been bolstered, with the region coming close to hosting the New Zealand expansion franchise for its first season.
With problems surrounding the New Zealand team’s stadium plans, Baseball Australia was forced to consider alternate options for the upcoming season.
BA CEO Cam Vale confirmed Wollongong was considered the sole contender if it was decided the New Zealand franchise could not establish a suitable venue for the 2018-19 season.
Ultimately, the New Zealand team opted to play out of a temporary Auckland venue for three of their five home series, with two to be played in Australia.
“Wollongong was highly considered to host the New Zealand side for full a season,” Vale said.
“We had a discussion with key stakeholders about hosting a full season and the work to make it happen was significant, but in the end Baseball New Zealand decided they had to play three of their five series in New Zealand.
“The discussions reconfirm our interest in Wollongong and Wollongong’s interest in the ABL. Hopefully in the next month or two we’ll be able to lock down an approach to have Wollongong in the competition from 2019-20.”
New Zealand will take on Adelaide and Melbourne in the two ‘home’ series to be played on the road and it is understood BA is looking strongly at Wollongong to host one of those series.
While unable to confirm if Wollongong would be receiving one of those two four-game series, Vale confirmed top-flight baseball will be returning to the region for the third successive season.
“The series are a good chance for us to take ABL to new cities like Wollongong or other parts of the country. Our preference is to try to take one or both series to one or two locations that don’t have an ABL team.
“Even if these series are not played in Wollongong, expect for ABL in Wollongong to continue for another season with the Wollongong Classic.”
The ABL’s expansion plans for the 2018-19 season were announced in early June, with Wollongong’s inadequate baseball facilities a leading reason the region missed out on a franchise.
That stance has softened somewhat, however, with Vale rating Fred Finch Park suitable to host an entire season had the New Zealand franchise opted to spend it’s first summer in Wollongong.
With the league continuing to work with local authorities to deliver upgrades to the Berkeley venue, Wollongong’s path to a permanent expansion team in the 2019-20 season looks to have cleared.
“My position has shifted,” Vale said.
“Fred Finch as an option to host the New Zealand team would have worked for this season.
“It has made us think further about better long term options to support a Wollongong franchise, but the fact that we could have had a team play all 20 games in Wollongong this season at Fred Finch indicates it’s capable of being an ABL venue.”