Australia's David Nilsson grounds out in the fourth inning against Italy in Round 1 of the World Baseball Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday, March 7, 2006. Italy won 11-1.
Australia's David Nilsson grounds out in the fourth inning against Italy in Round 1 of the World Baseball Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday, March 7, 2006. Italy won 11-1. AP Photo - Phelan M. Ebenhack

Dave Nilsson proves big is better for baseball

DAVE Nilsson is a big as any footballer I've met. As a former catcher, you need to be if you want to make it far in the sport of the baseball.

You need incredible leg strength to crouch for hours on end in grueling practice sessions and games.

Not to mention the arm strength needed for those bullet-like throws to the bases.

Nilsson's also as big as any other Aussie sportsman … in America, or more specifically, Milwaukee that is.

He was Australian baseball's first ever MLB All Star, meaning he can't walk anywhere in Milwaukee without being noticed.

That's not so much the case in Australia where the game of baseball is still only growing.

But Nilsson, who still coaches young talent in Brisbane, does have big visions for the sport Down Under.

Here are his views on how the game can progress following unprecedented exposure that the visiting LA Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks gave The Big Show in Australia …

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig spoke about wanting to leave his post with the legacy of making great strides towards making baseball a truly global game. He spoke of wanting a truly 'World

Series' with teams from around the world. So with that in mind, can a World Series be a genuine World Series in future years?

"I think if you go back 10-12 years you'd say no, but with Bud in charge he shrunk the world. Now there are so many countries involved.

"He knocked down a lot of barriers between professional baseball organisations, so I don't think it's unrealistic.

"I think the people are now catching on to the benefit of everyone being involved."

From when you played until now Dave, you must've seen the game grow in leaps and bounds. I just talked to Ian Chappell and he mentioned to catch an American baseball game back in his day, it was almost impossible while tuning in through Armed Forces Radio. Now we've got games coming in everyday on pay television. You must be so delighted about the exposure that Aussie fans are now getting to the sport …

"Yeah, it's a different environment. Whether it's the Internet, whether it's MLB TV, whether it's ESPN or Fox or whatever, the access now is great - you can wake up and catch a game through so many different access points."

Do you agree with another thing Ian said in that Australians probably need everyday baseballers like yourself to look up to? We do have All Star pitcher Grant Balfour who is killing it in the US, but like you were, do we need an everyday hero?

"Yeah I think most definitely. It would definitely help if there was a position player. While the pitchers are great, in some capacity they can be one dimensional.

"You need a position player that can engage the young kids on the different aspects of the game.

"So hopefully, on the horizon, there's going to be one."

Dave, can you tell us about a few fan stories from your playing days in Milwaukee. You can walk around and get unnoticed here, but in Milwaukee you can't sneeze and not be noticed. You've got a few fanatical fans over there don't you …

"Yeah look I think the good thing about Milwaukee - even though they're great fans, they're very respectful.

"I don't have them horror stories. While they want to get a little piece of you in a Midwestern town, they're very respectful.

"That's my memory of Milwaukee fans - they are just great people."

Dave, can you pick out just a couple of things that you really worked hard on in order to be such a success at Major League level?

"Look, you have to stick to whatever skill base you have. I was born with some physical ability. I had some height and some hand-eye coordination, fortunately enough.

"It's just about disciplining yourself, repeating stuff on a daily basis, being healthy, being strong and making sure you get all the skill work you need.

"For a part of your life, to achieve in the big leagues, you've got to give everything else up.

"There's nothing else. It's the big leagues or nothing."

And Dave, what about the concussion rules in baseball? Why don't they just wear cricket-style helmets in baseball to stop all the facial injuries we see? Is that something that should be looked at - more protection for the head?

"Yeah, most definitely. They've made huge strides. They've changed the collision at the plate rules this year involving the catchers.

"That's a first, and they're working on special hats for pitchers to wear. So Major League baseball is as proactive as any other sport.

"And it's hard to make changes to athletes when they've done something for so long, and it alters their approach.

"So it's not out of not wanting to do it."

Can you talk about Ian Chappell - from what you've heard, how skilful was he as a baseballer?

"He was a little bit before my time, but we're talking about someone who was the former Australian cricket captain.

"So you've got to believe somewhere along the way that he would have been able to take those skills and pass them over to baseball."

And what's your take on the whole cricket/baseball crossover debate? A lot of baseball purists say you've got to be playing both sports from a young age. But what about a guy like Warner - can it be done at a later age?

"No. It's impossible. It's two different sports. Chappelli grew up and did the different skill sets. Dave Warner and those guys are fantastic athletes.

"But you're talking about soccer and rugby league (as a comparison)."

Can you give us a word on Grant Balfour - he's our second MLB All Star and you were our first. How proud of him are you?

"Well I reached out to him when he made the team and I congratulated him. I think it's on a bigger scale though.

"It's not just me - I think all of Australia's very proud of him."

Would you like to see him get a bit more recognition though? He does have a lot of fans, but he's one of

Australia's highest paid athletes and a lot of people don't know of him …

"Yeah, I think so. One thing about Australia is you have to have some success in Australia to be recognised, unless you're someone special like an All Star.

"So until baseball's played in Australia often, you really can't expect more. You can hope for it, but there are so many other good sports going on."

Team Australia coach Jon Deeble mentioned, thanks to you and other talent scouts, $100 million has been brought back into our economy over the past 15 years. That's because guys from here are getting picked to play in the rich American leagues. With that said, are you hoping, like Jon is, of seeing a dedicated baseball venue in this country soon?

"Part of making this happen is game growth to get the facilities. So it's about keeping the momentum going, whether it's stadiums or whatever it may be.

"We want to grow everything."

So this is part of the grand strategy?

"Well the strategy is to grow the game, that's why the MLB are here, to get the kids involved.

"To make the national team better we've changed the player pathways."

You must have been so thrilled to have seen Team Australia win the other night (5-0 against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night). What a great performance that was …

"It was a very good performance. I think what it showed was we have a lot of guys in the Australian team who have played in the top leagues.

"I think the way Team Australia has been portrayed has been really disappointing. They've been portrayed as bus drivers and all that sort of garbage.

"They're professional athletes. Some have played in the big league, some are about to play in the big league, and with a good performance we see what they are capable of."

Tim Kennelly, Stefan Welch, Brad Harman. These are guys who are talked about a lot on being on the verge of making the top level. Harman has done it at that level for Philadelphia before. It's looking bright isn't it - more MLB players from Australia are on the horizon …

"Yeah, and that's why games like this (the Dodgers v Diamondbacks series in Sydney) are so important."
 


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