Major League Baseball Extends Backing of Australian Academy Through 2012

Major League Baseball agreed to continue backing its annual Australian academy for another two years, extending a development program that’s helped produce 164 professional players over its first decade.

In partnership with the Australian Baseball Federation since 2001, the MLB Australian Academy Program runs for seven weeks each year on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The academy was the first of its kind and served as a model for similar projects in Italy and China, said Tom Nicholson, Major League Baseball International’s director for Australia and Oceania.

“It really has provided many victories for us and a career pathway for a lot of Australians,” Nicholson said in a phone interview. “It’s something that keeps us in the game based on the success that we’ve achieved.”

MLB contributes more than half the cost of running the program, Nicholson said, declining to be more specific. Players are on the field for eight hours a day and attend classes in the evenings so they don’t fall behind with their high-school studies, he said.

Australians make up 139 of the 164 academy graduates to have signed professional contracts with MLB clubs, MLB and the Australian federation said in a joint release. Players from Japan, New Zealand and South Africa have also come through the Australian academy.

There were 81 Australians active with major league, minor league and other professional teams during the 2010 season, up from 48 in 2000, MLB said. Infielders Luke Hughes of the Minnesota Twins, Brad Harman of the Philadelphia Phillies and Rich Thompson of the Los Angeles Angels played at the major league level after attending the academy.

This year’s program is scheduled to be held June 25 to Aug. 13 at Palm Meadows International Baseball Facility.

MLB had “no hesitation” in continuing to back the program, Nicholson added.

“I don’t know what it is about Australians but they seem, no matter what sport, to take it on with such vigor and punch above their weight consistently,” Nicholson said. “We wanted to have an opportunity to make some inroads in such a competitive landscape.”


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