By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Entering a team in Australia's Baseball League by 2014 and building a permanent facility was now in the sights of Baseball New Zealand after their credible performance at last month's World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament, according to the sport's chief executive.
The Diamondblacks, a team of locals, expatriates and North Americans with New Zealand heritage, made the final of the four-team tournament but were beaten by seventh-ranked Taiwan 9-0.
New Zealand had been unranked prior to the tournament, but after a 12-2 win over Thailand and 10-6 over the Philippines they were given a world ranking of 29 by baseball authorities, something that Ryan Flynn said had vindicated their leap of faith in inviting the team to the tournament.
"They took a gamble," Flynn told Reuters in a telephone interview from Auckland. "We were unranked. We came out of nowhere but ... they trusted we could put a team on the field that would represent the tournament, country and global baseball and we did.
"I think everybody around the world is quite pleased with jumping up to 29 in the world."
The two losses to Taiwan, 10-0 in pool play and then 9-0 in the final, had been a lot closer than the scorelines suggested Flynn said, with the Taiwanese scoring eight runs in the fifth innings of the first game and six in the fourth innings of the final.
"Taiwan are one of the true super powers of the sport, and we matched them for half of two games before our inexperience and lack of depth showed through.
"But I (have never been) as proud of a group of men in my life. Our staff, and coaches were world class and our players believed they could play with anyone in the world and used it to showcase their talent."
The impact of the qualifying tournament had been even more far reaching for the sport that struggles for attention in rugby-mad New Zealand.
People in the United States had "come out of the woodwork" asking Flynn if he wanted help with coaching and development, while the ABL were receptive to allowing an Auckland-based team to enter their competition.
"There is talk that our performance will speed up that process to have a franchise in Auckland," he said.
"I would say (by) 2014 at the latest. I used to say at the earliest but we have momentum that we do not want to let die."
The ABL currently has six teams, with Major League Baseball contributing about $3.2 million a year to offset operational costs and the cross-Tasman leagues in other sports that already operated were successful models they could emulate, he said.
New Zealand-based teams play in Australian's National Rugby League, A-League soccer competition and Australian Basketball League, while a joint netball competition also operates.
"The model is there (and) ...we think out of the gate we would be one of the best supported teams in the league.
"We would also have an advantage in that we would have just one team that makes it easier for us to coalesce talent, resources and sponsors."
The second priority for BNZ was to find a permanent, purpose-built venue that would house the potential ABL team, host international games and provide training and conditioning facilities.
The organization was looking at three possible sites for the facility already, which could cost between NZ$3-$5 million ($2.46-$4.1 million) to construct.
Once a team was established and it was attracting regular revenues, a bigger facility could be in the pipeline within three to five years, Flynn said.
"We'd like to get to a NZ$12 to NZ$15 million facility, which isn't Yankee Stadium but it's enough to scale up for bigger tournaments, host international teams, maybe even host the next WBC qualifier here.
"We believe Major League Baseball will help with their Baseball Tomorrow Fund in helping to build a stadium.
"That will be pretty crucial for this country to see a stadium. It's important for that to happen."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)