Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Q&A with Ian Chappell

Questions and answers with Ian Chappell (pictured above) a former Australian Test Cricket captain and he is currently a sports television commentator.

1. (NH) The Chappell family name is synonymous with cricket yet baseball is a sport you have had an interest in for many years. When did you start playing baseball and what attracted you to the sport?
(IC) My father played Claxton Shield baseball for South Australia in 1947 & 48 as a catcher so from the time I could walk there was always equipment around the house and I used to play on my own in the backyard and then with Martin (my father) when he came home from work or on the weekends. I was the bat boy for Glenelg baseball club from 1949 for a few years and then I played for St Leonards primary school my last year. That was 1955, the first year that baseball was played in the primary schools in the Glenelg district. I was made captain (Martin was the coach) and I pitched the first game. The catcher kept dropping the third strike and this didn't please Martin so he told me I was catching the second game. I told him I didn't want to catch but he just put the gear on me and pushed me out on to the diamond. I think I closed my eyes but the first pitch stuck in my glove and I never wanted to play any other position after that.

(IC) St Leonards won the championship of the district and I made a State U12 team.

(IC) I played in the minor grades at Glenelg for about three years after playing football in the morning for Prince Alfred College (PAC). When I reached the seconds at PAC I had to stop playing baseball (apart from the holidays) because the football matches were played in the afternoon and the school expected you to play sport for them.

(IC) In 1959 at age 16 I was selected in the Glenelg A Grade side for the first game of the season (we were on school holidays) and I held my place for four games (playing left-field and occasionally filling in at short-stop). When I got back to school I told the headmaster - Jack Dunning, a former New Zealand Test cricketer, I wanted to play baseball because I had injured my knee playing football and didn't want to damage it further. He agreed and so I played that season for Glenelg A grade. About the sixth or seventh game the catcher didn't turn up (we were playing a televised game and they started at 12 o'clock) and the coach came to me about ten minutes before the game started and said you're catching. I hadn't caught for a couple of years but I got by okay. They suspended the A Grade catcher for two games so I did the next game and had a really good game getting three hits and catching well. At selection for the next game the coach said what are we going to do about the catching position and a state player (first baseman Rod Barton) said; "Let the kid catch, he's going to be alright." They did and I was the A Grade catcher until I retired from baseball in 1966 when I started to tour with the Australian cricket team.

(IC) I should point out that it was winter baseball in those days.

(IC) Glenelg won their first ever premiership in 1962 and in 1963 I went to England to play in the Lancashire League and missed the baseball season. In 1964 I was selected in the South Australian side and made the Australian side chosen at the end of the carnival. I played in the 1965 & 66 side and was again chosen as a catcher in the Australian side in 1966.

(IC) I had an equal love of cricket and baseball and really enjoyed my time playing the game. Both Greg and Trevor played A Grade baseball for Glenelg. They both played short-stop and Greg stopped when he went to play for Somerset in County cricket in 1968. Trevor basically stopped once they started playing summer baseball in Adelaide.

2. (NH) Having experienced baseball at different stages of your life (pre and post playing cricket for Australia) what skills and experiences has baseball provided you with?
(IC) I played baseball because I loved the game. When I retired from cricket in 1980 I played that season in winter baseball in Sydney and then the following summer season with Mosman. I continued to play winter baseball in Sydney until 1985 and then I started again in 1993 and finished around the turn of the century. In 1994 I got involved with the Interport Masters team through Kevin Cantwell who I'd played against when he was the NSW catcher. We remained friends through cricket and baseball and he got me back to catching for the World Masters in Brisbane in 1994. I played with Interport through until 2001 when we won the gold medal at Newcastle in the over 35's. I caught my last game aged 58.

(IC) I loved catching because you had so much involvement in the game and I used to enjoy the mind battle with the hitter. Catching helps with strategy and also handling people, trying to get the best out of the pitcher. Sport teaches you so many lessons that are useful in everyday life - the main one being that it's a competitive world and you better be ready to compete.

(IC) I really enjoyed all levels of baseball when I was young and was reminded of this again when I came back to the game after retiring from cricket. One of my great thrills in sport was to travel to Phoenix, Arizona and play for an Australian over 50's side in a tournament that was (loosely) called the World Series. This was in 1999 and we played in some of the major league spring training venues.

3. (NH) Your nephew Jonathan was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays and he played Minor League Baseball in 2004 with them. What was it like seeing him honing his sporting skills towards baseball and then signing with a two time Baseball World Series winning team?
(IC) I was delighted when Jon went to the USA to play College baseball and then when he came back and went to the Academy on the Gold Coast they decided to turn him into a catcher. I went up and spent some time with him while he was at the Academy and as I'd retired at that stage I gave him my catcher's glove. I followed him quite closely and I still have the box score in my computer of the game when he hit his first minor league home run.

4. (NH) The Australian summer sporting landscape has become quite competitive in recent years with cricket, soccer, basketball and the return of the Australian Baseball League. Having seen many sports test this market what advice would you give to baseball in terms of increasing participation in local leagues and patronage at ABL games?
(IC) Playing sport professionally in Australia is a costly business flying and accommodating teams is an expensive exercise. I'm not sure the ABL can survive without MLB's financial help but the game has a good following and the thing that will help it get more exposure is a player or two making a big name in the US major leagues. The thing is then to capitalise through the Australian media but that is a very competitive arena and is easier said than done.

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