Questions and answers with Grahame Cassel (pictured above) who participated in all ten seasons of the previous Australian Baseball League, which makes him one of only fifteen players to do so. Cassel played for the Parramatta Patriots, Sydney Blues and Sydney Storm. He also represented Australia in baseball internationally. Cassel is currently a coach with the Sydney Blue Sox and at Hills Indoor Sports Centre
1. (NH) What do you consider to be some of your top baseball career highlights?
(GC) Baseball career highlights:
- The first time I was selected for New South Wales was a personal highlight
- The first time I was selected to play for the Australian National Baseball team was another personal highlight
- Winning the 1985 Golden Glove Award as the best fielder of the Claxton Shield and acknowledgement as the best fielder in all of Australia was very special
- Winning the Claxton Shield in 1989... Although that victory was slightly diluted as Queensland didn't participate
- Winning the ABL Championship Series with the Sydney Blues in 1995-96
- All the tours I've been on with all the fantastic people I've played with over the 40 years of playing for New South Wales... The Intercontinental Cup in 1985 which was played in Edmonton, Canada... Leading up to this we played in a tournament called the U.S. Open which consisted of six teams and was played in Palm Springs, California... Both combined for a great experience... The team got on fantastically well and the chemistry was really great... We performed to our ability at that time, but at that time we were very much a minnow in world baseball... But we came fifth or sixth out of eight teams at the Intercontinental Cup, which was a decent result for us at that time.
(GC) Team wise it would have to be the Gold Coast/Daikyo Dolphins in the first ABL during the early 1990s... They won back to back ABL Championships in 1990-91 and 1991-92... They had David Nilsson, John Jaha, Troy O'Leary... Their imports went on to play in the Major Leagues as well as having the Nilsson brothers (Dave, Bob and Gary)... Australian Hall of Fame pitcher Adrian Meagher too... They were consistently the best team I played over a two or three year period... That was a tremendous team and they won a couple of championships in a row.
(GC) As a pitcher during a significant proportion of my ABL career trying to get David Nilsson out was extremely challenging, which just about all pitchers in the league experienced... I did get him out a few times... He might have had 20 at-bats against me and he would have hit over .500... He pretty much had the wood on me.
(GC) Craig Watts from the Adelaide Giants had an all or nothing swing... I fancied my chances against him as an off-speed pitcher... But he handled me very well and hit me for some long balls which are still in orbit... NASA is still tracing those balls.
(GC) I always went in when I was batting or pitching with confidence, but I never went in thinking I've got it over this guy... As a pitcher, now that I look back on it I don't think I had it over anyone, but I felt I was pretty consistent at generally getting people out... I went in there with a job to do and most of the time I'm pleased to say I achieved it... There was a few failures but I reckon I came out on the positive side of the ledger at the end of my career.
3. (NH) Having experienced both versions of the ABL what are some differences you have noticed between the two?
ABL differences as a player and now a coach:
(GC) During the first ABL we tried to get a business model similar to the one we've got now... Having it run from a central point... That got voted out... All the teams were individually owned which eventually led to the downfall of it... Private ownership led to some questionable payments contrary to the salary cap... Some teams went under because the business people who owned the team over-committed themselves and didn't have the crowds or TV money they should have got... So one or two teams folded and then the next minute the league is gone... The whole thing fell over and it was really disappointing... It took over ten years to come back... I feel real sorry for guys like Matty Bennett that were just too young when the old ABL fell over... Now he's in his 30s with a job, wife, kids and a mortgage... He can't afford to play in this one so he missed out altogether, and he would have been an absolute superstar... If he said "yes" to the Blue Sox this year he would be a successful pitcher in our ABL now... But he's got his commitments he's made in life and he can't do it... I feel sorry for him and other guys at that same age who missed out altogether... This ABL is run from a central point... Major League Baseball's got a lot of input into it... If MLB had become involved with the previous ABL I reckon we would be a much more major sport and we wouldn't have had that ten year gap, and it would have kept snowballing with MLB money and influence, and I think it would be a heaps better situation now. But, we've had to more or less start from scratch again... The last ABL during the third and fourth year is pretty much the same playing field as what this one is... The athletes are bigger and stronger and faster, but when I was playing there wasn't so much gym work/weight lifting, but it doesn't necessarily mean their better.
(GC) During the previous ABL we were aligned to the Toronto Blue Jays and we used to get a coach plus four players... We had a real good relationship with the Blue Jays... Most of the time the players were very high A Ball players and some only two years on from the ABL were in the big leagues... This time around the ABL is organising all the imports and we tell them what we might think we need in terms of positions to cover, and they advertise in America and we get whatever becomes available... So we haven't really got someone over there handpicking them... We've had Brandon Barnes who is in the big leagues right now... So he was fantastic... It's all run from a central point so we've got less say and we just tell them what positions we want and we get given someone... So that's a bit of a difference.
4. (NH) When it comes to your baseball passion what is the fuel which keeps you going?
(GC) It just seems natural to me to get up and go to baseball.
(GC) When I was a youngster watching my father play in the Claxton Shield he was looked up to and the common thing I got was, "If you can be half the player your father was you're going to be a good player"... So I became determined I was going to be as good as my dad, so that drove me... I was always first to training and last to leave... I wanted to play Claxton Shield Baseball and I wanted to play for Australia... When I was a kid there wasn't any Major League dream and there was no one over there playing, and it seemed like an impossible dream... I didn't have the foresight as a young kid to realise I could have gone overseas and all of a sudden Craig Shipley did... He had the foresight... He went over to college when he was 18... Thinking back now if I'd of done that I've got no doubt I would have done okay over there... Injuries stop a lot of guys, so if I'd remained injury free I reckon maybe I might of made the Major Leagues, maybe I might not of... I reckon I would have been a fair shake when I was in my mid-20s, when Craig went over and he made the big leagues I was like 25-26... So the scouts all started coming thinking there must be another Craig Shipley in Australia... I had several of them come and talk to me about the possibility of going over, and when they realised I was 25-26 and just married, buying a house, and all of that sort of thing they realised I was a little bit too old to go over and spend six years hard slog on hardly any money... I would've had to go over and enter in at AA or AAA level, but I wasn't good enough to do that... I reckon if I'd of gone over when I was 17 or 18 I might have been more of a chance.
(GC) I just love sport!... Now my son's in cricket and I've started to coach cricketers on fielding and throwing a cricket ball... I get just as much enjoyment with cricket as I do coaching baseball... I'm able to do both.
When it comes to cricket fielding/throwing coaching or the full range of baseball coaching Cassel offers private tuition and indoor machine services at Hills Sports. Please refer to this link to keep up to date with the Sydney Blue Sox
For all my baseball themed books please refer to these links:
Aussies World Baseball Classic Experiences from 2006 to 2017 and also available from United States Amazon
Aussie Baseball Musings and also available from United States Amazon
Aussies in the Majors and also available from United States Amazon
Boomerang Baseball and also available from United States Amazon
The American Dream: From Perth to Sacramento and also available from United States Amazon