About an hour before the first game of the Sydney Blue Sox home series against the Perth Heat on Friday night, November 29, the Heat's Field Manager Steve Fish and the entire Heat Organisation was issued with a "Priority Player List", and told that one of the listed players needed to be in the line up at all times, which resulted in a late line up change and the unscheduled exclusion of a Heat Oriole import player.
As of Friday the Heat already had two (priority players), which consisted of Sam Kennelly, a regular in their line up this season and Ben Shorto, who is recovering from shingles following a double bout of cancer. Subsequently, Shorto was prudently managed and was there as a reserve with a carefully monitored workload. During the Heat's Sydney series they intended to reintroduce Luke Hughes to the field at second base thus taking Sam Kennelly's spot. Tim Kennelly also declared himself eligible and the Heat wanted to start him back with a reduced throwing program as a designated hitter. Therefore, three local players with notable credentials (two playing field positions) were all going to play and be managed appropriately due to their recent return to playing. Instead, the ABL and ABF told Steve Fish how to manage this situation by issuing a "Priority Player List."
According to sources close to the Perth Heat this was not entirely unexpected as the concept had been discussed and the Heat had been told it would be implemented. A simple blanket rule was proposed that a player from the "Priority Player List" must be in the line up at all times. However, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of baseball knows a concept such as this is filled with complications, i.e. it fails to adequately consider the game fitness of players, not to mention the concerns of people like coaches and other management staff who do not like it because it takes player development out of the hands of club staff who have a much more closer knowledge of a player's health, well-being and development plan. It would subsequently appear to be a vote of no confidence by the ABL and ABF towards club coaching and management staff. It had been, wisely, rumoured the rule would be cancelled and a rumour given validation by the fact no "Priority Player List" was issued to the Heat for the first four weeks of competition.
There appears to be no disputing the intent of the rule i.e. giving local and young players game time in the ABL. However, for a program like the Heat's which has a successful management history of introducing young players to elite competition, it is a significant concern that they or any other ABL club be dictated terms for player use, which may compromise the health and well-being of players and team performance. There are simply better ways to do it, which allow for greater flexibility to accommodate variables such as: players recovering from injury or ill health or those returning to game play on a graduated program. Season at-bat targets for a range of players is generally not a problem and likewise season inning targets for a range of pitchers, but this would be more prudently managed, and put the best interests of the player first, if such playing targets are instead negotiated with ABF/Baseball Western Australia High Performance staff (or equivalent state/territory bodies for other ABL clubs), who regularly evaluate skill level and player development needs, and put a plan in place tailored for that athlete, rather than a blanket rule.
It should be noted the current "Priority Player List" and associated rules excludes pitching, and as a side note the ABL has no restrictions on import pitching, which highlights a lack of consistency with the rule and its intended function.
When asked about the "Priority Player List" the Perth Heat's Chairman of the Board, Geoff Hooker, stated in reply: "It's not just a Heat issue, it's a national issue and we are frustrated by the situation."
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The American Dream: From Perth to Sacramento and also available from United States Amazon