History of the ABL
The Australian Baseball League, also known as the ABL, emerged in 2010 in a joint venture with Major League Baseball. The league was conceived when MLB and the Australian Baseball Federation came together to consider how they could further baseball in Australia. The agreement was reached with Major League Baseball owning 75% of the league, and the Australian Baseball Federation retaining the remaining 25% of the ABL.
The Australian Baseball League originally featured six-teams in 2010 but has since expanded to 8 teams. Each team plays 40 games a year, which runs from November through February. Each season concludes with the Championship Series, highlighting the best of 3 series, with the winner awarded with the Claxton Shield. The Claxton Shield is named after Norrie Claxton, an Australian sports philanthropist, and the South Australian Baseball League’s first president from 1913 to 1929.
The Platform of the Australian Baseball League
As a way to expand the talent pool encompassing Major League Baseball, MLB is affiliated with various leagues that play throughout MLB’s offseason. The Arizona Fall League features minor league prospects, including foreign players that compete in a six-team league. Other baseball prospects utilize the Caribbean Leagues, which include the Dominican Winter League, Mexican Pacific League, Puerto Rican League, and Venezuelan Winter League.
Australia’s MLB Trailblazers
However, much less discussed is the Australian Baseball League, which has produced an influential following since its inception in 2010. The ABL features the most skilled players from Australia, New Zealand, along with top prospects from around the world. The ABL has endured tremendous growth since 2010, particularly for players who desire a platform during MLB’s offseason. We have already seen quality prospects from throughout the globe compete in the ABL, where they have showcased their talents while aspiring to make a Major League Baseball Opening Day roster.
Since the initiation of the Australian Baseball League, we have habitually seen players from the ABL surface on Major League Baseball teams, where we have witnessed 41 players make their major league debut who had previously played in the Australian Baseball League.
While the ABL serves as a platform to achieve exposure, the league also gives players access to live game situations in the offseason while maintaining players’ strength and conditioning. Because of the toll on the body that pitchers face during the season, the top prospects featured in the Australian Baseball League are primarily hitters. The Australian Baseball League features a high level of competition, where players use the opportunity to remain competitive while earning an extra income in the offseason.
Wait, Didi Gregorious Played in the ABL?
Mariekson Julius Gregorius, better known as Didi Gregorious, was born in the Netherlands before moving to Curacao as a child. Because his teammates had difficulty pronouncing Mariekson, his given name, he has referred to himself as Didi since arriving in the United States.
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Didi comes from an extensive family of baseball players, featured by his grandfather, Juan Antonio Gregorious, a 6’7″ pitcher attributed to as one of the greatest pitchers to ever compete in Curacao. Didi’s father, Johannes Gregorius, played a considerable role in Didi’s upbringing, where he was a professional pitcher for the Amsterdam Pirates of the Honkbal Hoofdklasse, which is the highest level of baseball in the Netherlands. Didi’s mother, Sheritsa Stroop, also played professionally, where she played for the Dutch National softball team. Johannes, Jr., Didi’s older brother, too pitched in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse, including the Italian Baseball League.
Founded in 2010, Didi played for the inaugural Canberra Cavalry team of the Australian Baseball League during the 2010-2011 season. While Didi only registered a .189 batting average over his 36 games with Canberra Cavalry, he was named the Defensive Payer of the Year. While applying his accomplishments from the Australian Baseball League, he later went on to play for the Dutch National Team, where he won the 2011 Baseball World Cup, an international baseball tournament that began in 1938 but discontinued after the 2011 Baseball World Cup.
Didi Gregorious finally debuted in the majors on September 5, 2012, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Didi played in Cincinnati and Arizona before he made a name for himself as a member of the New York Yankees, where he took over the starting shortstop role after the retirement of New York Yankees legend, Derek Jeter. The Australian Baseball League played a massive role in Didi’s success, where he was able to improve his abilities while building his confidence as a player.
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The ABL Featured Ronald Acuña Too?
Born in Venezuela on December 18, 1997, Ronald Jose Acuna Blanco Jr., better known as Ronald Acuna, was destined for greatness from a young age. Like Didi, Acuna comes from a family of professional baseball players, including his grandfather and father, who both played in the minors. Acuna also has an uncle, Jose Escobar, who played for the Cleveland Indians in the ’90s. Acuna’s cousins have too emerged in the majors, including Alcides and Kelvim Escobar. Lastly, Luisangel Acuna, Acuna’s younger brother, is currently in the Texas Rangers system.
While Acuna signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2014 for $100,000, he began his career with the Gulf Coast Braves, the rookie-level affiliate of the Braves. Acuna was soon promoted to the Danville Braves, the advanced rookie-level affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
Ronald Acuña Jr. hits a home run for the Melbourne Aces
Acuna then went on to play for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League in the winter of 2016, where he hit .375, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 13 SB through 20 games, on his way to being declared a 2016 ABL All-Star. While Acuna only played 20 games with the Aces, he made a considerable impact on both the league and his teammates, where he helped bring attention to the league. As Acuna reached base in 19 of his 20 games, his Aces teammates penned him “The Answer to Everything.”
Acuna became the number 1 prospect heading into the 2018 MLB season, where on April 25, 2018, he made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves. With the remarkable season he put together, Acuna was named the National League Rookie of the Year. The sky is the limit for Acuna, where his visit to the Australian Baseball League for the Melbourne Aces revealed his potential.
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