Australia to feature in Little League

Australia will have a team in the Little League World Series for the first time in 2013, exposing some of the country’s best young baseballers to a television viewing audience of 40 million people.

Previously the best local team had to win through the Asia-Pacific region to qualify for the annual tournament held in the United States – a task that had thus far proved beyond an outfit from Australia.

But that all changes next year with the Australian national champion granted automatic entry into youth baseball’s biggest international tournament.

Now the fourth-largest country in the world in terms of little league participation, Australia will join Canada, Mexico and Japan as nations with automatic entry to the competition for 12- and 13-year-olds.

The US gets eight spots for the 16-team competition, which has showcased future greats of the game including the Mets’ All Star Jason Bay (National League rookie of the year in 2004) and Jason Varitek (three-time MLB all-star and two-time World Series winner with Boston).

Australian Baseball Federation CEO Brett Pickett said the automatic entry had been granted based on increased participation, and that in six years since the launch of little league in Australia, there are now 400 chartered local leagues.

This year, Perth Metro North beat the Yarra Rangers 29-2 in four innings to take out the national title, and represented Australia at the Asia Pacific Championships where they lost to the Philippines 13-2.

Pickett said little league was a great opportunity for kids to get international exposure in their sport.

“The mates you play with at a community level are the mates you progress up the path with,” Pickett said.

“It’s a great opportunity for a group of kids to progress from their local charter team in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, wherever they are, to the world stage and be televised to 40 million people.”

They can move up to under-18s international world championships where they might catch the eye of talent scouts.

Despite the rapid growth of the sport in Australia over the past six years, including the relaunch of the Australian Baseball League, Pickett says there’s a long way to go before baseball challenges cricket as the national sport.

“We’re under no illusions – we don’t think we’re about to knock cricket off the perch anytime soon, but there’s a very good place for baseball in Australia and it has an extremely strong position in the Australian sporting landscape,” he said.

The World Series will begin next year on August 15 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.