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March 7, 2009
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
THE MODERATOR: Here is Craig Anderson, he's going to be pitching tomorrow, tomorrow's starting pitcher, Luke Hughes and manager Jon Deeble. First speak a little bit about being the starting pitcher in Game 1 for Team Australia.
CRAIG ANDERSON: I mean, it's a huge honor, first of all, to be given the first game in a big tournament like this. I'm just going to have to go out there and hopefully do what I'm capable of. The lead-up hasn't been too great the last start. I've got to make the adjustment and hopefully do better tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: How tough was it for you to get ready for this tournament and come over here and really be in pitching shape with some of the pitching limitations to get ready for the first game?
CRAIG ANDERSON: I mean, I've been trying to get ready to hopefully get myself a job, as well. It's been different preparation this year than normal. Normally I'd just be going into spring training and getting ready for that, but this year I've been getting myself in the best shape to be ready to pitch for this tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Luke, for you, you've played with a lot of these guys. We've seen a lot of runs in the exhibition games. Do you think the chemistry with the hitters and you guys feed off of each other? Do you think that has a lot to do with why the middle of the lineup has been so good in the exhibition games?
LUKE HUGHES: No doubt. There's been a lot of hitting leading up to this tournament, and we do feed off of each other. We have a lot of fun out there, which I think is the main thing, for us to enjoy it. Go out there and we're lucky enough to score some runs in the warm-up games there. But definitely this is a different atmosphere down here in Mexico, but as long as we play our normal game and do what we're capable of and not worry about the other people, we'll be fine.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking from a player aspect, how exciting is it to play in the World Baseball Classic against Mexico and some of the other teams you might be facing?
LUKE HUGHES: Definitely, it's always great representing your country and especially coming down here to Mexico. We're going to have hostile fans out there supporting their country, but hopefully we'll be able to shut them down a little bit and keep the crowd out of it and score some runs and see what we can do.
THE MODERATOR: Jon, speak a little bit about you've obviously been with Team Australia, been leading them. You've managed them to a silver medal in 2004. Speak a little bit about how some of the world competitions are going to be a little bit different from the World Baseball Classic.
JON DEEBLE: We don't treat them any differently. Any time we put on our Australian uniform, it's about pride for our country. The way we go about our business is we want to win every baseball game. I think back 10, 15 years ago we used to pretty much get beat by everybody, but our guys have improved an enormous amount. Baseball in our country has improved an enormous amount. We're coming here to win, and not just the first round. We want to go into the second and further on.
We have a lot of young players. We're very young, but we've got some very talented players.
Q. What would you say is the strength of your team according to what other teams are saying that maybe your offense is not as good as it can be at this moment?
JON DEEBLE: I don't know who said that, but we scored 11 runs against the Seattle Mariners, which was a pretty good effort. We scored five against the Milwaukee Brewers and we scored three against the White Sox.
You know, our guys have swung the bat well. As I said, we're very young. We don't have Major League, everyday starters in our lineup, but we've got an awful lot of talent coming through our system. I think you'll find in the next ten years we've got 28 players in the Major Leagues, and I think you'll find that that might double, even triple, in the next ten years.
But look, our defense is a strength, and our three, four, five, six hitters and our lead-off guy, so the top of our order is strong, and we've got to make sure we pitch good and defend strong.
Q. What's the difference between this year's club and three years ago?
JON DEEBLE: Three years ago we came here to get respect, to show people around the world that we know how to play the game and that we can play the game. Three years on we're looking to win, and I think that was evident in the silver medal. We had a very, very good chance of beating Cuba in the silver medal. Maybe things didn't go our way. We played Cuba twice last year. We beat them 5-0 and they beat us 1-0 in extra innings, so we're not afraid of Cuba. We're not afraid of Mexico and we're not afraid of South Africa. Our guys go out to play well and they go out to win.
Q. How important is this tournament for baseball in Australia? A win here, what does that do in terms of elevating the sport and the popularity against cricket and rugby and Australian rules football and the like?
LUKE HUGHES: No doubt. It's hard for baseball in Australia to compete against those sports when there's such a fan base for that. We're trying to promote the game in every aspect that we can do. You know, we'd never be able to compete against them, it's just not going to happen. If we get the fan base that was there 10 or 12 years ago, get some crowds out there, obviously us winning a few games helps us out, opens up some eyes, and people might start coming back. We had some good crowds down there in the Australian league, but yeah, it's definitely a work in progress.
CRAIG ANDERSON: The other thing, I think the reason those sports are so big is because they're like top three, top five or even the best in the world at the sport that they're playing, and I think the better we get, the higher our ranking gets, as well.
Q. Is that part of a mission, a motivational thing for you guys, above and beyond winning the game and playing well in the tournament, just to improve the level of the sport in your country?
JON DEEBLE: Absolutely. Absolutely. We've got over 100 players in professional baseball now in the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues, and we're trying to build a grass-roots base where we get more people playing the sport, and it's amazing what these players achieved with baseball being the No. 10 sport in Australia. To have 28 players in the Major Leagues and 100 in professional baseball, in a sport that's not ranked in at least the top eight or nine, it's amazing what these guys have achieved over the last ten years.
Q. How do you explain it? That's one thing I don't seem to understand. It's barely a top ten sport in your home country, and yet you produce so many Major League players and American professional players.
JON DEEBLE: Look, I think we have, and I put it down to Major League Baseball with our Australian academy, and a lot of these guys, younger guys, have all been through our Major League Baseball academy, and without that, baseball would be gone in Australia. We've got 12 players on this team that have come through the academy. We've had our second player in the Major Leagues come through the Major League Baseball academy, which is a live-in camp for two months in Australia where the kids are out on the field from 7:00 in the morning until 4:00 at night and then they go to school. Without that, there's no doubt -- and the assistance of Major League Baseball, the Australian Sports Commission and the ABF together, without that, you would not be seeing the results you've seen. We wouldn't have won a silver medal, we wouldn't probably be in this tournament, and we're getting a lot better.
These kids have got a passion in playing for their country. It's not about our coaching staff, it's about these guys achieving something for Australia.
Q. One more follow-up: With other sports more popular at home, how is it you came to enjoy baseball? You had to go looking for it, I assume, rather than it looking for you. How did that come about to bring you to the level that you guys are now?
LUKE HUGHES: I think you start at grass-roots with your tee ball, playing as a young kid there, and it's a natural progression to going to play baseball. I played football, as well, but without that academy Dave was talking about, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't have played baseball. I probably would have moved on and played footy instead, but with the academy there was incentive to go up there, and work our schools and it's taken players forward in their baseball careers, and this is where we are now. We're here ready to compete, and a lot of these guys wouldn't have been here without the help of, as Dave said, the help of Major League Baseball.
Q. So far your impressions of the baseball at Foro Sol? We see the ball is going to carry well, every perspective from the pitcher to the hitter. I saw you crushing home runs. And the manager, does it change anything?
CRAIG ANDERSON: I mean, especially that first round, I've never really seen anything like that. I've just got to pitch my game. I can't let that bother me. I've got to keep the guys off balance, make my pitches, pitch inside and stuff like that. I really can't let that play into effect.
LUKE HUGHES: Definitely it was a lot of fun out there today. I know the boys had a good old joke about it. Yeah, definitely, it's a small park. Everyone knows it and everyone saw it today. I guess from a hitter's perspective, not trying to do too much. You don't want to try to hit the home runs. It doesn't happen. You want to put quality swings on quality pitches and the rest will take care of itself, and if you square a few up, it's going to go out of here pretty well.
JON DEEBLE: Definitely, I don't think there's going to be any 1-0 ballgames. Geez, I don't think I'd like to be pitching here in this field, but I'd like to be playing 100 games here as a hitter.
Look, our game plan doesn't change. We don't play the game like the Asians. We play from the beginning. Our game plan is to get three two or three on and knock one out. I'm sure the other guys are doing the same thing. We're not kidding ourselves here. We know Mexico has got a great team and we know Cuba has got a great team. We think they can mix it with them, no doubt about it, but we do understand that they're very, very talented ballclubs, too.
Q. I asked the question of South Africa before, but what did you learn about your ballclub from what you saw on paper with the recent exhibition games, what you saw results-wise on the field versus what perhaps you were expecting?
JON DEEBLE: Yeah, look, defensively I thought we didn't do as good as what I know we can do. I think once we get out on the field with the adrenaline pumping, I think we're going to get a lot better defensively. They've really swung the bat well, so we're expecting them to carry that on through this tournament. We faced some touch pitching in those Major League games, and we might have knocked out 30 plus hits in three games. We faced some good guys out there that threw the ball well. That was a good lead-up to face the Mexican guys and also to face the Cuban pitchers.
There's a lot of history with Cuba. We go many years back when I played for Australia and they used to kick the crap out of us. But you know, that's changed now, too, and Velez, their manager told me a couple years ago, "We don't like playing you guys anymore."
We really match up well against Cuba. We're expecting tight games, and hopefully we can keep the ball in the ballpark when we're fielding.
Q. Luke, what do you like about your line-up and what you saw recently?
LUKE HUGHES: Definitely it's full of -- we've got some strong guys on this team. We've got a couple of guys that aren't playing professional baseball anymore, but they've come up in the three games and swung the bat fantastic.
You know, we're the type of club that there's guys in the middle part of that line-up that can hit the ball out of the park.
I mean, it's all positives for us in the last three games, have showed us that we can actually hit this pitching, as we know we can. A lot of the guys have played in the Major Leagues or have played AA or AAA baseball. There's not many difference between AA or AAA and the Major Leagues, it's just consistency. I think it's given a lot of confidence to the players in general that we can actually mix it with these guys and we can, and we've done it before. So there's definitely a lot of positives from it.
It's been a lot of fun the last couple of days, and I think it's opened up everyone's eyes that we're actually here to compete and we can actually win some of these games, and hopefully we can advance to the second round.
Q. How about the pitcher's perspective after the last few games?
CRAIG ANDERSON: I mean, Jon talks about it all the time. We've got to be aggressive, we've got to get ahead in the count and work from there. When we've been pitching behind in the count, we've been getting hurt. So we've got to be aggressive, get strike one and then go from there. If we're behind in the count, that's trouble.
Q. Do you know who will be the starter, the pitcher?
JON DEEBLE: Craig Anderson.
Q. Craig, because of the altitude and the way the Mexican players are used to it, could you talk a little about your style and if there will be any adjustments?
JON DEEBLE: What are you doing a scouting report or something?
LUKE HUGHES: We can't be giving up that.
CRAIG ANDERSON: I've just got to work down in the zone. That's the big thing.
JON DEEBLE: I think you're a double agent.
LUKE HUGHES: You're working for the Mexican team (laughter).
Q. How different is it pitching in the World Baseball Classic?
CRAIG ANDERSON: Obviously it's going to be a step up. I mean, this year there's more guys in the line-up that you've got to worry about. But at the same time you've got to make your pitches, whether it's a Claxton Shield guy, whether it's a club guy or whether it's an All-Star out there.
Q. How about pressure in Claxton Shield finals and the Classic?
CRAIG ANDERSON: I mean, same thing. It's going to be a step up. There's going to be however many thousands fans out here probably all rooting against us tomorrow, but just got to take it as another game, really.
JON DEEBLE: I think also with Craig he's had a lot of experience. He pitched in AAA for a long time. He was 7-9 last year in AAA. He was one of our main guys, pitched against Cuba at the Olympics and did a fantastic job. Probably should have won that first game against them. We got beat 5-3 by them, I think. But he's been one of our mainstays for the last eight or nine years.
He came into the role when we talked about who was going to start Game 1. We know Craig has been there, he's done that, the crowd is not going to bother him, and he's going to get out there and do his job.
Q. What do you consider are the most important skills of your team, because you have a young roster, so what can you tell us about the skills?
JON DEEBLE: Look, we're very young. What people don't understand, we lost nine Major League players off our team. Now, if USA lose nine players, they can replace them with nine players. Japan, the same. Probably Canada, Venezuela, Dominican. At this point we don't have the depth to replace nine Major League players. We've got some guys in the Japanese leagues that have been in the Major Leagues.
So yeah, we are young, but we're very talented kids that are 18, 19 years old, and we're going to build on this. Whatever happens in this tournament, we're going to build on it, and as I said, we've been really working very hard on defense and not getting more than -- having to get more than 27 outs. That's going to be a big part of our game plan. We need to make sure the pitchers keep the ball down in this park, pitch down in the zone.
One concern, I think there's enough of the career umpires that play, but they have a very high strike zone, too. I think the American umpires will be umpiring. Hopefully they give the guys a chance to throw the ball down in the zone.
Q. Netherlands today defeated the Dominican Republic. What can you tell us if you are trying to be the surprise in this pool, because you have Cuba and also Mexico. I think that you will try to be the surprise, no?
JON DEEBLE: Yeah, we'd like to surprise them, no question. That's what we're here for. We're not here to compete, we're here to win. That's the most important thing.
We're not scared of these guys. The Netherlands aren't scared of the Dominicans. Our baseball has come a long way. Whatever happens, the result out here the next two days, we understand they're tough teams, but we're not taking a backward step. You won't see any of the guys take a backward step. I think back in 2002 we had an all-out brawl against Cubans in Australia, and I think from that day these guys thought, we play for real. We're not going to take a step backwards.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you guys for coming out. We thank the coaching staff and the players, as well. Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts