The story of Australian Baseball's first ever talent scout
THE Australian cricket team's fielding coach Mike Young looked on at the weekend's Major League Opening Series at the SCG like a kid in a candy story.
Up he sat in a corporate box for the first of the two-game series on Saturday night, alongside Test captain
Michael Clarke at a venue close to his heart, enjoying a beer and marvelling at what was unfolding.
Young sat in the stands with genuine pride in his eyes, for he was Australian Baseball's first ever talent scout.
Young set in motion a trend which has now seen 31 young men from Down Under ply their trades in the world's top league.
Since then, the proud American with a firm handshake and strong drawl has pioneered the fields of coaching … in both baseball and cricket.
Young created history in 1999 when he coached Team Australia to an amazing Intercontinental Cup victory, in Sydney, beating the might of Cuba in the final.
The next year, Young was head hunted by then-Australian cricket coach John Buchanan to go and work with the Baggy Greens.
He was an instant success in the 11-man game, and has been highly respected by Aussie cricketers ever since, with Clarke in awe of what he has brought to the team.
Here is Mike Young's story …
Mike, what do you think of the way they've converted the SCG into a baseball venue?
"Unbelievable. The transformation that's been done here - that was the thing I was really looking forward to.
"I've seen a lot of games but I wanted to see how they transformed it. If you didn't know any better, you'd think we'd be in a big-league stadium."
I was speaking to an American baseball fan and he said that he hasn't seen anything like this. He's been to the great ball grounds in America, so that's saying something …
"This is special. I'm sure a lot of people played a part and they all deserve a pat on the back. This is amazing."
The Australian cricket team - how much are you enjoying your time being back there and what exactly brought you back in to the fold?
"Well, I'm enjoying it immensely. Out of all the things I've done in sport it's like the special team for me.
"So to be back with the guys, I'm very, very happy. And I think a lot of it had to do with Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann, especially Michael.
"I'm just really pleased to be back with them."
When it comes to the Baggy Green, there's no team that cherishes its cap more than the Australian cricket team …
"It's been magnificent to be a part of that again. I mean, we've had as good a summer as any Australian team's ever had.
"The series win in South Africa, for me, that was the culmination.
"The Ashes, I think, is awesome with its historical significance.
"But to beat South Africa in South Africa, that showed exactly where we're at."
What were the celebrations like afterwards? The boys would have been so exhausted, but it was such an enormous achievement to beat the No.1-ranked team …
"Yeah, the celebrations were great. I mean, everyone enjoyed themselves, but a lof of guys then had to go play T20.
"We had another two T20 matches against South Africa, and we won them.
"And now they have a World Cup."
Mike, what got you involved in the Australian cricket team initially?
"Well I was coaching Australia in baseball, and John Buchanan was the coach.
"And he came and asked me if I could see any things that could be adopted by cricket.
"I believed at that time there was, and I talked to him about those things.
"Then he had me come and address Stephen (Waugh) while he was the captain, and he had me come and address the team.
"Within a year, Ricky Ponting became the captain, and then they took me to the 2003 World Cup.
"That's where I started, and I left baseball and I've been involved in cricket ever since.
"It's been magnificent for me. It was a life-changing experience."
Did you know much about cricket before Buck approached you?
"Well I'd been living in Australia 20 years, so to say I knew a lot about it I won't say that.
"But by that time I'd gained an understanding of certain things.
"The nuances and idiosyncrasies - no. I wouldn't say I knew them.
"And I kind of like that, because I don't want to know all that stuff. I don't want to think I know all that stuff, because then I lose my angle, my perspective.
"And I think that's one of the biggest that I benefit from, because I come from a different perspective with this background.
"It's been magnificent, tremendous."
Mike, you look at the top MLB players - they're unbelievable. How do the top cricket fielders rank against those guys?
"Well Michael (Clarke), Michael's a magnificent fielder, you know?
"It's hard to compare the two sports, and I have people ask me about it all the time.
"But I'm reluctant to do so, because a lot of cricketers, had they been brought up in baseball would have been excellent.
"Had they have played in the Major Leagues, I don't know. And I'm sure had a lot of Major League baseball players, had they played cricket, would have been excellent.
"It's just a different game, you know? I think people don't actually appreciate sometimes how hard a baseball is hit.
"Because the question I always get is 'why do the outfielders always wear gloves?' Well, it's not that they can't catch with their bare hands, but it's supposed to be hard to get hits in baseball, so you have to earn it.
"It's just different - it's not wrong, it's just different."
Can you tell me about your baseball coaching background?
"Well, I coached Australia for many years.
"I had a great career there. I was really fortunate - I was two-time international coach of the year during the transition period when professional s were starting to be allowed to play.
"I was managing in the minor leagues at Baltimore, Toronto and Cleveland, so I've had the best of both worlds."
So you coached Australia to its Intercontinental Cup victory in 1999?
"Jon Deeble was my assistant coach, and he took on the team after I left in 2000.
"He's been with them ever since. Before that I won the Intercontinental Cup in '99."
How amazing was it to win the Intercontinental Cup?
"That was right here in Sydney. It was right before the Olympics. It was magnificent."
And Dave Nilsson was part of that team?
"Yeah, David was our catcher."
What made David such a special player in the Major League?
"David was as smart (pointing to his head) a baseball player, catcher especially, as anyone.
"He was amazing in the way he could read a game. He was just a tremendous player, he was a great hitter and a very good catcher.
"But it was all about his game sense for me."
Mike, how impressed were you with Team Australia's 5-0 win over the Diamondbacks. They were outstanding, and do you see hopefully another golden era like when you were in charge?
"It's hard you know, because they've changed it. There's no Olympics for baseball and, you know, the golden era is guys getting to the big leagues.
"I mean, Australia can't compete on a day-in, day-out basis with these teams. It's great to see them win the game, but, trust me, the Diamondbacks didn't play to their potential.
"I'm not taking anything away from Australia. All I'm saying is the golden era, as far as wins and losses I think is past for Australia.
"I think the golden era now is how many players they progress to the Major League level.
"That's really the barometer you look at, because the tournaments are different now.
"There's no Olympics. Now it's about how many players are playing. And I think that's fair enough."
Deebs (Deeble) has spoken about how there are so many talent scouts - over 20 in Australia now. With all that said, you must be hopeful of seeing not only those numbers continue, but progress over time …
"Well I think they will. They have to be careful though. When you're signing people, you have to sign them for the right reasons.
"You've got to do the right thing - get them an education and get them into college. It's funny you say that because when I started in the game there wasn't one scout.
"I was the first guy to bring guys overseas."
Really? You were the first one?
"Yeah. So to see these guys doing that now, it's just good. It's good to watch that progression."
You must be so proud then. This Opening Series is really thanks to guys like yourself, Craig Shipley, Nilsson, all those guys …
"That's right, that's exactly right."
Mike, what are some of the main parts of baseball fielding that you're trying to teach at the Australian cricket team?
"Well, if you watch these infielders right now, you'll see the preparation and the position they take as the ball crosses the plate - it's called the split step.
"It's a little different - these guys (baseballers) are more stationary, but there's always a lot of talk about the arm strength and how good these guys throw, and they do.
"But a lot of the cricketers throw good too. It's just different though. Baseballers throw more - they're consistently throwing, so you can't really compare the two."
I saw you on The Cricket Show recently - you were talking about how important it is to have power in your feet when you throw the ball. That's one of your big things isn't it?
"Everything's in your feet. I believe you do everything in your feet. How you move your feet really dictates everything about how you're going to release a ball.
"How you throw, your movement. The feet dicate everything - they're the most important things."
Mike, the Aussie cricket team under Boof Lehmann ... What have you noticed about the cultural changes with what he's brought in?
"Well Darren's done a good job. All he's done is keep it nice and simple.
"He's just gone back to the Australian way, which is an uncomplicated type of approach, and that's what he's done.
"He's taken all the complications out and is letting the guys play. I think that works well for the Australian culture.
"He hasn't added a lot of stuff; he's just gone back to the basics."
The boys are catching so well at the moment too. How much of a part have you played in that?
"I don't know - I believe it's the most important thing, but I also believe that you've got to do certain training.
"I'm not into gimmicks, I'm not into doing a lot of different stuff, a lot of little drills.
"I'm into catching high balls, catching in the slips and uncomplicated stuff.
"I think the players appreciate that, and I think it keeps them fresh.
"There's no use in doing stuff, like a pitcher, going out and practicing right field. They ain't ever going to play it.
"So, just keep it simple and do the things that help you win games, and help you become a better player.
"That's what this is all about. And that's what I think I've done."
Mike, Deebs has spoken about hopefully getting a dedicated baseball stadium in Sydney. Guys like yourself, Dave Nilsson, they're all helping bring lots of money into the Australian economy by scouting so many guys. Is that something you'd think, realistically, we might see in the next few years?
"Well I've said this for a long time - if the game is going to progress in this country you have to have the facilities. That's it.
"You cannot progress the game if you don't have facilities. You're not going to get this (the transformed SCG). But you've got to have proper facilities.
"You can't have baseball on football fields, and you've got to have a base for 12 months that you can build and progress and develop around, so everybody knows 'this is where baseball's played'.
"Until they do that, they're going to be pushing up hill a bit.
"I think they're doing a good job. You've got to start somewhere. But you've got to have facilities, you've got to have ball parks.
"This game is a specially-designed game, so you've got to have a baseball field.
"They've got one in Perth, they've got a few around the place. They've done a good job redeveloping the one in Brisbane.
"They're starting to try and make the efforts, but Sydney is our (baseball) capital - our biggest city.
"This is our hot spot, and we've got to have it done here if we're going to go forward."