Grant Balfour was interviewed over the phone on MLB Network program Hot Stove yesterday, an occasion he used to talk about his charity work, time in Australia during the offseason and his goals for the year to come. The Big Aussie Unit was indeed in Mexico, with his wife, earlier this year as part of the Smile Train charity as we featured on DRaysBay a few weeks ago. Check the link for lots of pictures from Grant and his wife's visit.
Aside from that, Balfour expressed his optimism towards baseball development in Australia, as there is something happening down there according to him. He had the opportunity to check out all the different states in the country and realized that many teams, including Brisbane, were "really pushing the game" in a "strengthened league" filled with "really good players".
Considering Australia's closeness with the US, there are many reasons to see and hope for more development of baseball down under in the near future. In a country were the NBA and the NFL have begun making their presence known as well, MLB has already made significant strides.
It has yet to take hold as a popular sport, but Baseball is growing in that country once again, due in part to the work of Grant Balfour's father.
David Balfour has been a pioneer in re-establishing the game in Australia. At one point he was the owner and GM of Sydney's baseball team, the Blue Sox, but he has since retired, battling cancer for the third time. While Grant was visiting Australia as an MLB ambassador this winter, his father was honored by the team, and it was announced Grant would receive an early induction into Australia's Hall of Fame so his dad could attend.
For more on Grant's father, we encourage you the read more here.
Last season featured the first regular season MLB game played in Australia, between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, and with a controlling interest in the Australian Baseball League, MLB sends many prospects to the ABL as a form of winter ball. During the season, ABL teams can deploy up to five "imported" players at any time, and the Rays had three featured with the Brisbane Bandits in the '14-15 season.
You can read much and more of Maxx Tissenbaum's adventures catching down under on his mlblog, featuring detailed breakdowns of his day and several pictures of the scenery. He played alongside Johnny Field, Tommy Coyle, and Granden Goetzman for the Bandits, and each would make the All-Star Game.
Grant visited teams and imbued MLB Goodwill in Australia over the summer, but now he is back in camp, and as Bill Chastain reports, he seems ready to fight for the closer spot during Spring Training.
The 11-season MLB veteran stated that he was in good form, in a sort of "best shape of my life" way. Balfour also said that as long as he stayed in shape, he would be able to do "go out there and do what [he] wants to do".
"Every year I look forward to going out and having a good year. Some years, it works out and some years, it doesn't. But I try to do everything I can to make it happen. Maybe last year things got to me a little bit when things weren't going well. I learn from new experiences. I've had some really good success in my career. And I can feed off that."
"As long as everything is in shape and I feel good, then I believe in myself that I can go out there and do what I want to do," Balfour said. "As long as my body is allowing me each day to go out there and do what I want to do. Hey, I'm going to give everything I got and I totally believe in what I can do."
It's certainly good and interesting to see Balfour optimistic, but he faces stiff competition to earn back the role he lost toward the beginning of last season. The closer incumbent Jake McGee won't be out for too long, and other players in the Rays bullpen will be vying for the closer job as well, like high leverage acquisition Kevin Jepsen, or former closer Ernesto Frieri.
The Australian pitcher especially does not seem in a perfect spot if we consider his past season, which was his worst since 2008 by measure of fWAR, ERA, FIP, strikeouts and walks per nine innings. Hindsight is 20/20, but a poor performance wasn't unpredictable as he already posted declining metrics in 2013.
- Evan Longoria talked about Joe Maddon and Rays' new coach Kevin Cash as Mark Topkin reports. Longo expressed his optimism for Cash's first year in the job, and seems to appreciate Cash's attitude, which appears to be close to Maddon's "have fun and win games" approach.
- Speaking of Joe Maddon, the Cubs hired Manny Ramirez as a "hitting consultant." After spending a summer as the player/hitting coach for the Cubs' triple-A team in Iowa, the former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder of seventeen games will now provide his insight and experience to the Cubs' major league squad -- in a year where Kris Bryant is expected to reach the majors as the next big slugger.
- "Fantasy baseball is more real than you think" according to Eno Sarris who wrote a fantastic piece on the subject and published by Fox Sports blog Just A Bit Outside. Using correlations between WAR and fantasy scoring methods, Sarris argues that fantasy baseball "isn't so fake". A great read, especially if you're engaged in the DRaysBay Fantasy Association.
- Last night, the last episode ever of Parks and Recreation aired. A TV-show well-beloved among baseball fans and writers, especially due to his numerous baseball references. If you're not familiar with the lawfirm of Babip, Pecota, Vorp & Eckstein, MLB.com published a nice recap of the show.
- It's never too early when it comes to free agents and who better than MLB Trade Rumors to discuss the matter? Tim Dierkes put up a list of names which he thinks will be the more likely to negotiate during the 2015 season.
- Finally, for those interested, the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays will assemble for full squad workouts for the first time on Saturday, February 28 at Charlotte Sports Park and the team will mark the occasion with the first-ever Spring Training Fan Day. The event is free for all fans and will begin at 9:30 a.m. when the Rays take the field for their first full-squad workout.
There will be free hot dogs courtesy of Kayem, and the day's activities will include appearances by Raymond and the Ray Team, inflatables, giveaways, music, autographs from Rays players and broadcasters, and the Rays Team Store will offer merchandise specials.