It’s not like no baseball player from New Zealand has ever played in the big leagues before … but …
Well, okay. No baseball player from New Zealand has ever played in the big leagues.
Which makes Toronto Blue Jays infield prospect Scott Campbell’s quest that much more historic as he aims to be the first of his countryman to get to The Show.
Prior to Campbell, the biggest name out of New Zealand had been Atlanta Braves farmhand Travis Wilson, who made it as far as Triple-A during an eight-year pro career here. Wilson, who represented New Zealand in the 2000 All-Star Futures Game, is now a star softball player and cricket coach back in his homeland.
Like Wilson, Campbell sported the Union Jack/Southern Cross flag of New Zealand this past summer in the 2008 Futures Game held at Yankee Stadium, as well as playing in that week’s Eastern League All-Star Game in his summer home of Manchester, New Hampshire. (That’s him on the right with fellow Futures and Eastern League star Luke Hughes who is from Australia … see answer below re: what would surprise people to know about him for more info on that … and the M&M in the back on the Empire State Building really makes the picture, don’t you think?).
He earned the nods with a terrific season that saw him bat .302 with nine homers and 46 RBIs after skipping from Class A Lansing in 2007 right to Double-A.
In the three pro seasons since he was drafted in the 10th round of 2006 out of Gonzaga University in Washington state, Campbell has hit a combined .291 while playing exclusively at second base.
This past autumn in the Arizona Fall League, the Jays had him playing third base to increase his versatility, and that is where he’s seen the majority of his early spring at-bats as well.
In a country where baseball is a clear afterthought after rugby, cricket, soccer and softball, Campbell got started on the sport when he was 9 after his mom signed him up via an ad in a local newspaper.
His unusual athletic exploits – well, unusual for Auckland, New Zealand, anyway – eventually got him on the radar of some stateside college coaches thanks to his local coach, Ray Brown, which resulted in a spot at Central Arizona Community College and, eventually, Gonzaga, where he majored in electronic journalism.
Two years later, Campbell was in the pro ranks, hitting .292 for short-season Auburn. In 2007, his full-season debut, he batted .279 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs at Lansing.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Or, hopefully, will be.
GOTMILB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Campbell: Honestly, I think playing for the World Team at the Futures Game was one of my proudest accomplishments. It was such an amazing opportunity to meet the people I met and have that experience, and it was really something nice to share with my dad and my family and supporters to say ‘hey, I’m on my way!’.
GOTMILB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Campbell: I have many different things I think I might be good at. Maybe sports media, which is what I was studying at Gonzaga and something I was interested in. I didn’t want to go into straight news because it was so stressful.
GOTMILB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Campbell: I love to play guitar and sing. I’m not writing music as much as I’d like to because it’s so hard to carry a guitar around with you when you have all your baseball gear. But it’s all in my car and hopefully if I go to (the Jays Triple-A club at) Las Vegas, my dad (in California) will bring it to me.
GOTMILB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
Campbell: Am from New Zealand because most people think I’m from Australia. I’ve gotten to the point now that I give people one chance but I do take it personally if I tell someone I’m from New Zealand and they still say I’m from Australia.
GOTMILB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Campbell: I’ve had some bad ones but I’d have to say the worst one physically was unloading containers of carpet underlay. These bags weighed 40 kilos each and we’d unload tons of the stuff.
GOTMILB: What reality TV show would you kick butt on?
Campbell: I’d say “Survivor” but actually I think that’s more of a show where it’s ‘who likes who’ rather than who can really survive. So then I’d go with “The Amazing Race” with my girlfriend. She’s well-traveled and can speak Italian, while I know the Southern hemisphere and she knows the Northern hemisphere.
GOTMILB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
Campbell: I’d really like to trade places with a Marine in Iraq or something to see what it’s really like over there. I think there is a misconception of what’s going on in the world and it would be enlightening.
GOTMILB: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Campbell: I’d play myself. I’m really a Daniel Craig fan so he could play my older self. But I don’t really have any younger actors I’m particularly keen on.
GOTMILB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Campbell: I think the financial aspect. Especially as an international guy and living so far away from home, I wasn’t as good with my money as I should have been early on. I want to live as comfortable a life as I can, but it’s hard paying for flights home and back here to come see my girlfriend (who lives in Washington). Toronto pays my fee home but to remain in the country and be with people it’s on me. And I don’t agree with the theory that the low pay makes you ‘want it’ more. I think it’s hard enough to make it to the big leagues without that extra challenge.
GOTMILB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Campbell: The biggest surprise was the camaraderie. At least in my experience, on every team I’ve been on, I’ve had really good friends and found people really willing to help each other out. I honestly thought everyone would be more out for themselves.