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.
Why waste time with excuses for my inexcusable absence of late? (But if you must know, it’s just been a matter of travel-travel-travel and usually when I was actually back at my computer I was either wiped out from exhaustion or working) … SO … I will try to make up for it now by catching you all up over the next few days on the last 10-plus days of my work-life. Though if you’ve been reading Jonathan and Joe’s blogs, you’ll probably already know half of it!
Got into NYC (my hometown, if you can call it a town) last Thursday afternoon and had the added bonus feature of bringing my daughter Dana with me for the New York portion of the trip (don’t worry, bosses, needless to say I paid her way). With her leaving for school in six weeks, I looked forward to having a little extra one-on-one time with her, while she looked forward to catching up with some of her old friends who were in the city so it was a win-win situation.
Thursday evening, on something of a short-notice whim, we caught “Spring Awakenings” which she adored beyond all belief and I liked a lot. It didn’t compare to shows like “Avenue Q,” “The Last Five Years” or “Ragtime,” probably my three favorite contemporary musicals, but I liked it a lot, especially the number “The Bitch of Living”
(and I have no idea if that will get past the cybercensor). Dana now wants to play Ilse and write a rock musical.
We also did a LOT of walking that day, as we (okay, I) decided to stroll down from our midtown hotel to our Chelsea office. Noble decision but in the long run a stupid one as the three huge blisters on my foot reminded me incessantly for the next several days.
On Friday we really got our Futures-Palooza started. Headed over to the FanFest at the Javits Convention Center first thing and after making a few wrong turns and wishing I had a GPS system for that place, I found the MLB.com set-up. Jonathan and I spent an hour on the stage there talking Futures and prospects with Petey Mac (Pete McCarthy to most people but Petey Mac to us) and as always, when we talk Minors, the time flew by.
As soon as we were done, we walked uptown about a half mile (ouch) and, after grabbing lunch at an outstanding Turkish restaurant on 9th in the mid-40s (I wish I knew the name so I could give it some love but it is apparently called “The Turkish Restaurant” according to the receipt) we met up with our intrepid co-workers and the stars of the day, Futures Game participants Luke Hughes, the Australian-born third base prospect for the Minnesota Twins, and Scott Campbell, the Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman of the future who will soon become the first New Zealand native to play in the big leagues.
And the fun began.
In years past, the way we’ve handled what we call the “hometown tour” has been to pair up with a Futures Game participant from (or near) the host city and let them give us a tour of their hometown. In 2006, for example, in Pittsburgh, Pirates catcher-turned-third baseman Neil Walker showed us his Steel City. Last year in San Francisco we paired up with Cleveland pitcher and northern Cali boy Chuck Lofgren. But this year, we didn’t have a New Yorker so instead we invited our two Eastern Leaguers on a double-decker tour bus trip of the big city, flip-flopping the tradition a bit, and it was an absolute blast. The weather was gorgeous, all blue skies and pleasantly dry though VERY hot. Believe it or not, having spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in midtown Manhattan, I’d never taken one of these tours so I think I enjoyed it as much as the guys did! Our entourage of Luke (that’s him on the left) and Scott (on the right) along with Jonathan Mayo, our producer Kyle Casey, our intrepid cameraman extraordinaire Joe Cronin and fabulous photographer Danny Wild got to see the Empire State Building, Times Square and
Madison Square Garden (obviously totally ready for the Yankees to host the All-Star Game!) from the perfect setting, then headed downtown where we got to see Greenwich Village, the Washington Square Arch, my favorite cousin Millie’s apartment building (OK, that wasn’t actually highlighted in the tour but the bus broke down there and we got to see a crazy guy screaming alot outside of the building so it brought back memories), and then continued downtown through Noho and Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. We passed by Ground Zero which, nor surprisingly, was one of the most memorable moments for Luke and Scott, and continued into the Battery Canyon where we disembarked and walked down to the Staten Island Ferry to take the trip back and forth so the guys could see the Statue of Liberty a little more up close and almost personal.
You can check out the video diary we made of the day over at MiLB.com right here.
After taking about an hour to let my feet recover and return to their dainty Size 3 size, it was time for dinner and where better to take visiting world travelers than to a great New York City steakhouse? We dined (and rehydrated) at Sparks Steakhouse, one of the best in Manhattan (where my husband took me for our first anniversary, in fact). If we weren’t already won over by Luke and Scott’s amazing talent, personalities and awesome accents, their senses of humor and charm made fans for life at that dinner table. And I learned a lot more about the “rivalry” between the Aussies and the Kiwis.
Saturday dawned hot and sunny and once again I was grateful for the cool air-conditioning at the Javits Center as we were back “on the air” in a manner of speaking … this time, with fabulous host Noah Coslov, we had the special treat of special guest Kevin Pucetas, one of the top Minor League pitchers over the last three years who had come to New York to pitch for the US Futures Team. Pucetas, a San Francisco prospect who led the Minors in ERA last year with a 1.86, has been one of the aces at Advanced A San Jose, which has sported one of the best records in the Minors the first half of the summer.
Pucetas is an absolute delight … funny, friendly, chatty and humble. Maybe being the oldest of 11 kids will do that for you! No, that’s not a typo. A late-round pick out of Division II Limestone College in South Carolina, he is the kind of guy that you cannot help but root for as soon as you meet him, and he definitely didn’t hurt his cause with a scoreless ninth inning of work the next day.
The afternoon was spent hopping on the 4 train up to Yankee Stadium to get a chance to chat with Futures Game managers Davey Johnson of the US team and Tino Martinez of the World Team about their starting pitchers, lineups and general Futures Game-type stuff a day in advance of the big event. One 4 train trip later, I was ensconced at my hotel room desk writing up my preview and while my daughter was off watching movies with her camp friend in Brooklyn, I treated myself to a light Italian dinner for one at Fagiolino’s with a bowl of pasta, a glass of chianti and a good book and went to sleep early, knowing there would be an early wakeup call on Futures Game day …
And with that, I will sign off for now and catch you up on Futures Day tomorrow!