The growth of baseball Down Under takes another big step as Twins infielder Luke Hughes and free-agent infielder Chin-lung Hu are among those playing in the inaugural Australian Baseball League All-Star Game, broadcast from Perth at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday on MLB Network. The game can also be followed live via Gameday on the ABL website early Wednesday morning at 3 a.m. ET and 4 p.m. local time.
Team Australia, featuring the nation's best homegrown talent, takes on the best international players in the ABL, Team World. The potential audience for this event, backed by Major League Baseball, was expected to be one of the largest for a baseball game held in Australia.
"It's an incredible opportunity for Australian baseball to showcase the league both domestically and internationally," Hughes said. "We've been going pretty hard at promoting this league ever since it was put out there last year, and to be a part of it as a player is a fantastic opportunity to watch the league grow.
"It shows the public that there is another sport out there. It's a fun sport to play and a fun sport to watch, and that's our goal. Hopefully, we can get some kids back involved with this sport. We've got to put it back out there, and this is a great opportunity to put it on TV. A lot of kids are going to be able to watch this game and hopefully come out to support the Perth Heat the rest of the year."
The game features one Major Leaguer, one who played in the Majors in 2011, four former Major Leaguers and 16 active Minor League prospects.
Hughes, representing the Perth Heat, is the ABL's most high-profile player. The Twins benefit from his offseason preparation back home, too. He appeared in 96 games for them as a rookie in 2011, batting just .223 but showing streaky offense with seven homers, including four in a five-game span at the end of August. He brings versatility as well, playing 36 games at first, 37 at second and 13 at third.
"It's great to get some good playing time in before next season," Hughes said. "I'll go into Spring Training with 120 at-bats already under my belt. It does nothing but help me moving forward into next season."
Hu, a 27-year-old from Taiwan who represents the Adelaide Bite, leads Team World as he works toward a hopeful signing by the Mets or another Major League organization for 2012. He appeared in parts of four consecutive seasons from 2007-10 with the Dodgers, and then saw 22 games with the Mets in '11 after being signed to back up Jose Reyes. Hu had only one hit in 20 at-bats for them and was outrighted after the season.
"I've started working more on my bat and getting in the mindset of 'keep playing,'" Hu said. "I was hurt this year and didn't have a great year. I was up and down, but this is a great opportunity for them to watch me get better and make my push to get back to the big leagues."
Team Australia is reunited after its successful run at the recent IBAF World Cup, where it finished as the fifth-best baseball team in the world after upsets of host Panama and Canada. This will mark the only opportunity for Australian baseball fans to see their National Team in action on home soil this year. Some of their squad's top talent in addition to Hughes includes:
Tom Brice (Adelaide Bite): Only Australian player named to the IBAF World Cup All-Star team.
Chris Oxspring (Sydney Blue Sox): Former Tigers pitcher is the only dual player/coach in the ABL; has 22 strikeouts this year.
Justin Huber (Melbourne Aces): Former Major Leaguer is tied for the ABL lead in hits with 24 and second in the ABL with 14 runs scored.
Tim Kennelly (Perth Heat): Leads the ABL in several key offensive categories, including a .444 batting average, 24 hits, 17 RBIs and a .492 on-base percentage.
Mitch Graham (Perth Heat): Tied for first in the ABL with 17 RBIs and has the second-best batting average at .382.
Team World features the ABL's best import talent from the U.S., Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Korea, India and Italy and includes three former Major Leaguers as well as players from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League and the Korean Baseball Organization. In addition to Hu:
Dae-Sung Koo (Sydney Blue Sox): The legendary Korean reliever was last season's ABL Reliever of the Year. He leads the ABL with three saves.
Mike McGuire (Canberra Cavalry): American pitcher has been untouchable this season -- he leads the league with 35 strikeouts and an 0.36 ERA.
Alex Burg (Perth Heat): ABL's home run leader from the Giants' organization.
Rinku Singh (Adelaide Bite): First Indian-born pitcher to win a pro game in the U.S. was discovered on the reality TV show "Million Dollar Arm."
Denny Almonte (Adelaide Bite): The Mariners' prospect set an ABL record with eight RBIs in one game recently.
Yohei Yanagawa (Brisbane Bandits): The Japanese pitcher is a former first-round Draft pick with Nippon Professional Baseball.