Yankees star recognises NZ talent
When you think of baseball, you think of the New York Yankees.
So when Didi Gregorius, one of the Yankees’ up-and-coming stars, announced he’d be coming to New Zealand to help grow the game, it was big news for baseball fans.
It was especially exciting for two 17-year-old Auckland baseballers who found out they’d get to meet one of the game’s best.
Ayrton Laird and Tairea Thompson, both from Central City Baseball Club in Mt Roskill, were lucky enough to train with Gregorius thanks to their selection in the New Zealand U18 side.
Laird is a Mt Albert Grammar native and second-base specialist, while Thompson attends Te Ara Hou in Napier, making the drive to Auckland every weekend to play catcher for Central.
‘‘It’s huge,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘To get a big star to take time to come to little old New Zealand and show all the tricks to try and make it to the MLB, it’s definitely motivating.’’
‘‘If we can do it, it’ll show the world that New Zealand can play baseball.’’
No Kiwi has ever made the Major Leagues, and New Zealand’s small population plus the tendency of many to pick softball over baseball, means making it even more tough.
But being the first is something Laird and Thompson embrace as motivation.
‘‘It definitely drives us,’’ Laird said. ‘‘All of us out here want to get there.
‘‘We’re all saying, ‘I want to be the first one’.’’
And if Gregorius’ story is anything to go by, it’s more than possible.
He grew up on the small Carribean Island of Curacao, which has a population of just over 150,000.
‘‘It takes me back,’’ Gregorius said. ‘‘To when I was in their situation, and it’s great just to try and help baseball grow in a country like this.’’
‘‘They definitely know how to play,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s not much different from what you’re doing with cricket, and they’ve got a lot of talent.’’
Central City’s Kyle Anderson and Jasiah Niu also made the New Zealand U18 side which travels to Sydney this week for the U18 World Cup qualifiers, to be held in August.
Gregorius was brought to New Zealand by Baseball New Zealand chief executive Ryan Flynn, who has a connection with the Yankees franchise.
Didi Gregorius of the New York Yankees with Central City Baseball’s Ayrton Laird, far left, Tairea Thompson, near left, Kyle Anderson, near right, and Jasiah Niu.