Yan­kees star recog­nises NZ tal­ent

Central Leader - - SITUATIONS VACANT - SAMHEWAT

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.

SAM HE­WAT/FAIR­FAX NZ

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.

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