The Brisbane Bandits will host post-season baseball for the first time in its history this season, following a record-breaking year for the Newmarket-based side.
The Bandits are guaranteed second spot on the ladder, and therefore at least a home spot in the semi-final series.
But the Bandits are aiming for the top, and will look to round off their stellar season to record a bye into the ABL Championship Series in early February.
For CEO Mark Ready, this season is marching towards a successful conclusion of a plan initiated just two years ago, telling the Bandits’ website that, “our primary and only goal was to bring the Claxton Shield home to Queensland, so that’s what we’re striving to do. We had a plan and it’s come to fruition so far.”
Although conceding that there was a long way to go before lifting the Caxton Shield, Ready paid credit to the positive culture within the team, fostered by manager Dave Nilsson.
Ready was instrumental in bringing Australia’s greatest ever ball player and former Milwaukee Brewer back to the Bandits last season, and after a promising but ultimately fruitless race to make the playoffs last year, Brisbane have come back stronger and more determined than ever.
Part of the key to Brisbane’s success this year has been their ability to win tight games, and have fun, a fact Nilsson alluded to on the Bandits’ website.
“It’s been very enjoyable so far. A lot of come-from-behind wins,” he said.
“To have a team that plays well at home and has a lot of come-from-behind wins, it’s fun to be around. It’s just fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s satisfying.”
This exciting brand of baseball not only means more success on the field, but also more bums on seats in the stands. A record 2033 fans turned up on a Saturday night game against the Sydney Blue Sox, and the Bandits expect to break that number further in the post-season, with Ready confirming additional seating will be set up to take the attendance at Holloway Field to around 4000.
Brisbane have also been far more ruthless off the field in pursuit of glory.
When former Major League pitcher Travis Blackley was looking to the ABL for game time ahead of representing Australia at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers (coming up at the conclusion of the ABL season in Sydney) the Bandits pressed hard to recruit the former Seattle star to Queensland.
Blackley, who also played for San Francisco, Oakland, Houston and Texas in an 82-game career, was due to play for the Melbourne Aces, but when it became apparent they were unlikely to make the playoffs, Ready and the Bandits pounced.
“Playing here makes more sense for Travis, with a more competitive environment and potential playoffs, and more weeks to play in his preparation for the WBC qualifier,” Ready told the Bandits’ website when announcing Blackley’s arrival.
Blackley has not been the only Major Leaguer to suit up for Brisbane this season, with German trailblazer Donald Lutz also donning the Bandits’ yellow uniform. The Cincinnati Reds re-signed the 23-year-old designated hitter after recording an average of 0.270 from 89 at-bats for the Bandits this season, including four home runs.
In fact, the Bandits have been spoiled for choice offensively this season, with Tampa Bay Rays outfield prospect Justin Williams leading the way with an average of 0.339 and nine home runs, while Brisbane-born Mitch Nilsson (8 home runs and 37 runs batted in) and first Baseman TJ Bennett (7 home runs and 18 runs batted in) have both contributed at valuable times.
Defensively, the Bandits have arguably the strongest bullpen in the league. American imports Jason Jarvis and Rick Teasley have done the bulk of the work for winning records of 8-2 and 6-4 respectively, while home boy Ryan Searle has secured himself the ‘closer’ spot with an ABL record 16 saves and an earned run average (ERA) of 0.43 – making the Brisbane-born star by far the most economical pitcher in the league.
Brisbane (33-19) lead the ABL from the Canberra Cavalry (30-22) and need to see off the challenge of four-time champions Perth Heat, starting this Thursday at Holloway Field, to secure top spot and a place in the ABLCS.
If Brisbane are able to secure home-field advantage for the ABL Championship Series, they will be firm favourites against any opposition, with a league-leading home-winning record of 19-5.
The Bandits have succeeded in living up to their advertising jargon, making this weekend’s series the hottest ticket in town. A cracking atmosphere at the ballpark awaits.
We all know how much Queenslanders love a finals series, so all in all, it might be about time to get on this bandwagon.