By Mark Etheridge
A South African 28-man team and bull pen catcher have headed Down Under for the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Tournament.
The team left South Africa on Thursday for the tournament which will be held in Sydney from 11-14 February.
South African Baseball Union President Paddy van Niekerk will accompany the team who will take on three other nations in the form of Australia, New Zealand and Philippines.
‘I think New Zealand, Philippines and ourselves should be evenly match with Australia being a bit tougher as they have a few more players than us playing in the big leagues,’ he told Road to Rio 2016.
‘Having said that I do believe we have a chance to win this.
‘It’s a bonus to us that Gift Ngoepe [pictured above] was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates and will be able to play for his country. He’s the first South African player to make the big leagues (40-man rooster).
The South African squad is made up of predominantly Western Cape clubs and 13 of them represent the BAWP region.
There’s also a good few foreign based players, apart from Ngoepe. Garth Cahill plays for Jackson State University, Rowan Ebersohn and Callen Pearce for the Minnesota Twins and Dylan Unsworth for the Seattle Mariners.
Another, Keegan Swanepoel, swopped Cape Town for Auckland, New Zealand. The 28-year-old left South Africa in April, 2015 and is working as a quantity surveyor.
He plays for the Howick Pakaranga Black Hawks. Mainly playing as first base, he also plays short stop and third base, outfield as well as pitching.
The full squad is as follows:
Kyron Bibis (Gauteng), Kyle Botha (BAWP), Brandon Bouillon (Easterns), Garth Cahill (Jackson State University, US), Kieran Cree (Easterns), Rowan Ebersohn (Minnesota Twins), Shannon Ekermans (BAWP), Jared Elario (BAWP), Kyle Ettisch (BAWP), Kyle Gaddin (Easterns), Wesley Hoskins (College, US), Dean Jacobs (BAWP), Robert Lewis-Walker (KZN), Carl Michaels (BAWP), Russell Olivier (BAWP), Callen Pearce (Minnesota Twins), Anthony Phillips (BAWP), Jonathan Phillips (BAWP) Allan Randall (BAWP), Hein Robb (Gauteng), Benjamin Smith (BAWP), Lloyd Stevens (BAWP), Keegan Swanepoel (Australian Baseball League), Dylan Unsworth (Seattle Mariners), Liam Vincent (Gauteng), Brett Willenburg (BAWP), Damian Wood (KZN), Cuan Bergman (Gauteng), Gift Ngoepe (Pittsburgh Pirates).
Bull Pen Catcher subject to confirmation by MLB Club.