Veteran MLB Pitcher and Broadcaster Jim Kaat Heading to New Zealand
- Published on Monday, 19 December 2016 11:35
- Written by Ian McDonald
Jim Kaat’s playing career spanned four decades of excellence, putting together Hall of Fame credentials on Major League teams across America, but for the next two months he’ll be golfing, fishing and, most importantly, teaching young baseball players the art of pitching and the love of the game in cities across New Zealand.
Kaat’s trip, funded mostly by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association in Colorado Springs, will see he and his wife cover most of the nation by plane and car, enjoying golf, fishing and other leisure activities on their two-month trek, but Kaat’s main focus is baseball, and he’ll be spending a great deal of his time teaching the game he has loved, played and immersed himself in for more than 70 years.
“I will stage several clinics for the coaches and players and even parents if they are interested,” said the active and spry Kaat, who arrives in Auckland on 4th January before heading to Nelson, Christchurch and possibly two other centres to be confirmed. “The number one thing I hope to do is to encourage and motivate young people to ‘play the game.’ If New Zealand can increase the participation in baseball it will create interest from colleges and professional scouts, while at the same time it will also motivate local companies, possibly the government, and MLB International to build facilities where young people can play on regulation size fields.”
Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn said two months of clinics and camps and skill sessions with such a pitching legend is a gift from the baseball gods. “He’s a guy who has given his life to the sport, and his knowledge of the game and pitching specifically is unrivalled,” said Flynn. “I expect him to generate enthusiasm and bring more kids to the game, but I also expect those young coaches and parents and players who are keen to really learn the intricacies of baseball to take their game to the next level as a result of Jim’s visit to our country.”
The 78-year old Kaat, whose golden-tinged voice is just as recognisable to baseball fans across the globe as his award-winning left arm, spent three weeks in New Zealand a few years ago with his wife Margie, who will be accompanying him on his January trip, and says about his first time in the country, “We loved our time in both countries (New Zealand and Australia), but we always had a desire to return to New Zealand. We golfed, Margie fished..she is an avid flyfisher.”
“I think my main mission is to motivate and inspire New Zealanders to play the game, despite the lack of regulation facilities there. A college scholarship, a pro career or just playing in the local New Zealand leagues can be rewarding,” says Kaat, who was taught how to throw his baseball by Yankees Hall of Fame legend Whitey Ford when he was a rookie. “I hope to keep it simple by teaching some fundamentals that some players have possibly developed a little from playing fast pitch softball, but I will need to see players practice and play to see where they are at in their skills and natural ability.”
Jim Kaat played for five teams over a 25-year career spanning four decades from 1959 till he retired in 1983, finishing with a 283-237 career Win-Loss record and accumulating an Earned Run Average (ERA) of just 3.45. He is regarded as one of the game’s best pitchers to never make the Baseball Hall of Fame, the final recognition in North America for the best of the best in America’s pastime—though he continues to be eligible.
After Kaat retired from playing, he turned his attention to broadcasting following a brief coaching stint with the Cincinnati Reds under baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose, and it was here where he carved out his second world class career, spanning 22 years to the present time, calling games for two of his former teams, the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins.
Aside from baseball coaching, Kaat and his wife will be taking some quality vacation time. “There is no question that part of our desire to come to New Zealand is to enjoy (the) beautiful country and wonderful people. I like to golf and my wife Margie is an excellent golfer and she loves fly fishing, so while she is fishing Ryan Flynn will direct me where to go to help him with your national baseball programme,” Kaat added.
“Tom Kroos and Rachel Knowles (Nelson Baseball board members) will direct me in Nelson and (Canterbury Baseball Association President) Brian Hemera in Christchurch. I hope to meet (US Ambassador) Mark Gilbert in Wellington and if Dunedin needs some help I’ll go there, too.”