Flynn bringing baseball to New Zealand

Flynn bringing baseball to New Zealand

Ryan Flynn went to New Zealand one year ago with the hope of helping to build the sport of baseball in a country that has given little attention to America's pastime.

Flynn's work has paid amazing dividends in a short period of time, including a goodwill tour by a Major League player and the signing of a youngster by the Boston Red Sox, but, given recent events, Flynn's immediate plans have changed.

At this point, Flynn is just hoping his organization, Baseball New Zealand, can help to heal and rebuild a country that has been rocked by a devastating earthquake.

The 38-year-old Flynn and his family are based in Auckland, where the office of Baseball New Zealand is located, and thus were spared when the earthquake hit Christchurch on the south island of the country on Tuesday.

The earthquake has been described as New Zealand's worst disaster; this weekend, the death toll was reported at 145, with 200 people still missing.

One third of the buildings in central Christchurch were so badly damaged that they may need to be demolished, according to authorities.

"As a baseball community," Ryan said, "we are going to make every effort to assist our contacts on the south island, specifically Christchurch.

"Baseball is secondary in a time like this, but it's also important to provide children and families with activities and distractions during times of crisis. We want to give all of the support we can in a time of need."

Flynn, the executive officer of Baseball New Zealand, said he would be asking friends and contacts in the baseball world to divert some resources to the impacted areas to help get youngsters back on the playing field.

"Those organizations that have an interest in helping our cause can contact our office in Auckland," said Flynn. "We welcome any and all support.

"The city of Christchurch has been devastated, and because there are only four million or so people who live in New Zealand, everyone knows someone who has been horribly affected by this disaster."

In the meantime, Flynn and the executive members of Baseball New Zealand realize their day-to-day work needs to continue.

Since Flynn's arrival in New Zealand in January 2010, baseball has grown from 1,200 players to nearly 4,000, a number that pales in comparison to the 30,000 participants in softball programs in the country.

Baseball has in the past barely registered on the popularity scale, with sports such as rugby, cricket, soccer, basketball and softball dominating the interest in New Zealand.

It was the challenge of building a baseball program for youngsters that inspired Flynn to take the position in New Zealand.

Flynn had been a high school and small college player from upstate New York, and when he went undrafted in 1993, his desire was to find a way to stay involved with the sport he loved.

He worked briefly for MLB International and later became a key figure in Guam's national program before establishing his own marketing company in Seattle.

"I've had a number of different roles. but my driving force always has been to be involved in baseball," Flynn said. "When the opportunity came along to join Baseball New Zealand, it was too good to turn down."

Flynn went to work immediately, with a focus on expanding youth programs and trying to convince softball players to turn their attention to baseball.

Flynn fired off an email to Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson during the American League Championship Series, asking if he would be willing to make a goodwill tour and promote baseball in New Zealand.

"I realized it was a long shot, but Curtis responded in a positive way through his representative," Flynn said. "We were able to set up a tour in January that did a tremendous job of promoting both baseball and tourism in New Zealand.

"The media over here couldn't get enough of Curtis, and he became the Pied Piper of baseball overnight, spending nine quality days with us in the country and working with all ages of players. He never turned down one request. He never asked for a single dollar in return and never asked to take a break from a demanding schedule. He was remarkable."

All at once, baseball was in the news in New Zealand, and the news got even bigger in early February when the Red Sox signed a 17-year-old softball catcher named Te Wara "Beau" Bishop.

Bishop will report to extended Spring Training for the Red Sox the first week of March, and Flynn said the sport fans of New Zealand will be paying close attention to one of their country's popular athletes.

"My understanding, and I've just seen videos, is that he's one of the most exciting softball prospects to come around in the last 20 years out of New Zealand," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

"He had a lot of people talking, and our scout Jon Deeble saw him play and saw his size, athleticism, swing and arm strength. He's a pretty interesting prospect."

Craig Shipley, whom the Red Sox promoted this week to senior VP/player personnel and international scouting, described Flynn as "a huge help in the process" in working with Deeble to have Bishop sign.

"Baseball is in its infancy in New Zealand and the more fast-pitch kids they can get over to baseball, the quicker it will grow," said Shipley, who himself was the first player from Australia in modern times to make the Major Leagues when he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986.

There has never been a Major League player from New Zealand; the only player from the small country ever drafted was Scott Campbell in 2006, when he was chosen by Toronto as the 300th selection.

At a time when the nation is struggling to overcome a major disaster, Flynn and Baseball New Zealand hope they can shine just a little light on a long recovery process and establish a solid program for the youngsters in the country.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the organization as executive vice-president and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.