Born – 18/10/1958 in Mount Gambier – home town Port MacDonnell.
In Mount Gambier as a young kid I watched baseball games at ‘Frew Park’ where there I watched a player named Bob Marks – a huge man and school teacher, he used to smash the ball over the picket fence used for the cricket boundary on Saturdays but on Sundays it was used for baseball.
Bob Marks later became an ABF director for the Northern Territory Baseball League.
Another memory I had from these games was watching a pitcher with a shortened arm on his glove hand and pitch the ball and then put his glove back on his throwing had ready to field the ball, if he fielded the ball he would somehow remove the ball and throw it to the first baseman for the out – I do not know his name but these 2 men formed an impression of the game on me, but I never played in Mount Gambier.
The baseball impression was made and the opportunity was just around the corner, not that I knew at the time.
1970 – 1974.
Moved to Adelaide – Netley Primary School in 1970 commenced Junior baseball with the Adelaide Baseball Club in Season 1970-71 in the Under 13 team and Brian ‘Jingles’ Vaughton was my first coach (a former drummer with the Masters Apprentices), until the end of season 1973-74, when my family moved to West Beach and I joined the West Torrens Baseball Club in season 1974-75 in Under 17 – Division 2, under Coach Don Simons.
1975 – 1975.
I commenced Senior Baseball in season 1975-76 in Division 4 progressing to Division 1 under West Torrens great Kevin Medley as coach and debuted against the Central Districts Baseball Club at the Levels Institute Ground at Parafield on the 21/12/1975 as a Catcher.
1976 – 1978
I continued to play Division 1 in season 1976-77, Les Buller – Australian player, State Coach and player and West Torrens playing great was Playing Coach for 1 season then Brian Cakebread – was Playing Coach for 3 seasons, he was an Australian and State player. During the first 2 seasons of these 4 seasons I battled to hold a permanent Catching position in the Division 1 team but finally by the end of Season 1977-78 I had established myself in the team. Under Brian he brought a strong unity to the Division 1 squad where we were pushed to the limits to improve both physically and skill wise and learn t to stand side by side to protect the West Torrens Baseball Club.
1979 – 1980
After season 1979-80 under Coach Brian Cakebread he was replaced by Gary Coward in 1980-81 where we went on to play in the 1981 Grand Final but came up short in our attempt to win our first top Division premiership since 1967. Gary continued as coach for another 2 seasons finishing in 1982-83 finishing 3rd in these 2 seasons. Gary brought a very professional approach to our club and feel he changed the mental mindset of preparing for games against all opposition.
1980 Claxton Shield.
I was privilege to be selected in 1980 Claxton Shield team to play in Sydney under SA great Kevin Greatrex (Port Adelaide) – who I had watched as a 12 year old battle with Neil Page (Goodwood) together with their teams in the greatest Grand Final ever in 1972 at Norwood Oval (19 innings – Neil Page pitched all 19 innings while Kevin Greatrex hit the home run in the 19th to win the game).
Although not playing much in the series due to the fact I was the backup to our great Catcher John Galloway who went on to win the prestigious Helms Award for the best player in the Australian Series held in Sydney that year.
In 1983-84 club legend Brian Scott took over as Division 1 Coach for the next 6 seasons with solid performances for the first 3 years until we developed into a team that went onto winning the club’s first premiership since 1967 against the Kensington Baseball Club, the 1986-87 grand final at Norwood Oval which was played in terrible weather conditions. It was pleasing in the fact that Brian had developed some juniors and also added 2 players from Division 3 the previous season into premiership players. A great pitching game by Malcolm Gregg for 9 difficult innings due to the weather was a highlight.
The following season in 1987-88 we also won the premiership against East Torrens at Glenelg in a close encounter on the back of a Tim Day homerun and 2 batters later a Greg Simons homerun in the last innings to break the tie in the game.
1988 – 1991
In 1988-89 we faltered with our performances and finished 5th , this being the first season of the Australian Baseball League in which West Torrens had 9 players playing with the Adelaide Giants each weekend and we found at times hard to win minor round games to get to the finals but enormous credit must go to our back up players kept us in contention until the last double header of the minor round games.
The next season in 1989-90 we had a coaching change with Ron Harvey taking over and we had immediate success against Goodwood behind the pitching of Grant Puckett but faltered the next season in 1990-91 finishing 5th.
1991 – 1998
We hit back hard in 1991-92 against Glenelg where again we won a close encounter, but unfortunately we were mourning the huge loss of Max Puckett the 1956 Olympian in Melbourne, and great South Australian and West Torrens pitcher who was our Division 1 squad pitching coach from cancer. He was a great man loved by all baseball people in South Australia.
My catching days were over, I now learned to play First Base – much difficult than I had thought as I watched many players play there previously and did not appreciate the specific skills required to be regarded as outstanding first baseman. The hard work had begun.
In 1992-93 we defeated Glenelg in the Grand Final in the first best of 3 Grand Final series winning it in 2 games.
In 1993-94 we defeated Southern Districts in a best of 3 series but it went to 3 games after they beat us in game one in the 10th innings 4 runs to 3 runs. The late Darren Garrick pitched that game.
In the 1993-94 Season I was absolutely privileged to be named winner of the prestigious Capps Medal for the Best Player in the Division 1 competition. It was an absolute honour.
Ron decided to step down from the coaching position at the end of the season and I was privileged to be appointed Playing Coach of the club I loved in season 1994-95, a position I held for 5 seasons. After coaching Division 2 the two previous seasons to two premierships, it was a big learning curve, but I had great support from Ron Harvey as Assistant Coach and the playing group which had not changed a lot from the previous few years, but we had a kid from Darwin float into the club named Sam Tibbits, later to become a legend of the club and league. We defeated Henley & Grange in the 1994-95 the score being 7 runs to 1 run in a single Grand Final. As well as being a premiership player now to be a Premiership Coach with the West Torrens Baseball Club – ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE.
The next two seasons in 1995-96 and 1996-97, I experienced the other side of coaching having lost players due to retirement, couple to other clubs, players traveling etc. It was a tough period as we tried to rebuild.
8th to First and Premiership Game
Season 1997-98 comes along and the SABL decides to extend the finals numbers to 8 teams and I remember attending a coaches meeting and saying this could back fire because all finals were knockouts. The season goes on for us, few problems and an average season but we finish 8th at end of minor round but we can still compete in finals. And the ride begins we play top team Southern Districts and win then we play 2nd team Port Adelaide and defeat them. Next we play East Torrens in the Grand Final at home in game one and win, lose the 2nd game to East Torrens at ET badly then come back a half an hour later and hold onto a nil all score until the 5th and get run over by 4 runs in the 6th innings to lose. That format was never used again!
1998 – 2001.
I coached in season 1998-99 but we did not have a successful season and that was the end of my senior baseball coaching career.
I continued to play in 1999-2000 under Andrew Sperling and in 2000-01 under legendary player Andrew Scott, I was done probably and went one season too long but wanted to play under my great friend Andrew Scott while I was juggling the Club President’s job, probably did not work.
My senior baseball career is over, 717 senior games including 672 ‘A’ games playing under 9 different coaches in 26 seasons – 1975-76 to 2000-01. It was a fantastic journey with a great club.
Besides the players I have mentioned above I was privileged to have played with some outstanding players (the late Stephen Rex, Harvey Hicks, Dean Forbes, Brian Vaughton – my first junior coach, Mark Van Pelt – absolute legend, Burke Weber, Michael Dunn, Andrew Hood and there are many more who I apologise, if I have missed you).
I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to achieve many things in baseball.
- Member 1980 winning Claxton Shield team together with playing in 7 years/series for SA – Claxton Shield and the Adelaide Giants in the ABL
- Life Member of the West Torrens Baseball Club
- Premiership player with West Torrens – 7 times
- West Torrens Baseball Club – Team of the Century member
- Night Baseball premiership player – 3 times – 1988-89 (WT & H&G), 1993-94(WT & Woodville), 1994-95 (WT & Woodville) – Playing Coach 1994-95
- Capps Medal winner – 1993-94
- Bob Finn Trophy – Best SA Claxton Shield Player – 1987-88
- Harry Hunt Trophy – Best Division One player at West Torrens – 6 times
- West Torrens Division 1 Playing Coach – 5 seasons – Premiership Playing Coach 1994-95
- President of West Torrens Baseball Club – 2000-01 to 2002-03 – (3 seasons) – together with many positions over the years.
- Lyle Jones Award – Offield services to the West Torrens Baseball Club – 6 times
- Junior Coach at West Torrens – 5 seasons
- Head Coach – South Australian – Under 18 & 16 – total 2 series &
- Under 16 Assistant – 2 series
- Assist with programming for South Australian Baseball League with Ken Wesslink & Gordon Penhall.
- I also enjoyed a few years of Masters Baseball, firstly with Adelaide Brewers in Alice Springs in 2004 (Gold Medal – Player) and 2006 (Gold Medal – Playing Coach) then for the Eagles Masters Team as Playing Coach – in the Australian Masters Games – Gold Medal in 2005 and the Australasian Masters Games – Silver Medal 2007.
- I have over the last couple of seasons joined the Baseball SA Heritage committee to assist in recording and maintaining the History of South Australian Baseball to be put on the Heritage Website in the future.
I thank Gordon Penhall for asking me to record my baseball career from start to finish, while I have tried to explain my beginnings, moving to Adelaide and the opportunities that were presented to me by starting as a junior player and progressing forward into a senior player. I feel it was basically due to an opportunity and hard work, because there was not a lot of natural ability, tried out for 4 years for junior state teams, made none, but had a huge desire to be successful and a winner in the sport.
There is opportunity for every individual in our sport both junior and seniors to be successful by working hard, having a love for the game and your club, together with your fellow players.
Be loyal to your club and fellow teammates and success will follow.
Thanks to my wife Deirdre, children – Jenna and Sam for their support over a long period.
From Country to City!
Thank you – Phil Burgess