03/07/2013 11:22 AM
Steve Kent pitching against Korea. (Photo courtesy of Baseball Australia.)
T-Bones pitcher Steve Kent, a native of Australia, has had quite a winter. He was one of the main reasons his hometown Canberra Cavalry team won the Australian Baseball League championship. And then, he was one of the pitchers on Australia’s World Baseball Classic squad. Kent took a few minutes for this email interview with Matt Fulks of tbonesbaseball.com.
Matt Fulks: Although it’s not WBC related, congratulations on Canberra winning the Claxton Shield in the Australian Baseball League championship a few weeks ago! And, for T-Bones fans, it’s great to see not only you on that club, but also 2012 Kansas City teammates Brian Grening, Sean Toler and Dustin Loggins.
Steve Kent: Thanks! Being able to win the ABL Championship was great. And to be able to share it with Grening, Toler and Loggins who I have become great friends with over the last year made it even more special. All of those guys played a massive part on our team so I couldn't be any prouder of them. I'm coming into my eighth professional season in 2013, and this past season, playing for the Cavalry, was the first time in my career that I have made the playoffs. It was an incredible feeling to be able to win my first pro championship in the city where I grew up, in front of my family and playing alongside many of my best friends that I grew up with. It was the first time that the Canberra Cavalry have won the championship so it felt really good to be able to win it for our community. We have amazing fans and the whole city got behind us and supported us.
MF: You’ve represented Australia before in various international competitions, so going into the World Baseball Classic, were you nervous or just excited? Can you put your emotions into words?
SK: I have represented Australia before at the U-17 and U-19 World Championships, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Qualifiers and at the 2011 IBAF World Cup. Without the experience of those tournaments I think I would have probably been really nervous going in to the WBC. But, because I had played for Australia before, my overwhelming emotion was excitement.
MF: What was your reaction when you first found out that you’d made the team?
SK: My initial reaction when I made them team was relief. I knew that I was on the bubble of being selected and that it would depend on whether some of our Major League players had made themselves available or not. I didn't have any prior notice that I had made the team before it was released to the public, so I actually thought that I didn't get picked because I thought the players who made the team would have been told earlier. Making the roster has been a huge goal of mine and something I have been working towards for a long time so to see my name on the team was a big weight off my shoulders.
MF: The Australian team arrived in Taiwan in mid-February to begin preparing for the World Baseball Classic. What was the whole experience like, seeing new countries while being a representative of your home country?
SK: The whole WBC experience was amazing. We were treated like big leaguers the whole way, starting with flying business class, to each player having our own hotel room in 5-star hotels. We had our bags packed for us and loaded on and off the bus. The clubbies made sure our spikes were always clean. Being able to see some of the world was an added perk. Taiwan is crazy, it is so busy and there are scooters everywhere! It doesn't seem like there are any road rules and people just zip in and out of traffic. Japan was a lot different when we flew over there for a couple of games. More people drove cars and it seemed like there was some order on the roads there. The crowds in both countries were like nothing I have experienced before.
MF: You guys were in Pool B, opening with Chinese Taipei and then playing Korea and the Netherlands. With that being such a tough draw, and many people seeing Australia as the underdog of the four teams, what were your expectations going into the tournament?
SK: We honestly went in to our pool expecting to win it. We all believe that Australian baseball doesn't gain the respect it deserves. A lot of people think we are easy beats and that makes us play with a chip on our shoulder. We have so many really good players in our country and we truly believe we can hang with anyone when we execute. On paper, we don't have the names like a lot of the other more renowned baseball nations, but we play hard, we know the game and we will fight until the last out is made. Obviously things didn't go the way we wanted during the WBC but that can happen during such short tournaments like this. If you aren't hot from Game 1, you can be out quick. We didn't play to our potential and we realize that. So, we can't wait for the next big tournament so that we can come out and play like the team we believe we are.
MF: You threw two innings against Korea, giving up one hit and striking out one. Was it a different experience for you, throwing in that type of atmosphere, with the fans going nuts?
SK: During our WBC lead up, we flew over to Japan and played two games against their national team in front of sold out crowds of 46,000 people in the Osaka Dome. During one of those games I got the opportunity to pitch. We were winning 2-0 in the eighth inning and their crowd was going absolutely nuts. Usually I don't get nervous when I'm on the mound; it's the place where I feel most comfortable. But in this case I couldn't feel my legs and I had never been more nervous in my life! I had never played in front of a crowd even close to this size or being this loud. I ended up giving up two singles and then a three-run home run. Japan went on to win the game 3-2. That was really disappointing for me because we were so close to beating the reigning WBC champions. But it was a great experience because I was able to get those nerves out in a game that didn't affect our standings in the WBC and it really helped me prepare for my outing against Korea. When I got out on the mound against Korea I had all the confidence in the world. The crowd didn't faze me, I wasn't focused on them. I was just concentrating on doing my job. I was lucky enough to go out there and throw two pretty good innings and it felt good to keep my team in the game.
MF: I’ve talked with several former Major League players who have played in Asia, particularly Japan, and they’ve all talked about the fans and how it’s always loud. Watching your games, it looked like it was that type of atmosphere. Is that safe to say?
SK: The crowds in Asia don't stop cheering all game long. They have a cheer for every single player on their team. They have thunder-sticks and bash them together, and they don't stop making noise when the pitcher is delivering a pitch. It was really distracting when I pitched in Japan but like I said, when I got back to Taiwan for the WBC I was so used to the crowds being like that, that it didn't affect me anymore.
MF: Obviously, with three losses, things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, but was it an experience you’ll soon forget?
SK: I won't ever forget my time at the WBC. We were treated like kings. We were given an unbelievable amount of gear. We played in front of incredible crowds. It's every baseball player’s dream to be able to play in the Major Leagues. I realize that playing in the WBC this year might be the closest I ever get to playing in the big leagues, so I told myself before I left to make sure I took a moment to soak everything in and to take in my surroundings. It was such a great experience to play against some of the world's best players.
MF: You have about two months before the T-Bones’ season starts in May. Will you get a chance to rest at all or will you just keep going?
SK: While I'm still in Australia I have a local men's league that I am going to play in until I leave for the States. I'm trying to get my visa sorted as soon as possible so I can get over there and be with my fiancée, Brittany, and my son, Brayden, who are in Alabama. I’d like to be there for as long as I can before I have to leave for KC. I haven't seen them since December and it’s really rough being away from them, so I want to maximize my time with them. Hopefully I'm back in the USA soon!
MF: We look forward to seeing you soon. Thanks for your time!
SK: No worries. I look forward to being back with the T-Bones this season.