Hayden Beard says the Canberra Cavalry are the ''real deal'', making his imminent return to San Diego for surgery all the harder to take.
The Canberra-born pitcher injured his right shoulder during San Diego Padres' spring training last year, but battled through the season.
He was meant to rest until the new year before returning as a starter for the Cavalry, but scans revealed he hadn't healed and needed a bursectomy - to remove a small sack of fluid from his shoulder.
Beard was awaiting a visa before returning to the USA.
With the Cavalry charging towards their first play-offs, it made parting such sweet sorrow.
Canberra have won their last five series and started the year on top of the Australian Baseball League ladder.
They boast the best batting line-up in the ABL, as well as the most miserly pitching staff.
Beard desperately wanted to be a part of it, but was confident they could dethrone reigning champions Perth Heat without him.
His absence will be a big blow, following the departures of Japanese imports Masanori Fujihara and Hirokazu Shiranita (recalled), as well as Chris Coleman (arm injury).
Beard was one of the top pitchers last season with the third-lowest earned run average in the ABL.
''[The Cavalry] are a real chance [of winning the title], they're the real deal,'' he told Fairfax Media.
''To go over to Perth and knock them off the first three games as they've done this series, they wouldn't be sitting on the top of the ladder coming into the New Year if they weren't a legitimate chance.
''It'd be a lot easier [to return to San Diego] if we were sitting on the bottom of the table again and not winning any games, but when the team's so successful everyone wants to be a part of that.
''I'd do anything I could to put on that jersey and pitch for the Cavs.''
The 27-year-old said the bursectomy was a minor procedure with a 12-week recovery period.
He should return to action at the end of spring training and possibly miss ''three or four'' weeks of the season.
When he does make his comeback, Beard expects to be part of the Padres AAA-class squad - the level below the major leagues.
It puts him just a phone call away from ''the Show''.
This minor setback was nothing compared to the three years he missed after elbow surgery in 2007.
''I'm thinking about it like an oil change for a car,'' Beard said.
The Cavalry made it three straight wins against the Heat - their sixth straight victory - with a 10-7 triumph in Perth on Sunday night.
Perth handed the game to the Cavs on a plate, with repeated throwing errors by their infielders helping the visitors to an early 7-1 lead.
The Cavalry return to Canberra on Tuesday and play another four-game series against the Heat starting on Thursday.
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA 1 2 4 1 1 0 1 0 0 - 10
PERTH 0 1 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 - 7
At Barbagallo Ballpark, Perth on Sunday night. Crowd: 1440.
Runs - Canberra: Murphy 2 (1 home run), Knecht 2 (1 home run), Hightower 2, Callaway 2, Stovall, Matavesi; Perth: Ohlman 2 (2 home runs), Bell 2, Adamson, Khoury, Webb.