Brian Burgamy has left the Canberra Cavalry at the 11th hour to take up a deal in Mexico. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
The Canberra Cavalry have lost one of their most important players at the 11th hour as they prepare for a fiery Australian Baseball League opener against arch-rivals Sydney Blue Sox at Narrabundah Ballpark on Friday night.
Reigning ABL silver slugger Brian Burgamy has signed with Mexican Winter League team Mazatlan and won't play a game for the Cavalry.
Burgamy hadn't signed a contract yet and got an offer from a league ''a couple of years ahead'' of the ABL.
The fab five of the Canberra Cavalry (l-r) Jeremy Barnes, Brian Grening, Robert Dickmann, Kody Hightower and Jack Murphy at Narrabundah Ballpark. Photo: Colleen Petch
''He wanted to play in Canberra, you don't fly halfway around the world unless you want to play, he was in the country 48 hours and he gets an offer that's basically too good to refuse,'' Canberra general manager Peter Bishell said.
''So he's disappointed and I can understand where he's at.''
Even without their key hitter, the Cavalry still have plenty of motivation with scars still burning deeply from the way they were bundled out of last season's play-offs.
At the expense of the Cavalry, the Blue Sox took the fourth-and-final post-season spot - a spot the Cavalry were adamant should have been theirs.
Publicly the Cavalry say they have moved on, but privately they are fuming at the way the league treated the finals debacle, with one source saying Canberra was ''screwed over''.
The ABL on Thursday stood by its controversial decision, but has extended its finals tie-break rule to cover a four-way tie as a result - something the league admits it did not expect to need until it happened last season.
ABL chief executive Peter Wermuth joked the rule should probably be extended to include all six teams.
He was in Canberra on Thursday to announce that the league would join the federal government's Be the Influence: Tackling Binge Drinking campaign.
Going into the last round of last season, five teams were fighting for three finals berths with eventual premiers Perth Heat the only team guaranteed of seeing post-season action. The Melbourne Aces finished outright second, with the Cavalry and the other three teams locked in a tie for the final two spots.
In the end, the Cavs missed out although many high-ranking ACT baseball officials believed the rules had not been followed correctly. Wermuth stood by the ABL's decision.
''No [we didn't get it wrong], it was exactly as we had, well not planned for it, I don't think anyone could plan for a four-way tie, but we just took the three-way tie rules and applied them to a four-way tie,'' he said.
Cavalry coach Michael Collins won't use the finals saga as inspiration for Friday's game - he would prefer to go into the new season on a positive note. He preferred to talk up the Cavalry's chances of winning their first ABL title. And he thinks he has the weapons to do it.
Collins talked up the Cavalry's ''Fab Five'', who he thinks will form the backbone of the team.
Kody Hightower and Jeremy Barnes will not only be important for their hitting, but they'll also slot in at the crucial infield posts of short stop and second base.
Towering catcher Jack Murphy, who is affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays, will direct the pitching roster, which contains the returning Brian Grening and Robert Dickmann.
Both will form part of the starting rotation, with Grening moving out of the bullpen this season.
He previously was used as a middle innings reliever by former coach Steve Schrenk.
But Friday night Grening will go head-to-head with Blue Sox veteran Chris Oxspring.
Dickmann will start in game two of the series on Saturday afternoon.
''I'm excited, the guys who have put this team together have done a great job,'' Collins said.
''Watching them in the last week, if we play to our capabilities I definitely, we're here to win, and I do think we can … that's our goal that's what we're here for.''
Meanwhile, the Cavalry have added another pitcher to their roster with the signing of John Holdzkom.
The 2.01-centimetre Kiwi boasts a 160km/h fastball, but he won't join the Cavalry until after the New Zealand national side has completed its qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic in Taiwan in a fortnight.
AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE
Canberra Cavalry v Sydney Blue Sox at Narrabundah Ballpark. Three-game series: Friday 7pm; Saturday 4pm and 7pm.