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Turnaround has Cavalry charging into summer

Date

Lee Gaskin

Monday's Expert

Canberra pitcher John Holdzkom in action against Brisbane on Sunday.

Canberra pitcher John Holdzkom in action against Brisbane on Sunday. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

As far as sporting Cinderella stories go, they don't get much better than the Canberra Cavalry.

The mere fact there's even newsprint dedicated to baseball when all attention should be on cricket's marquee event of the Australian summer, the Boxing Day Test, says a lot about how far the Cavalry has come.

Considered an afterthought when the Australian Baseball League was formed in 2009, the Cavalry has shaken off the stigma of two straight wooden spoons to be firmly in championship contention.

Judging the orange brigade's success solely in terms of the number of wins on the board glosses over the mammoth task it faced to win over the Canberra public.

The enormous groundswell of support to be included in the revamped ABL three years ago took a lot of people by surprise.

Especially given the scars of the ill-fated Canberra Bushrangers, a relocated club from Melbourne with big ambitions and an even bigger financial black hole.

NBA icon Michael Jordan, former Test cricket captain Allan Border and ex-Raiders forward John Lomax were just some of the ludicrous names tossed up as possible recruits before the Bushrangers collapsed in 1995.

Part of their demise was due to playing in the 25,000-seat Canberra Stadium, a venue far too large and costly for a minority sport making its way in unfamiliar territory.

This time around the Cavalry has learnt its lesson, turning the boutique Narrabundah Ballpark into one of the most enjoyable grounds for fans.

Sure, the food lines are long and parking can be a struggle, but it's a welcome trade-off for the fantastic buzz created by regular crowds in excess of 1500.

Those should swell in future years as the ballpark receives a $5 million facelift from the ACT government, increasing capacity beyond 2500.

The Cavalry has become the ABL's success story, on and off the park.

Not only is it a force on the field, but it's also one of the few teams in the competition to turn a profit.

That's music to the ears of Major League Baseball, which is a 75 per cent owner of the ABL, with the other 25 per cent owned by the Australian Baseball Federation.

MLB faces a critical decision when its five-year commitment to under-write the ABL expires.

The value isn't just in expanding the game's reach, but also gives MLB clubs a place to allow their minor-league prospects to fine-tune their skills in the off-season.

That presents its own challenges, with ABL clubs often only having players for as long as their MLB affiliates, in Canberra's case that's the Toronto Blue Jays, allow it.

Firm guidelines need to be put in place to ensure the credibility of the ABL is maintained.

Despite having players rotated in and out of its roster, the Cavalry has rebounded from a couple of lean years to find itself on track to host a play-off series.

Canberra-raised Michael Collins has taken over from inaugural manager Steve Schrenk to instil a team-first attitude that has crowds flocking through the gates.

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