Roenicke headed to New Zealand for working vacation

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will help work with baseball players in New Zealand, while also getting a taste of what the country has to offer.

Jeffrey Phelps/Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

Before Ron Roenicke begins his fifth season as a big-league manager, the skipper of the Milwaukee Brewers has an important trip to make.

Roenicke leaves Monday for a week-long trip to New Zealand to work with players of different age levels as well as conducting coaching clinics throughout the country as part of Major League Baseball’s ambassador tours.

"They are pretty excited about the possibility of really getting baseball going, certainly with the idea of getting some players over here to play in our country," Roenicke told FOXSportsWisconsin.com in a phone interview.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Fred Claire, who is currently serving as a consultant for Baseball New Zealand, approached Roenicke about the possibility of making a trip over as an ambassador.

Roenicke was intrigued for a variety of reasons. New Zealand was a place he’s always wanted to visit, while this was a great opportunity to give back.

"We’re doing such a good job of that with certain countries like Japan and Korea," Roenicke said. "With all the Latin countries that we’ve been working with for so long, it is nice to branch out. I think it is great to take this game to different countries and have them be interested.

"Hopefully we’ll see what kind of athletes they have. We all know what kind of rugby team that New Zealand has. We’re hoping to take some of those great athletes to the baseball diamond and see how it works."

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Roenicke will work with top players on the New Zealand national team, many of whom represented the country during the qualifying rounds of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, along with many of the nation’s top 18U, 15U and 12U national development players.

He will also conduct clinics for youth players and coaches in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.

"Because they all play fastpitch softball that they already have all the basics," Roenicke said. "The pitchers certainly wouldn’t have the overhand idea of the curveballs and all the different pitches. The swing is a little different, but it shouldn’t be that much different. They field the same. Going to a smaller ball will be different.

"Fastpitch softball is tough. To try to be able to hit the pitching requires a lot of the same skills they are going to need to hit a baseball. I think the transition over from it shouldn’t be that big of a deal."

New Zealand’s interest level in baseball is growing, but only three native-born players have ever played professionally in the United States.

The country recently got behind former national team pitcher John Holdzkom, who is American-born with a father born in New Zealand. Holdzkom made his major-league debut last season at 27 years old and posted a 2.00 ERA in nine innings with Pittsburgh.

"I think the key to all of this is being able to see somebody from your country go over and succeed in what we think is the best baseball in the world," Roenicke said. "To be able to have somebody from your country succeed is important. And it is really important to get some players in the minor leagues so they can see them come up to the big leagues."

The trip won’t be solely focused on baseball, as Baseball New Zealand CEO Ryan Flynn has planned trips for Roenicke and his wife, Karen, to experience what the country has to offer.

"I’ve heard about how good the fishing is there since I was young," Roenicke said. "We’re going to try to play golf somewhere there, and then do a wine tour. I really just want to see the country. We’re hit two cities in the northern island — Auckland and Wellington — and then we’ll hit Christchurch in the southern island. To be able to see both islands will be fun. It is a trip that I get to see their country on but also be able to help.

"It works out nice. I will then have a week and a half about before I take off for spring training."

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