The Cal Ripken/Major 70 is a celebration of youth and ameteur baseball, but that doesn’t mean a little bit of professional baseball can’t creep in. For Team Australia that comes in the form of 22-year-old Nick Hutchings, their manager who doubles as a relief pitcher for his hometown team, the Adelaide Bites.
Hutchings started playing for the Bites, a founding organization in the Australian baseball league, when he was only 16. After a couple of years with the Bites, however, Hutchings got the call to head over to America.
"I got signed out of Australia as a international free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates, so I headed over there after I finished high school.” Hutchings said. “I played three years in the Pirates minor league system and got released, so I came back home [and] continued to play for the Adelaide Bites. “
A shoulder instability temporarily derailed Hutchings’ MLB aspirations, but he was able to recover and return to play for the Bites as a relief pitcher. Originally, Hutchings was a starting pitcher.but after his injury switched positions to give his arm less innings and more time to rest, a switch he would later make permanent.
Of course, relief pitching isn’t the only thing Hutchings has added to his repertoire.
He's a coach for the Adelaide Seahawks, a team of kids a decade younger than him. This is his first year coaching.
“I got a little brother on the team so I was always helping out, so the head role sort of came up.” Hutchings said. “My manager at the Bite, Chris Adamson and one of his assistants said, y'know, ‘your brother's on the team doing this,‘do you wanna do the job, do you wanna take it on?’ So I thought, my arm is still average so I wasn't gonna play during the winter, and I wasn't going back to the States or anything like that, why not, give it a crack, see what it's all about."
Hutchings and the Seahawks had a wild road on the way to the world series. They competed in two tournaments in West Beach and Lismore prior to their arrival in Branson. Lismore hosts the national championship, and the Seahawks had to battle their way back to make it to Cal Ripken.
“To get here we had to come from behind three times in the final round of Lismore.” Hutchings said. “In the pool play, in the quarter-final, and the semi-final, we had to come from behind all three games to win...I’m just wrapped that the boys were able to do that and show some fight as 11 and 12 year olds.”
As proud as Hutchings is of his players, the players are just as happy to have Hutchings in place as their head coach.
“It’s one of a kind to have a young player like him to play with us.” said Joshua Bradley, first baseman for Team Australia. “We can kind of relate to him, he’s fun to be around.”
His teammate, outfielder Billy Sutton, agreed with those points, while also offering insight into why he felt Hutchings’ experience was immensely valuable to the team.
“I think it’s good to have a coach who’s had in-game experience at a really high level,” said Billy Sutton, an outfielder for the team. “And it’s just a great way to get better and teaches you really good skills because he’s at a higher level. I think it’s good for the team.”
As much as the kids seem to enjoy him, for Hutchings, the role reversal presents new challenges. As a long-time player and first time coach, old troubles are tossed to the side and replaced with new challenges.
“It’s totally different,” Hutchings said. “A lot more preparation goes into coaching than playing. Playing, you wake up, go to the field, do your work, try and get better, and that’s it. Once you finish training or playing your game, you’re done. [As a coach] you gotta plan their practices, you gotta go there, execute, get the boys up and about, keep them focused, keep teaching them new things, keep working them at things they can get better at.”
But while Hutchings can only think of the unique challenges a coach in his place can find, the kid’s seem thrilled with what he offers. Having a coach who understands them and what they’re doing might be just what they need to succeed in the tournament. Or at the very least, have a great time.
“When we went to our national titles in Lizmore to get here, it was all about winning. We said boys if you wanna go and keep playing, try to make these tournaments in America, we gotta do it. We gotta put in the effort, put in the hard yards, we gotta win.
“But now that we’re here,” Hutchings continued. “We’re trying to get that balance right. We’re playing against some of the best teams in the world...have fun, still compete, give us your best effort, try and win a few games, but at the end of the day enjoy the experience, enjoy the team your playing against.”