Aussie Jewish player thrilled to be at Classic

Everyone is looking forward to the World Baseball Classic, not the least Gavin Fingleson, who will be there representing Australia. "It is the biggest thing ever on the baseball calendar. It should be awesome and there has been nothing else like this. It will be great for the game," Fingleson told The Jerusalem Post. The World Baseball Classic promises to be one of the biggest sporting events of 2006. For the first time the world's best baseball players will represent their respective countries at the same tournament. Previously, the Olympics has conflicted with the Major League Baseball season, preventing the top professionals from appearing. Although Australia is the reigning Olympic silver medalist, it has been placed in a tough group alongside Venezuela, Italy and the Dominican Republic. The top two teams in each group advance to the next stage and Australia would do very well to do so. With the likes of 2005 AL Cy Young award winner Bartolo Colon, Feliz Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alfonso Soriano, and Manny Ramirez in the lineup, the Dominican Republic threatens to be a tough matchup. Venezuela, with players the caliber of Johan Santanna, Freddy Garcia, Victor Zambrano, Alex Cabrera and Omar Vizquel, will also prove a difficult assignment. Italy completes the group and their biggest name is catcher Mike Piazza, but none of this phases the 30-year-old Fingleson. Australia faces Italy in both teams' opener Tuesday night in Orlando, Florida. "I am not worried about who we are up against, you have to play, sit back and relax. I am looking forward to it. If you take that attitude you are beaten before you take the field. It's a tournament and not a long season like they are used to. "There is no tomorrow. As long as you play hard, execute and do the best you can do you should be ok." Born in South Africa, Fingleson and his family moved to Australia when he was 11. Fingleson got into the game through his father, Frank. Showing a great deal of skill as a teenager representing Australia at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels, he won a baseball scholarship to Wallace State Community College in Alabama. After two years at Wallace St., Fingleson won another scholarship, this time to Southeastern Louisiana University. After graduating, he remained in the US and played baseball on independent teams before taking his trade in Taiwan. He returned to the US in 2003 and played with the New Haven Cutters of the independent Northeast League. Fingleson was the starting second baseman at the Athens Games and started slow. Going 0-3 in the first game against Cuba, he rebounded well finishing the tournament with an average of .351, nine RBIs, six runs scored, one home run and a stolen base. In addition, he made the play which put Australia in the gold medal game. Fingleson's accomplishments have been noted by the local Jewish community and they in turn have awarded him with the Maccabi Australia Sportsman of the Year Award‚ which he has won several times. "Being Jewish is something I am very proud of and gave me an identity when I was playing in places such as Louisiana and Taiwan." With the eyes of the world watching the World Baseball Classic, Fingleson wants to keep it simple. "My goals for the tournament are to get on the ballparks, have good at bats and play good defense." If he doesn't start, Fingleson would prove handy as a pinch-hitter. He is a switch hitter and his excellent pitch judgment when in the batters' box makes him valuable in clutch situations. The Australian team is on a high after its triumph in the Athens Olympics. Competing on a crowded sporting landscape alongside cricket, tennis, golf, soccer and basketball isn't easy for the sport, but it's doing well in an incredibly competitive environment. "As we are getting closer to the tournament, interest is building in it and there are sponsors getting involved with Australian baseball," he said. As for Fingleson's longterm ambitions? "I am not a professional player and that is my decision, so who knows. [I'm] just going to take each tournament as it comes." Fingleson runs his own business called The Fun and Fitness Company and his wife is expecting their first child in July. The business allows him to stay in shape and in addition he has his own workout regime, as well as a series of personal drills and battings drills. "Thank God everything is going well and I am just thrilled to be part of the biggest thing ever to happen in baseball."