Growing up on Manly Beach in Sydney, one would expect Josh Gessner to be more at home on a surfboard, or at least a cricket oval, than a baseball diamond.
He does surf. But instead of a fast bowler, he became a fastball pitcher.
The 18-year-old Aussie, headed to NCAA Div. 1 Tulane University in New Orleans as an incoming freshman next season, got the start on the mound Saturday night for the Victoria HarbourCats in their West Coast League game against the Corvallis Knights.
It was, as they say, a teaching moment for Gessner who was rocked with Corvallis taking a 6-0 lead after two innings before more than 5,000 fans at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park. Corvallis won 12-7.
“I am looking to grind it out through the levels from college on to pro ball,” Gessner said.
The love of baseball came through the few years the family lived in his mother Tae’s native Japan.
“It’s a huge sport in Japan,” said Gessner, who is of German ancestry on his dad Martin’s side.
When the family moved back to Australia from Japan, Gessner took that passion for baseball and joined the youth academy program of the professional Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League.
“Although it’s not as well known as cricket, baseball is getting bigger and continues to improve in Australia,” Gessner said.
“By North American pro standards, I would say the ABL is at a high Single-A level and could reach Double-A standard quite soon.”
With options in both the northern and southern hemispheres, Gessner has double the chances of a pro career than your regular Canadian or American player in the WCL.
It has taken him on quite a cross-Pacific adventure directly out of high school. Gessner has yet to visit his future NCAA collegiate home in New Orleans, but said he has found a good summer collegiate-league landing pad in Victoria in a fellow Commonwealth culture in which he is comfortable. And then there is the common culture of baseball, in which he is immersed.
“I throw hard and I have a slider,” said the six-foot-one, 205-pound hurler. “But I believe pitching is as much a mental game.” Which is why Gessner said his current reading list includes How Champions Think: In Sports and Life by Dr. Bob Rotella.
Both physically and mentally, the HarbourCats believe they have a potential pro on their mound. General manager Jim Swanson said he has fielded several calls from scouts asking about Gessner’s scheduled game dates in the starting rotation.
The HarbourCats and two-time defending and six-time overall WCL-champion Knights, named for the wife of Nike co-founder Phil Knight and main team sponsor Penny Knight, meet again this afternoon to close out their three-game set at Royal Athletic Park.
Today’s matinée is the Alex De Goti bobblehead giveaway game. That bobblehead might be a keeper. De Goti, the former HarbourCats standout shortstop played three seasons in Victoria, and is now in Triple-A with the Round Rock Express in the Houston Astros system.
Miami-native De Goti is one step away from joining homegrown Victoria pitcher Nick Pivetta of the Philadelphia Phillies as the second HarbourCats alumnus in the MLB.
DIAMOND DUST: There were 90 current or former WCL players selected in the 2019 MLB draft. Leading the list was Adley Rutschman, who played for the Knights in 2016 and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles. Andrew Vaughn, who played seven games for Victoria in 2017, went third overall to the Chicago White Sox. It was a heady draft for the WCL with other first rounders being Michael Toglia out of Wenatchee to the Rockies, Kody Hoese out of the Bellingham Bells to the L.A. Dodgers and former HarbourCat Davis Wendzel to the Texas Rangers.