Family affair for Kiwis as Classic qualifying nears
Moanaroas, former Red Sox prospects, among six sets of brothers with New Zealand
There are six sets of brothers on the New Zealand team preparing for next week's qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic, but it's the brothers Moanaroa who have become the face of a team making the country's first-ever appearance in the tournament.
Moko, 22, and Boss, 21, are widely considered two of the most accomplished young players in a country where baseball is rapidly growing. They grew up in Australia, but their family is from New Zealand.
Moko, an outfielder, played in 98 games over four seasons in the Red Sox organization before being released in 2011. Boss, a first baseman, followed his brother's footsteps into the Boston organization in 2009 and played this season at Class A Greenville.
Personal accolades aside, Moko and Boss are looking forward to carving their place in New Zealand baseball history. The team begins action in the second World Baseball Classic qualifying round at 5:30 a.m. ET on Nov. 15 in New Taipei City, Taiwan. The games can be seen live on MLB Network.
"Definitely, being the first New Zealand team, I feel very prideful," Boss said. "No one in baseball has ever done this."
The Moanaroa brothers and the rest of their Kiwi teammates enter the qualifier as clear underdogs, the only squad in the four-team bracket -- which includes No. 8 Chinese Taipei, No. 23 Thailand and No. 31 Philippines -- unranked by the International Baseball Federation.
But Boss said he's been impressed with the team's ability.
"Most of the team hasn't had a lot of experience, but we have a lot of good players on this team," Boss said. "I think the whole world is going to be shocked at what kind of talent we have in New Zealand."
Other New Zealanders to watch include:
John Holdzkom, a 6-foot-7 right-hander who appeared in six games for the Reds' high-A affiliate in 2012 and has a fastball that has been clocked at 101 mph.
Daniel Lamb-Hunt, who spent time in the Braves organization after being a standout softball player. He recently completed his third season of European baseball.
Catcher Te Wera Bishop, also a former softball player, who once signed with the Red Sox.
For Moko and others, the World Baseball Classic provides a chance for them to get another look from Major League teams.
"Definitely, it'd be good to be picked up again, even independent ball as well," Moko said. "Go out there and show them what I've got."
The play on the field isn't the only thing New Zealand has in store for fans. It also has a dance. A number of players are Maori, a strong culture in New Zealand. Maori culture is the source of the haka, a war dance players perform before games, much like New Zealand's rugby team does.
"We actually made our own war dance just for the baseball team, and we've done it before every game so far," Boss said. "It's going to be exciting -- first time anyone's seen it. Everyone's excited to do it, and it really motivates everyone and gets people going in the same direction."
It's a direction that the Moanaroa brothers and New Zealand hope leads to a big upset win for the team and greater opportunities for its players.