Unsworth fired up to return with Perth Heat
Dylan Unsworth took the Australian Baseball League by storm last season with the Perth Heat and the South African pitcher is back again ready to make up for a lost year in 2020 that promised so much.
Unsworth arrived at the Heat for the 2019/20 ABL season looking to put in impressive starting pitching performances to open up some doors for him to break into affiliated baseball in the United States and hopefully end up in Major League Baseball.
That plan couldn’t have worked out much better nor could he have done any more in his season with the Heat. He ended up being named the league's Pitching Champion and things were quickly looking up.
From the ABL season with the Heat, he represented South Africa strongly in the World Baseball Classic in March and then joined up with his team in Mexico.
He played a couple of pre-season games with Pericos de Puebla in the Mexican League but then COVID-19 really took hold, the season was cancelled and he was quickly back home to Cape Town where he'd spend most of the next several months in lockdown.
That wasn’t exactly how he envisioned 2020 turning out after how well it started down under and with his goals of getting back top level baseball having previously spent time with the Seattle Mariners.
What Unsworth's focus then became was on getting himself into the best position to get back playing again somewhere that would get him noticed enough to secure a big money contract once the Australian summer ended.
Initially his management thought that would be by playing with Auckland Tuatara, but when they could no longer field a team this ABL season then Unsworth knew that there was no better option for him anywhere on the globe than coming back to the Heat.
Unsworth is now nearing the end of his two-week hotel quarantine since enduring almost 40 hours of travel to get from Cape Town to Perth initially, and he couldn’t be happier to be back with the Heat.
"It's been such a long wait and such a long year in so many ways where all of my plans and hopes have really been thrown up in the air, but that's what has happened to most of the world thanks to COVID," Unsworth said.
"I know there a lot of people in the world worse off than me but I just think that things always work out the way they should and that's why I'm now in Perth.
"It really does feel like my second home I had such a great time last year but at the same time I know that there's a lot more pressure on me this time around.
"Everyone now expects me to do what I did last season or to be even better, but all I can control is the way I pitch each time I step out there.
"But first of all I'm just looking forward to getting two weeks of quarantine out of the way which everyone will have to do flying in and then there'll be a pretty rapid preparation for our first game which I can't wait for."
Speaking of that first game, you can lock Unsworth in to be pitching Game 1 of the season which takes place for the Heat at Harley-Davidson Ballpark on Friday December 18.
Given he hasn’t pitched a ball in anger at a batter since March, it's fair to say Unsworth can't wait to get back out there.
"I obviously had pretty huge hopes for this year coming off the season I had with the Heat but now as it's turned out thanks to COVID, the last time I actually pitched in a game was at the World Baseball Classic back in March," he said.
"We then had a couple of pre-season games with my team in Mexico but then everything got serious with COVID and the season was called off, and everyone was sent back home. So I've been back in South Africa ever since but I never took things easy.
"Even though we have been in pretty serious lockdown until quite recently, I still kept myself in the best shape I could by working out and kept throwing my arm over. I wanted to make sure I was ready just in case things opened up again at any moment really at any part of the world so I could go and be ready to play.
"I also wanted to make sure that I was in good shape for the Australian season again so it has been tough I'm not going to lie, but I've made sure I have stayed in shape this whole time and I'm ready to go."
It hasn’t been the easiest time back home in Cape Town either for the 28-year-old so he is glad to be coming to Australia where it's somewhere that COVID-19 appears to be under much better control.
"We have actually been pretty strict on everything here in South Africa and for a number of months there we were in strict lockdown just to try and keep things under control the best we could," Unsworth said.
"So that hasn’t been easy but just in the last month or two we have started to ease those restrictions and we have been able to get somewhat back to normal.
"But from what I've heard, Australia is pretty much COVID-free so I can't wait to experience what a beautiful country it is again. Hopefully things stay that way and I can continue to build on my life with it being like my second home."
Having initially signed at the Tuatara and then electing to rejoin the Heat means it's been an eventful period for Unsworth in working out where he'd play again for his first time since having baseball taken away from him.
But he now couldn’t be happier to be back with Perth and has no problem thinking that it's how it was always meant to be.
"I do think that everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan so I'm very happy that I've ended up coming back to the Heat. I never had any bad feelings about Perth or anything like that, I loved the city and the team," Unsworth said.
"But honestly the only reason that I did sign with Auckland is because my management thought it would give me the best chance to try to break my way into Asia if I played well there.
"They felt the connections from Auckland would lead to better things for me after the season so that was the only reason I did choose to go there. But even when I signed, Rory and Steve got in touch straight away to congratulate me and wish me all the best, and to say that I always had a home in Perth if I ever wanted to come back.
"Then obviously with Auckland pulling out of the league, Rory got straight on the phone to me say he'd love to welcome me back and I jumped at the chance. I had such a great time in Perth last season and I now can't wait to get back there, and I honestly feel like everything works out for a reason and it's where I'm meant to be."
Unsworth makes no secret that he hopes to impress the right people to earn himself a big contract wherever his next stop might be after the ABL season, but ultimately he knows that winning is what gets noticed most and that's exactly what he hopes to help the Heat do.
"I know things are not going to be the same as last season. I will now have a target on my back and I have a lot of expected of me because of what I achieved last year," Unsworth said.
"If I don’t perform as well as I did last season or even better, then I know it will be seen by some people as a disappointment but I've put the work in to give myself the best chance to perform. Now I just can't worry about those expectations. There's nothing I can do about that.
"All I can control is performing each time I step out there to pitch the ball and that's what my focus will be. I'll just be focusing on my next time out there and giving it my all, and hopefully everything else can take care of itself.
"But I'm not worried about individual accolades or anything, those are for other people to judge. I just want to pitch the best I can and then try to win this championship with the Heat."
By Chris Pike