Grant Balfour looking for Ray of sunshine in new year
BASEBALL: He might be 36 and entering the twilight of his career, but All Star relieving pitcher and Sydney-born Grant Balfour has some unfinished business left at the Tampa Bay Rays.
That's not to mention he's one of Australia's highest-paid athletes, set to earn A$8.6 million in the final year of his two-year contract at the Rays in 2015.
But Balfour has a burning desire - to win back the closer spot he performed so well at during his time at the Oakland Athletics in 2012 and 2013.
Balfour was a standout while at the Athletics - the team famous for the Moneyball movie - shutting the door 62 times from 67 attempts in those seasons.
In doing so, the Aussie broke the record of most consecutive saves of 40 by an Oakland closer, previously held by Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.
Balfour subsequently became just Australia's second-ever Major League All Star last year, behind Brisbane Bandits coach and legend David Nilsson.
The 2014 season wasn't as kind, losing the closing role at Tampa Bay after shutting the door 12 from 15 attempts, finishing in a set-up relieving role and posting a 4.91 earned-run average.
He averaged 2.56 in 2012 and 2013 while at the Oakland As.
"To be honest, this year for me was a bit of a down year. I threw about a two-and-a-half for about six straight years there," Balfour told APN while in Brisbane during his MLB Ambassador Tour around Australia.
"To have an ERA of over four this year was a letdown. It probably got away from me a little bit.
"But the last six weeks of the year I pitched like how I've been going over the past six years - at about two or two and a half."
Balfour, who boasts an exceptional 528-game Major League career with a 3.46 earned-run average, said he believes better days are ahead at the Rays next year.
"I'm looking forward to more of a bounce back this coming year," he said.
"I did it the last six weeks and I proved that to myself. It's just going back into camp, remembering where I was, my mindset and where I was mechanically that last six weeks, and carrying it over to next year."
Regardless, you can expect more aggression from Balfour - famous for a heated exchange with Detroit's Victor Martinez in the 2013 playoffs - when on the mound.
"I think you give them the edge if you sit there and back down to someone," he said.
"I've never been intimidated by anyone out there, and I don't think there's any reason to be."