All-Star Nilsson bound for Sydney via Japan
Posted: Monday January 17, 2000 01:07 AM
Chunichi will allow Dave Nilsson to represent his native Australia in the upcoming Sydney Olympics. AP
NEW YORK (AP) -- Free agent Dave Nilsson signed a one-year contract to join Japan's Chunichi Dragons, clearing the way for the All-Star catcher to play for his native Australia in the upcoming Sydney Olympics.
"This is a dream come true for me. This is what I wanted," Nilsson said after agreeing to terms Monday in Sydney.
Nilsson, 30, hit .309 with 21 home runs and 62 RBIs for the Milwaukee Brewers last year and was a member of the NL All-Star team. The left-handed hitter missed September because of a broken right thumb.
Minnesota, Florida and Kansas City had talked to Nilsson about a new contract. Agent Alan Nero said he also spoke to the New York Yankees and Cleveland, but their interest was based on making trades to open room for Nilsson.
Nilsson, who made nearly $5.7 million last season in Milwaukee, will get a salary of about $2 million in 2000 and become a free agent after the season.
As for a future return to the majors, "there might be places that might make it hard for him to say no," Nero said from Sydney.
Nilsson said all along he wanted to play in the Summer Games - they start in September, in the middle of the pennant race. This is the first time American professional teams will let players compete in the Olympics, but clubs are not expected to permit their top stars to take part.
Japan's pro league, however, will let a lot of its top talent play in the Olympics. Nilsson plans to return to Chunichi after the Games for the remainder of the Dragons' season.
"The addition of Nilsson will give our batting order a different look and we have very high expectations of him," Chunichi president Tsuyoshi Sato said.
Nilsson will be the first Australian major leaguer to play in Japan, Dragons spokesman Tetsuo Ishiguro said. Chunichi used to hold its spring training in Australia, and Nilsson recalled watching those workouts as a minor leaguer.
As part of the deal, the Dragons signed a three-year working agreement with the Australian Baseball League, a professional circuit that Nilsson bought last year.
"Building a bridge from Japan to Australia was an important part of this," Nilsson said.
In November, Nilsson played for the Australian national team and was MVP of the Intercontinental Cup, a four-nation tournament in Sydney.
Nero said Nilsson had considered signing a long-term contract with a major league team and missing the Olympics, and also taking a year off from pro ball.
"Chunichi was very aggressive in its approach, and made the opportunity available for him to play in the Olympics," Nero said.
Nilsson is a lifetime .284 hitter with 105 homers. He has spent his entire eight-year career with Milwaukee and received a standing ovation from Brewers fans when he took his final at-bat at County Stadium in October.
Nilsson also has played outfield and first base since making his major league debut in 1992.
Chunichi, champions of the Central League, was searching for a big hitter in case first baseman Takeshi Yamasaki does not recover quickly. He broke his left wrist last September.
The Dragons also signed pitcher Dan Carlson to a one-year contract worth about $150,000.
Carlson, 29, was 0-0 in two relief appearances for Arizona last season. He is 1-0 in four years with San Francisco, Tampa Bay and the Diamondbacks.
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