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After 11 years, baseball is coming back Down Under

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — More than a decade after the demise of the Australian Baseball League, a topflight national competition will return — with a financial boost from Major League Baseball.

The new six-team Australian Baseball League will begin play in November, bankrolled by MLB in the U.S. and the Australian Baseball Federation.

The old ABL folded in 1999 amid mounting debts and was purchased by former Milwaukee Brewers catcher David Nilsson, an Australian. The competition created in the wake of the ABL, the International Baseball League of Australia, folded in 2002.

The new teams, located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra, will play a likely 40-game schedule.

Ben Foster, a former utility infielder and catcher with the Gold Coast team in the old ABL, is the manager of baseball operations for the new competition.

"There were will be two prime stakeholders, Major League Baseball and the ABF," Foster told The Associated Press on Thursday. He would not confirm reports that MLB would provide 75 percent of the operating costs of the new league.

The Australian government kick-started funds for the new league with a $400,000 grant last year.

Foster said all the teams will be essentially owned by the league, with separate operating staff that will report directly to the ABL. The teams, however, will be responsible for acquiring sponsorships and run local promotions in their cities.

Peter Wermouth, who has worked for MLB International in new business development, has moved to Australia and will be chief executive officer for the ABL.

Foster, who declined to give any details on the expected operating costs of the league in its first year, said the ABL will run during the major league offseason and probably attract a wide variety of players.

"I guess we'll be much like other winter leagues, maybe not comparable directly in terms of year one ... maybe a little below," Foster said. "Overall, we'd be looking at around Double-A."

Some major league players look for extra conditioning during the offseason play in the winter leagues, and Foster hopes to see some established stars head to Australia from time to time.

Some of those could even be native Australians.

There were eight Australian players on MLB rosters in 2009. This year, four of 11 Australians in spring training made it to the opening day rosters — relievers Grant Balfour of Tampa Bay Rays, Peter Moylan of the Atlanta Braves and Brad Thomas of the Detroit Tigers, and starting pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith of the Seattle Mariners.

Last year, Foster said there were 88 Australians in the majors and minors in the United States.

Nilsson and reliever Graeme Lloyd remain Australia's top exports.

Nilsson played for the Brewers from 1992 to 1999 and was an All-Star in 1999 before retiring the same year with 105 home runs and a .284 career batting average.

Lloyd, a left-handed reliever, played from 1993 to 2003 with seven major league teams and won World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1996 and 1998.