Let’s play ball
Take a look at any provincial softball team roster and they’re bound to have something in common. Chances are there will be a player there with a connection to the Placentia region. The names are littered across rosters on the male and female side. Whether it is senior ball or the under-16 championships, there is more than likely a player on the roster who grew up playing ball in the town.
Just this summer alone, there are more than a dozen local players suiting up for provincial teams at high profile tournaments.
When the lineups are turned in on game day, the coaches handing them to the umpires very well could be from Placentia. If you need physical proof, turn to the Lafontaine Club in Freshwater. The walls of the club are lined with picture after picture of successful Placentia-based softball teams.
“It’s a culture really,” said recreation commission chairman Jim Roache. “We’ve always had a history. You’d never be able to name all the players who have played at nationals. They’re still taking ball players out of here. There is loads of talent.”
This culture is steadily being reinforced and solidified by a minor program that has some 100 children registered. It works in such a way that ensures all children get the necessary instruction on the basics of the game. Through the day camp and the minor program, Placentia softball has a solid system in place to churn out top-notch ball players.
“The goal is to keep softball alive,” said Roache. “We’ve had a lot of good people coming up through. Softball is really pushing the area.”
Having that solid coaching system in place is nothing without passionate players.
“The younger groups love playing ball,” said Roache. “There is one group of kids that lives at the ball field.”
Placentia has the athletes to be successful in the game as well. It is not strange to find that when hockey season ends, many of the same players are grabbing their gloves and a pair of cleats for the start of softball season.
“It’s a culture,” said Roache.
World renowned softballer Stephen Mullaley never misses a chance to tell people he grew up playing the game in his hometown of Freshwater. He’s spent the better part of the last decade pulling on the Team Canada jersey. He recently captured a pair of gold medals at the world championships and the Pan Am Games this summer. When he fills out his biography, Mullaley always makes an effort to mention his hometown. “I’ll tell anyone who listen that I’m from Freshwater,” said Mullaley.
Mullaley, along with the likes of Jeremy O’Reilly, Robbie Green and others, are examples of players that youngsters can aspire to be. Further to that, the La- fontaine Club team in the St. John’s Intermediate League sits in second place and is undoubtedly a beacon for younger players.
Softball is a part of summer. It’s ingrained. It’s the sport of choice. A lot of our parents played and a lot of parents come out to watch their kids.
“It gives them something to work towards,” said Mullaley.
Plenty of fields
At one point, there were as many as 10 ballfields in use in Placentia and the surrounding area. Seemingly, every town had their own field and set of exceptional players playing on them. This created intense inter-town rivalries that would have pushed players to get better as teams aimed to be the best around.
“Softball is a part of summer,” said Mullaley. “It’s ingrained. It’s the sport of choice. A lot of our parents played and a lot of parents come out to watch their kids.”
While just two fields are in use today, there are still top-notch ball players coming out of Placentia.
Perhaps it has to do with the number of knowledgeable coaches in the region available to teach the fundamentals of the game to children. Or, maybe, it has to do with the players innate ability to excel between the lines of a softball field.
More than likely, success can be attributed to a combination of both. “I don’t know what it is,” said Roache. “There must be something in the water.”
Placentia’s Gavin Pitcher lines a shot during provincial under-12 male softball action at a recent tournament in Carbonear.