Let’s play ball

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.

Home­town pride

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.

Stephen Mullaley

“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.”

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Pla­cen­tia’s Gavin Pitcher lines a shot dur­ing pro­vin­cial un­der-12 male soft­ball ac­tion at a re­cent tour­na­ment in Car­bon­ear.

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