Struck out: It operates in minor leagues
Ishould, by all rights, be defending softball. I attended what one might loosely term a softball school in Taita College in Lower Hutt. The school celebrated a third national title in 2007 when I was a year 12. The following year I got drafted into the wider squad because I was a cricketer, barely played a game due to a lack of discernible talent but enjoyed hollering a few ‘‘hey-nows’’ from the dugout as future Black Sox and Hurricanes propelled us to fourth place at nationals.
That was a decade ago and part of my job now is to form opinions on things and type them up into semicoherent prose.
So while I enjoyed watching the Black Sox win a seventh world title, it’s an achievement which could do with a bit of context.
Softball isn’t that big a sport in New Zealand, let alone the world.
The world championships was an amateur competition. Joel Evans hit the winning home run while on leave from his day job driving diggers.
The tournament was held in ‘deadset the middle of nowhere’, Canada, and broadcast to hardly anyone. The level of competition outside a handful of teams was nonexistent.
People will claim the sport is growing nationally and internationally, but so is every other sport, amateur and professional. These days eSports – kids playing Playstation – has more prizemoney and a more conspicuous TV presence than softball in this country.
Such is men’s softball’s place, HPSNZ hasn’t earmarked any money for them from next year after giving them $250,000 this year. That’s because at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, baseball will be played by men and softball by women.
Oddly, baseball hasn’t received any funding from HPSNZ, though that shortfall is made up by money from the TAB through betting on America’s Major League Baseball.
New Zealand should be putting all its eggs in the baseball basket to try and get competitive at that sport. Not only would that offer the chance at an Olympic medal down the line, but it would also give more New Zealanders access to the American NCAA university sports scholarship system.
Sports such as football and basketball have seen an increase in the number of Kiwi players receiving partial or full scholarships to US universities, where they get an education, continue to develop in their chosen sport and have a shot at making a living out of it afterwards.
Some Kiwi women’s softballers have taken up the opportunity as well, but the men aren’t afforded the same chance as only baseball is an NCAA sport for men.
So what we’re essentially doing is sending some gifted Kiwi boys down the completely wrong path of softball from an early age, when they could be afforded much better opportunities by playing baseball.
Australia, the team the Black Sox conquered in the softball final, get it. They’ve developed their baseball league and set up an Australian MLB academy. Since 1986, 30 players have cracked the MLB, where the minimum wage is US$535,000 (NZ$726,000).
Over the same span, New Zealand can claim one MLB player – American-born relief pitcher John Holdzkom – but have five softball world titles.
Which would you rather have?