They have travelled from all over the world to the Yukon to participate in the 8th ISF Junior World Fast Pitch Championship.
The 12 teams competing share some similarities: they all want to win and they all have been working months — even years — to reach this point.
But for each country, the actual journey to Whitehorse has been very different.
Take tournament favourites Team Australia and perennial underdogs Team Botswana for example.
The three-time defending champions Australia arrived in Canada almost two weeks prior to the tournament’s start, touring parts of Vancouver, including Squamish and Whistler, even managing to squeeze in a road trip to Seattle to watch a Mariners game.
They also got to cheer on fellow countryman Pat Ahearne, who pitches for Seattle.
“It wasn’t the best ball that’s for sure but the boys got to give him an “Oy” so that was good,” says Australia coach John Neilsen.
“The boys asked me why the Seattle players weren’t talking to each other and I told them that there’s no team camaraderie which makes sense when one player is making millions of dollars more than the other.”
Neilsen says with a smile that it is team camaraderie that has made Australia so dominant on the world softball stage and he expects the same with this year’s squad.
“They’re all real good mates, which is really something because they all come from different states.”
That team camaraderie is evident watching the young Aussies warm up on Diamond # 4 in Takhini prior to their opening day game.
“How you going mate?” says catcher Beau Harich as he walks by. “What a beautiful place this is.”
“There’s nothing here,” jokes another Aussie catcher, Ty Priest, when asked his first thoughts after touching down in Whitehorse. “It’s nice and cold though which is good because I love the cold.”
So much so that he removed his T-shirt to ride the chairlift in Whistler.
Not to be outdone a teammate removed both shirt and pants, describes Priest, as he points to the guilty prankster practising in the outfield.
And while the Australians are confident and loose, Team Botswana is the opposite.
Lethargic, but still smiling, it is after 10 p.m. Thursday night, 14 hours before their opening game, when they finally arrive in Whitehorse.
“It will be a very special miracle if we were to do that,” smiles one of the coaching staff with Team Botswana, his eyes barely open, when asked if he thinks the team will win gold.
“We are playing the best team (Australia) in the first game of the tournament so we just need to sleep.”
For some players, just competing on the world stage miles from home is enough to bring smiles of excitement.
Three Japanese players, shortstop Shota Tsutsui, pitcher Tomoki Shimada and outfielder Takaya Ueta gaze at the mountains, camera in hands, as they take imaginary swings at home plate and walk around the infield.
“It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s very green,” explain the three of them politely through broken English, when asked about the Yukon. “We can’t wait to play and win gold …hopefully.”
The excitement is also evident on Diamond #3 where the Czech Republic team is holding its final practice.
The roster of 16 to 19 year-olds are loud and boisterous as they throw the ball around the infield.
They then gather together at the pitcher’s mound before running a few laps around the field chanting in Czech to each other in unison like soldiers.
“What are they saying?” I ask their head coach, Leos Hrabacka.
“It’s not for public,” he smiles.
Hrabacka is confident his team, European champions, can win, but says that’s not their only focus.
“It is a great opportunity for these players to not only play against the best but get to see the best also,” explains Hrabacka, as his soldiers run by. “Because of that, each game is a success and something they will remember forever.”
The Junior World Fast Pitch Championship action continues this weekend at the Pepsi Softball Centre in Takhini with the gold medal game set for Sunday.