Ten glorious days of ‘PLAY BALL!’

Less than a week after Canada finally celebrates our 150th birthday, the top men’s softball (fastpitch) players in the country will be saddled with facing an angry New Zealand haka performed by disgruntled Black Sox players to begin the next 150 years.

The occasion is the 15th issue of the Men’s Softball World Championships to be contested here July 7 to 16, and the Kiwi beef stems from the 2015 Finals at Saskatoon when the Black Sox saw a 5-0 lead disappear on the way to a 10-5 Canadian victory in the gold medal game, Canada’s first since 1992.

If it’s true, as the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold, they couldn’t have picked a better venue than sub-Arctic Whitehorse, gateway to the renowned goldfields of the fabled Klondike. Although, in all honesty, the summers here are usually hot and the sun shines most of the night. Like our good friends next door in Alaska, we can play ball late at night with no lights.

This will be the fourth time Whitehorse has hosted a World Championships and the first men’s. The junior men’s were played here in 2008 and 2014 and the women in 2012. Worldwide, this will be the biggest men’s event of 2017 and, historically, probably the highest calibre of ball ever played in the Yukon – although oldtimers like to tell stories about some of the matches of Alaska versus Yukon at Dawson City’s Discovery Days tournament on August 17 weekend, an annual event with roots in the Gold Rush of 1898.

Let’s just call it the biggest collection of baseball talent to appear in the Yukon in the modern era – and these teams represent all five of the Olympic qualifying regions and their current world rankings.

Here are the 16 teams, which will be playing over 70 games at the Pepsi Softball Centre Whitehorse July 7 to 16:

Pool A: No. 3 Argentina, No. 5 Australia, No. 4 Canada, No. 11 Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, India, No. 14 South Africa, and No. 6 USA.

Pool B: No. 19 Botswana, No. 8 Czech Republic, No. 13 Denmark, No. 10 Great Britain, No. 2 Japan, No. 1 New Zealand, Turkey, and No. 7 Venezuela

India and Turkey are two rookies coming to the Yukon next month.

And here are the 2015 results which make Canada the defending champions – but not the favourites to repeat on home soil:

2015 Saskatoon

Gold: Canada 10-5

Silver: New Zealand

Bronze: Venezuela

4th: Australia

5th: Dominican Republic

6th: Japan

7th: Czech Republic

8th: Argentina

9th: USA

10th: Mexico

11th: Great Britain

12th: Guatemala

13th: Denmark

14th: Philippines

15th: Netherlands

This is not a prediction, but every sporting event needs favourites and here they are:

Gold: New Zealand

Silver: Japan

Bronze: Argentina

This is simply according to their current world rankings, of course, but it also sets up the defending champs to be a strong underdog at #4.

Nonetheless, there is no question the New Zealand Black Sox are the team to beat and here they are:

2017 New Zealand National Team:

Tyron Bartorillo (IF)

Kallan Compain (C)

Ben Enoka (OF)

Campbell Enoka (OF)

Thomas Enoka – vice-captain (OF)

Cole Evans (IF)

Joel Evans (IF)

Isaac Fletcher (OF)

Campbell Gibson (P)

Karl Gollan (P)

Josh Harbrow (IF)

Nik Hayes (P)

Wayne Laulu (OF)

Nathan Nukunuku – captain (IF)

Josh Pettett (P)

Brad Rona (IF)

Zane van Lieshout (C)

Head coach: Mark Sorenson

Assistant coach: Darryl Marino

Pitching coach: Jim Wana

Manager: Jayden Moore

Please note their three starting outfielders are brothers, Ben, Campbell and Thomas Enoka and their captain is Nathan Nukunuku, which took five tries to type correctly and overheated my auto-correct.

Thomas, Ben and their captain were on the 2015 losing team and it was Thomas who said there is “unfinished business” and he has “a real fire in the belly to get the gold medal back again.”

Conversely, Canada will have bellies recently filled with copious quantities of birthday cake.

Historically, 2017 should be a three-way battle between New Zealand, USA and Canada, but the current world rankings don’t agree.

Top 10 Men’s Softball Rankings

as of 22 March 2016

Rank, Team, Points

1, New Zealand, 1340

2, Canada, 1220

3, Australia, 1140

4, Venezuela, 1080

5, Japan, 980

6, Argentina, 940

7, Czech Republic, 720

7, United States, 720

9, Mexico, 540

10, Great Britain, 460

If you’re wondering how 14 years of competition can produce 16 gold medals, it’s because the last day of the 1976 event was rained out and New Zealand, Canada and USA were all awarded gold medals.

These round robin tournaments are almost always won by the nation that comes up with the hottest pitchers at the right time, which is why I watch the early rounds like a scout looking for the hot young pitcher, often an unknown rookie.

Judging the pitchers is the scientific way of round robin watching. But this kind of baseball is more emotional than scientific and the New Zealand Black Sox are determined to capture the title Canada snatched from their grasp in 2015.

From a Canadian perspective nothing would be finer than a golden birthday present, but the rest of the world isn’t going to want to hear “O Canada” bouncing off Grey Mountain on medal Sunday, July 17.

In fact, methinks a haka victory chant is a far more likely scenario for Sunday evening’s entertainment.

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