While softball may not have the mainstream coverage it deserves (yet!) in New Zealand, those in the community should know how great the sport and players are in this country – both on and off the diamond.
It’s something you can’t really find anywhere else – the colourful tournaments, the friendly yet fierce rivalries and the traditional blasting of Tennessee Whisky in the beer tent.
So when former college player Stephie Brunette discovered the community herself after travelling from the US to New Zealand on an eight week stint in 2014, she knew she’d found something different.
“I feel very fortunate to having met some of the people I have in Auckland softball. Whether they are current greats, or past legends, I love talking the game or just life with NZ softballers,” she said.
“The game is so diverse and everyone has a unique story.”
The Wisconsin native, who has since come back for two full seasons with the Waitakere Bears, says the diversity she’s found here is a stark contrast to home.
“In four years at university, there’s maybe a couple girls I keep in touch with from my team. They all have the same story and the same goals: degree, job, house, kid,” she said.
“Post college, the only opportunity for me to play fastpitch is bar league – fun and social but not as competitive as I would like.
“We don’t train or have a coach.”
Even when she did train and was coached at St Norbert Coll
ege, a Div 3 university, she said the methods and thinking were completely different.
“In the US, the college program is rigorous and the main focus is the physical aspect of the game. I built muscle memory by taking 100+ swings at practices and fielding ground balls over and over.
“Playing in New Zealand, for Izzy and Dion Nukunuku, specifically, we train the mental aspect of the game just as much as the physical.
“The Waitakere Bears is a rather experienced team so our trainings were more focused on strategy than getting reps.”
The middle infielder says she’s also inspired by Kiwi players’ passion for the game.
“It’s so amazing to see adults with kids and careers still making time to go play the sport they love.
“Seeing it reminds me to never give up on my passions.”
So to everyone who makes softball in our country the inspirational, friendly and welcoming community that it is, congratulations – it’s something we should all be really proud of.
Just try to sing in tune next time.