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The Magic of New Zealand Brings Together USA Players and Local Teams
April 1, 2023
By Donna McGuire
Softball News Report
Nearly 30 senior softballers from across the United States recently taught some New Zealand youngsters that you’re never too old to play slow-pitch softball – and still play it well.
Six teams of Kiwis took on three teams of Americans during tournaments held March 18-19 in Christchurch on the south island and March 23-24 in Auckland on the north island. The games were the latest edition of the annual international softball tours organized by Senior Softball-USA (SSUSA) since 1988.
“We saw magnificent sights, took a train to a glacier, went to the top of a mountain, sped down a river on a jet boat, took a steamer, explored a sheep ranch, sampled Maori culture with a concert and dinner – and played ball,” said Terry Hennessy, SSUSA’s chief executive officer.
Skippers Canyon Jet Boat ride in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Photo by Steve Bull.
SSUSA players who signed up individually for the tour were distributed mostly onto the USA White or USA Blue teams. Meanwhile, for the first time in international competition, nearly an entire SSUSA tournament team signed up to play together. Nine of the USA Red team players also are teammates on the Sacramento Islanders 70+ team.
Overall, the Americans ranged in age from 64 to 87. Though some of the older Christchurch players sported touches of gray in their hair, most of the Auckland players looked barely old enough to shave.
“The players in some cases were young enough to be our grandchildren,” said John Fournier, a Californian and recent Senior Softball Hall of Fame inductee who managed the USA White team, which won all 12 games it played. “It is amazing we beat them. They were so fast, we hardly thew any of them out.”
While the Kiwis had youth and speed on their side, the Americans boasted experience and expertise, especially in playing slow-pitch.
In New Zealand, most men and women softballers still play fast-pitch. Many of the Kiwis needed time to adjust to the tall-arching pitches utilized in slow-pitch. Meanwhile, the Americans deployed better place-hitting skills, better pitching, and smarter defensive play overall.
“This tournament will help us build slowpitch softball in Christchurch and beyond,” said Cheryl Kemp, chief executive of Softball Canterbury and a former Olympic fast-pitch player and coach.
At each tournament location, the three USA teams competed against three local New Zealand teams.
Two members of the Monowai
Warriors team from Christchurch
surprise Carolyn Rupley with a new
Walker. The airline had lost hers on
her trip to Christchurch.
After the games, all the teams got together for a meal – and to get to know their New Zealand hosts in both Christchurch and Auckland. In Christchurch, it was a traditional “Spitroast” and in Auckland it was hamburgers and beer in the clubhouse.
The format for each tournament was the same: after five games apiece of round-robin play, the top two teams played for the tournament championship.
In the Lord of the Rings Classic title game in Christchurch, USA White never trailed as it defeated the local F-Troop team 14-7.
The title game in Auckland proved more challenging. USA White took on Hibiscus Coast, a local team loaded with 20-something youngsters as well as some teenagers. After four innings, the game was tied 7-7. From that point, USA White used solid defense and a seven-run open inning to pull away for a 21-12 victory.
USA Red’s highlights included turning a triple play and winning one game on the final play. USA Blue’s highlights included great hitting, with six players batting over .700, and a grand slam by Ricky Price of Texas.
USA Blue poses with the New Zealand Tigers. Photo by Jeannine Verellen.
At the tour’s farewell dinner, awards were announced for each team’s top offensive player, top defensive player, and team MVP.
USA Red awards: Monte Watson, a California who batted .692, earned offensive player honors. Joe Owens of California earned the defensive player award for his outfield play and relief pitching. Dan Norton, a Californian who managed the team, won MVP after batting .800.
USA Blue awards: Shortstop Bob Haim, a New Yorker who also excelled offensively by batting .765, won the defensive player award. Rick Sexty, a Californian who hit .774, won the offensive player award. Jeff Senten of Tennessee, who played second base and hit .853 overall, won MVP. (USA Blue was managed by Larry Feeler of Texas.)
USA White awards: Steve Stafford, a Californian who hit .844 and courtesy ran for other players, earned offensive honors. Daryl Bruns, the team’s pitcher from California, won best defensive player. MVP went to Iowa shortstop David Prins, who Fournier called “one of the nicest guys you are going to meet in senior softball, and one of the best players.”
USA Red and White Teams. Photo by Diane Milano.
All three managers thanked SSUSA Chief Executive Officer Terry Hennessy for organizing such a wonderful international trip.
“I would especially like to thank To Tarn and Greg Smith and the Richmond Keas Softball club in Christchurch and David Gillanders of North Harbour Softball in Auckland for their wonderful hospitality,” said Hennessy.
“This is about 24th, 25th international tournament I’ve been on, and this is -- if not the best -- it is right up there at the top two or three,” Fournier said. “It’s been amazing. Everything about it. The food, the hotels, the people, the camaraderie.”