Softball and baseball besties in the Bay

Tauranga Softball’s home base at Otumoetai’s Carlton Reserve

Traditionally, the sports of softball and baseball don’t get on. A little like rugby union and rugby league, they’ve operated in isolation and regarded each other with deep suspicion.

Softball is the one that has deep roots in New Zealand, with baseball a relatively late arrival from the US. It has the glamour and wall-to-wall TV coverage, while softball struggles for media exposure other than when the Black Sox are winning world championships.

In Tauranga, softball has been going through tough times after their heady days from the 1980s through to the early 2000s, while baseball has been looking to establish itself in recent years, and has the new Auckland Tuatara team competing in the Australian professional league to help build its profile.

With new people and a new energy in softball in the Bay, however, there’s a revival going on, and as part of that the two sports are burying their differences - even advertising themselves together on the same roadside signs.

Western Bay of Plenty Softball Association’s season gets up and running tomorrow, at the game’s Carlton Reserve headquarters in Otumoetai.

A have-a-go session starts the day at 10am, followed by the opening games in the senior competition beginning at midday. Juniors start their competition on October 27, two weeks into term four.

President Paul Goodall says the harmony between the two sports in the Bay, in contrast to most other parts of the country, is based on the warm personal relationship between himself and his baseball counterpart, Shane Woolley.

“Although we are in some ways competing for the same players, in other ways we’ve got different resources that we can share to grow each of our own games,” says Paul.

Apart from sharing the roadside signs, Paul says in the spirit of simply wanting to give people the chance to get out on a park and do something they've been co-operating on have-a-go days, and on coaching initiatives as well.

“Because 95 per cent of the games are similar, as far as catching, throwing and base running,” he says. “There’s only three differences between the two.”

The pitching style is the obvious one, he says, but in baseball the diamond is bigger. In baseball you can leave your base at any time at your own risk, whereas in softball you can’t leave your base until the ball has left the pitcher’s hand.

Noted Tauranga softball identity Simon Bruce, whose late father Kevin was behind the rise of the game in the region and is soon to have the main diamond at Carlton Reserve named after him in recognition of his services, has returned to the Bay after gaining years of experience playing the game at a high level. He’s stoked with the way the two sports buddying up.

“Throughout the rest of the country they don’t like each other,” says Simon. “They don’t let each other use their diamonds, their fields, they don’t work together for have-a-go days or to expand where the game is. But in Tauranga they do.”

Tauranga City Baseball are running a fortnightly social competition for adults, beginning October 12 at their base at Papamoa’s Gordon Spratt Reserve, on Friday nights.

That suits him and the reborn club he’s managing and putting his energy and passion behind - Tauranga Legends.

“With us wanting to play both, and my club especially, we want it to be Tauranga Legends baseball and softball,” he says. “They’re accommodating that by putting on a Friday game as opposed to trying to compete on Saturday.”

It’s a spirit of co-operation that should help both sports grow and flourish.

As far as his game is concerned, Paul says the strengthening of the Western Bay organisation since his arrival from North Harbour softball is the first step to it getting back on its feet.

“We’ve had people caretaking over the last few years and doing a really good job but just struggling,” he says.

“So somebody coming in from the outside was able to reignite the spark and get everybody working in the same direction,” he says.

“I've been adding a few bits and pieces of my experience and knowledge and just creating an atmosphere where people want to play. They want to contribute and they want to help.”

Marketing the sport online, through their website and Facebook, as well as signs, radio and print, has been an important step too, along with re-establishing contact with Sport BOP and using their networks, Paul says.

“We’re just looking at all avenues where we could start making a noise.”

They've been busy on the ground running have-a-go days too, and tomorrow will be the sixth they've done.

“Anybody that hasn’t played before can come on down and pick up a ball, a glove and a bat and have a lash to see if they like it,” he says. “Returning players as well as old players can come down and reignite the spark, because it doesn’t take much.”

Details on how to get involved with the two sports can be found at: www.sporty.co.nz/wbopsoftball and: www.sporty.co.nz/taurangacitybaseball