Team Kenya’s Flodah Cheptoo (left) and Edith W. Njoroge – each wearing their new softball cleats – celebrate a play during a game against Team Peru on Sunday. After arriving in Surrey with sneakers

Team Kenya’s Flodah Cheptoo (left) and Edith W. Njoroge – each wearing their new softball cleats – celebrate a play during a game against Team Peru on Sunday. After arriving in Surrey with sneakers

Softball sportsmanship ‘overwhelms’ at world championships

Tales of goodwill – both on the field and off – has not been hard to find in South Surrey this week.

By Nick Greenizan & Matthew Hoekstra, Staff Reporters

The sheer volume of good deeds at the Women’s World Softball Championships this week have overwhelmed even those who expected them.

In the days leading up to the first pitch at Softball City, tournament chairperson Greg Timm – along with legions of fellow organizers and volunteers – expected all manner of “good news” stories to filter out over the course of the 10-day event.

But what has happened this week – both on the field and off – has gone far beyond those modest expectations of sportsmanship and community spirit.

“It’s been very heartwarming, it really has,’ said Timm. “It’s overwhelmed us.”

Last weekend, for example, the New Zealand national team noticed their Kenyan counterparts slipping and sliding all over the field – players only had flat-soled shoes, as opposed to cleats – so members of the Kiwi squad pooled their money and, along with a little help from Cloverdale’s Ball Park Sports, bought proper cleats and some new bats for the Kenyan contingent.

A similar situation also unfolded with the Ugandan national team, who received new equipment courtesy of a donation from a private resident.

“This game is bigger than wins and losses,” said New Zealand team captain Ellie Cooper. “We just wanted to provide them with something to play the game properly.”

Such assistance started long before the tournament began, too. Earlier this month, world championship organizers revealed that Cloverdale businessman Addison Hubert donated $25,000 to help the under-funded Venezuelan team with travel expenses.

Hubert said he was wowed by the Venezuelan residents’ “unparalleled passion for the sport” during a recent trip to the South American country, so he stepped in to help.

The Venezuelans are not the only team here this week to have received a helping hand from the local community, either.

Since the spring, members of the South Surrey-White Rock Thunder ’98 softball team – who travelled to Ecuador for an exhibition tour last year – have been fundraising to help that country’s national team. The program’s government funding was pulled – and diverted to relief efforts – after an earthquake in mid-April ravaged part of the country.

With only one coach able to make the trip, two Thunder coaches – Dwayne and Tracey Mitchell – have stepped in to help the club, too.

What Timm has also been surprised by is on-the-field help – often during the games themselves.

“In one game (on opening weekend), the Israeli team was in the field, and a runner on second base walked over to the shortstop between plays, and drew an ‘X’ on the dirt with her shoe, and said, ‘This is where you should be standing for the next play.’

“The score was imbalanced, but the player on the higher-level team wanted to help – there is actual coaching going on, from one team to another, on the field,” Timm said.

“Our organizing committee has been very inspired by the civic pride and the co-operation amongst countries.”

A willingness to help has extended far beyond the borders of Softball City and South Surrey Athletic Park, too.

Chris Bullock, a White Rock resident and owner of the Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria chain, said he wanted to show the Italian team some local hospitality. So he invited them to Famoso’s Morgan Crossing location for dinner and drinks on him.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, the team arrived at his Italian restaurant.

“They brought down 38 people – the team, the coaches, the doctors, the sponsor family,” said Bullock. “It was just a really good time.”

The Italians dined on appetizers, salads and the eatery’s signature Neapolitan pizzas, which players described as “very authentic,” said Bullock. Team shirts were exchanged with Famoso-branded shirts, players signed autographs and took photos with other ball teams in the dining room.

Some spoke English, some not, but that didn’t matter much, said Bullock.

“Every one of them said thank you. Every one of them had smiles. At the end you don’t even really need to communicate when you’re seeing those things,” said Bullock, who is also offering to treat the Canadian squad to dinner. “For us, it’s all about hospitality and I think we’ve got 38 people saying that White Rock is an amazing city, they had an amazing time and they were treated well. I think that’s all that counts.”

The local Irish community has also embraced the championship. Undeterred by the Irish team’s limited success in international play, the Irish Club of White Rock has been urging locals to support the national team of their homeland.

– with files from Gary Kingston

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