As the longtime president of the White Rock Renegades, as well as the lead organizer behind many Surrey-hosted international softball tournaments – Greg Timm has seen firsthand his fair share of triumphant ballplayers.
Canada Cup gold medals, provincial championships, even Olympic qualifiers – he’s been there for all of it.
What he wasn’t expecting was to see was that same level of jubilation last month for a simple practice.
In mid-July – a few weeks after baseball was given the green light to return to the field in a limited capacity – Softball BC, ViaSport BC and the provincial health authority approved softball’s COVID-19 return-to-play plan, and members of the Renegades returned to Softball City and with more enthusiasm that even Timm expected.
“I was standing at the gate as we started to check people in (to the park)… and when the players walked in, it felt like they were walking into national championships, and all they were going to do was play catch,” he said.
“Honestly, they’re like caged animals. They’re used to getting worked pretty hard and they’re used to being really active and being out all the time at games and tournaments. So when they get out on that field (now), you have to hold them back almost.”
While the pandemic-related shutdown of all sports has been tough for athletes everywhere, Timm said it felt especially difficult for those involved in spring/summer sports – like softball and baseball – because they lost their entire seasons, from start to finish.
“We were just getting ready to play our first tournament when COVID shut us down in the middle of March,” he said. “It’s been a disappointing year, but there are a lot bigger problems in the world right now than sports.”
Timm added that he felt the greatest disappointment for the Renegades’ 2002-born team, because had they played this season, he expects they could have added yet another Canadian title to the organization’s long list of championships. He also compared them to the Renegades ’91 team, coached by Chuck Westgard, that was inducted into the Softball BC Hall of Fame last year.
“They’re just a tremendous team. They’re as good as any team we’ve ever had, even going back to Chuck’s teams. They’re that good,” Timm said of the squad that finished third at nationals last summer.
“It’s a really special group of kids and I feel horrible for them that they didn’t get to close out (with a national championship opportunity) in their graduating year.”
Though it’s rare for a team to return for a third season at that level – due to players scattering across the continent to play university ball – Timm said it is still possible the 2002s return for a third and final year of eligibility next year. It would take a commitment from the players and coaches again, he said, but the fact they all lost the 2020 season may “tip them over the edge” when deciding whether to return.
Lost season aside, Timm and his fellow Renegades were pleased to be back on the field at all, even if the return-t0-play process “couldn’t move fast enough for our players and coaches.” Now, they’re looking forward to a point later this summer where they’ll be allowed to play teams from other cities. Recently, B.C. junior baseball league teams divided up into cohort groups and are currently playing a mini-season against one another. That’s a model Timm expects Softball BC to follow.
“We’ve taken a very conservative approach. At this moment in time, we’ve only played White Rock Renegades versus White Rock Renegades. We haven’t faced an outside team yet, but it seems like maybe it’s coming soon,” he said.
“I don’t know how the provincial health authority feels about the COVID numbers, but we are hoping to stretch (the schedule) to other teams in Surrey, like the (Surrey) Storm or the Cloverdale Fury by two weeks or so, but that’s not guaranteed yet.”
In addition to his duties with the Renegades, Timm is also the longtime chair of the Canada Cup international tournament, run annually at Softball City. That tournament – originally set for early July – was cancelled in late May, but is already set to return next summer, from July 2-11 if COVID protocols allow.
National teams from across the globe aren’t likely to be on hand for next summer’s event, because they’ll be in Tokyo preparing for the Olympics, set for to begin in late July 2021, but Timm was hopeful the popular Canadian squad – which features a handful of Surrey and White Rock talent – might make a brief appearance before heading to Japan.
“We’ve approached this like we’re just paused, and we’ll keep going and hopefully get our wheels moving for next year,” he said. “But we don’t know yet. It’s early… who knows if there’s even going to be an Olympics.
“I have my (Olympic softball) tickets and I haven’t given them up, although this might be the first Olympics ever with no fans in the stands.”