Aside from one day of rain, last week’s Canada Cup softball tournament was an undeniable success.
In total, 106 teams took part in the nine-day international event; ticket sales were up about 10 per cent compared to 2018 and, also like last year, the fan favourites from Team Canada captured the women’s international title with a dominating 8-4 win over Scrapyard International, a U.S. pro team comprised of some of the best players south of the border.
And while all that was worth celebrating, there was one moment that truly stood out for tournament chairperson Greg Timm – watching Semiahmoo Peninsula resident Sara Groenewegen toe the rubber for Canada in Sunday’s title tilt.
The 24-year-old former White Rock Renegades pitcher was only a year removed from falling ill at last year’s Canada Cup with what was eventually diagnosed as Legionnaires’ disease – a severe form of pneumonia that resulted in her being put into a medically induced coma for 10 days last summer.
Last year, @saragroe missed the Canada Cup final after being hospitalized with a serious illness.
— Minnesota Softball (@GopherSoftball) July 15, 2019
For Timm, the longtime president of the Renegades association, seeing Groenewegen battle back from such a serious illness in less than a year – let alone being able to play softball at a high level – was inspiring.
“Watching her pitch out there on Sunday, for some of us it was a very emotional moment,” he told Peace Arch News Tuesday morning.
“Because a year ago, she almost died – literally.
“Doctors told her she had less than a five per cent chance at getting back to being able to compete at this level, and it was only her dad, Arnie, and Sara herself who said, ‘Nah, we’ll be back.’ That was when she was so weak that she could hardly walk and she’s had the fire in her eye ever since then. So to see her back pitching, in our town, and absolutely excel… was just an absolute thrill for us.
“We’re awfully proud of all the young people who come through the park… but if you had to have one thing you hung your hat on this year, for me, it was the chance to see Sara win that final game.
“I was just so happy – that won the gold medal for me.”
This year’s Canada Cup was different from any other in event history, in that it is the first of two high-profile international tournaments to be held in the city this summer – the 2019 Americas Olympic Qualifier is set for late August –as opposed to being the single main event of the summer.
Even in 2016, when Timm and his not-for-profit society hosted the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championships, the prestigious tournament – which was won by the United States – replaced the Canada Cup, rather than run in addition to it.
Planning two major tournaments concurrently has been a challenge, but the end result is worth it, Timm said, adding that the excitement of the upcoming Olympic qualifier could be felt throughout the Canada Cup.
“It starts with Team Canada and their approach to this summer,” he said, noting the team’s summer schedule has been increased this year because of its involvement in the National Pro Fastpitch league.
“They’re in their final approach now. They’ve been training and playing for years to get to this point, and they’re in the final six weeks and they’re very focused and excited. And I’d say that attitude extended throughout the park (at the Canada Cup), with that buzz about the qualifier.
“The world championship was a bigger event and had a different feel to it, as well, but when you’re actually preparing your team for the Olympics, it just feels significant.”
In recent months – when discussing both the Canada Cup and the Olympic qualifier – Timm has been quick to tout this year’s Canadian national roster as the best in the history of the program; the team is currently ranked third in the world.
But talent aside, the squad, which has a handful of longtime players including many from the Lower Mainland, has started to feel like something of a local team for Semiahmoo Peninsula fans, rather than a national outfit.
“I would say that our town, in our way, has really taken ownership of the team,” Timm explained.
“We see them every year, so we’ve seen Jenn Salling and Kaleigh Rafter and Joey Lye and all those players come to our park year after year, so it just makes everybody excited for what’s to come. (The Olympic qualifier) is probably the most important event we’ve ever had here at Softball City.”
After wrapping up the Canada Cup Sunday, Team Canada left for Florida where they’ll return to their NPF league schedule for a few weeks before heading further south to compete at the Pan American Games in Peru.
The Olympic qualifier – in which two of 12 teams will qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan – will run at Softball City from Aug. 25-Sept. 1.
In the meantime, Timm and his group of volunteers will spend this week tidying up loose ends from the Canada Cup before immediately beginning to plan for the August event.
“We’ve got to keep pushing here and be at our best, and take our game even one step higher than the Canada Cup,” said Timm.
“No time off this summer.”