BSUK flying the flag

26
Aug

Jenny Fromer

Working in sport, and particularly working with sports that are mainly played in the summer, I have often heard the comment that summer must be our busy season. For a long time I have felt it was the opposite -- that when the playing season came to a close, this was when the hard work began. And it's true that over the autumn and winter the number of meetings increase, we go through our annual financial and management audits and we turn our attention to planning ahead.

But this week, at our quarterly staff meeting, I reached a very different conclusion. For probably the first time, we asked those BSUK staff who have been involved in this summer's national team trips in some sort of organisational capacity to tell the rest of us about it.

Part of the reason we don't normally do this is because these roles do not form any part of their day job. Apart from the fact that BSUK gives each member of staff two volunteer days to use, all the rest of the time spent on national team trips comes from personal annual leave. This has been an important summer for the Great Britain Baseball and Softball programmes, each in different ways, and so for once we invited our staff to tell their colleagues about the experience.

Over the course of the summer, across baseball and softball, there were eight GB teams in action, and all but one -- the GB Slowpitch team -- were staffed in part by people from BaseballSoftballUK. As GB Slowpitch secured their eighth consecutive European Championship, they did just fine without us -- but none of the other seven campaigns would have been possible without input from BSUK staff. Across the eight full-time employees that travelled everywhere from Florida, Vancouver and Oklahoma to Italy, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Israel, around 120 days were volunteered by our staff.

So what was achieved this summer?

Great Britain Baseball

Starting with baseball, the first trip was the GB Juniors and Cadets, who travelled to the USSSA Gold Medal Games in Florida led by coaches Will Lintern and Brendan Cunliffe with managerial support from Marty Cullen. This wasn't an official competition year for either team, so the focus was very much on development by facing high-level competition and identifying goals for the future. There were some real high points that included the Juniors beating Venezuela and running Puerto Rico and Canada close. For the Cadets, Coach Cunliffe was pleased to report that our pitchers were throwing strikes and pitching to contact. And since the teams returned to the UK, there has been a lot of positive feedback from domestic clubs as to the improvement of their players.

Next up were the GB Seniors who made their way to Tel Aviv, Israel for the CEB European Championship Qualifier with a mission to successfully return to the A Pool after narrow losses last year that saw them relegated. Staffed by BSUK Envoy Coach Sam Dempster as Head Coach and Jason Greenberg as the team's General Manager, our top British ballplayers got the job done, beating Lithuania, Georgia and Israel and putting GB back amongst the top baseball teams in Europe in 2012. With GB's invitation to the World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds next autumn, a lesser result would have been truly disappointing.

Great Britain Softball

On the softball-side, it was a frenetic summer. Stan Doney took the U-19 Junior Boys to the Europeans in the Czech Republic where they won two games, and might have won more but for lack of pitching depth. BSUK staff members Bob Fromer and Liz Knight then set off for Vancouver with the U-19 Girls for the Canadian Open Fastpitch Futures Tournament. For this tournament, Liz started out as Assistant Coach but was transitioning to the role of Head Coach during the tournament in preparation for 2012, when she will take the team to European Championships. Bob was there to report, but had to step into the role of Team Manager when the designated Manager had to leave early. With a squad that only included four overseas players, it was a team that really demonstrated the value of our Academy. The team played really good defence at times, although they made errors, hit better than expected against strong pitching and could have won every game, although they ended up winning just one, essentially due to lack of the kind of competition experience they went all the way to Canada to get.

From there, Bob then joined the GB Women and new Team Manager Luis Arrevillagas in Oklahoma City for the SoftballWorld Cup where GB, along with the Czech Republic, would play alongside the top four teams in the world. GB had a small squad that did amazingly well. They came close to beating Canada, tussled with Team USA through three scoreless innings and played quality softball against Japan. And it was GB that had the second best defence (after Japan) in the tournament.

The GB Women, along with Bob and Luis, then headed to Italy for the European Championships. As Bob put it, "when the GB Women turned up in Italy, other teams were actually afraid of them, which speaks to where the players have taken this team and how it is now perceived in the world." In Italy the goal was to finish in the top three and secure a place in the 2012 World Championships, and just like the GB Baseball team, it was job done. Britain came close to making the final, but lost in a nail-biting 1-0 game to Italy to finish third overall.

This left one more GB event to close out the summer -- the European Cadette (U-16) Championships in Antwerp. This time the lone BSUK presence was Bob as reporter, marking the end of his long 34 days on the road. Another indication of the success of the Academy Softball preparation was the team's 4-4 record in the tournament.

Needless to say, this summer of national team activity involved many other volunteers beyond the BSUK staff, who equally gave up their personal time to contribute to a fantastic summer for GB Baseball and Softball. None of this is to suggest that the BSUK staff's investment is more important. But as all the people listed by name above are used to hearing about the impact of their absence back at the office, I just wanted to take a few paragraphs to recognise all they put into supporting our national teams -- as well as what a cracking summer it has been for the Team GB collective.

tagged under: bsuk staff, gb baseball, gb softball, national teams

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