It’s a long way to Vancouver….

Wed 6 Jul 2011

by Bob Fromer

White Rock, Canada: Thursday, July 7 -- It's just another story of cattle car air travel in the modern world.

You get to Gatwick sometime after 5.00 am -- nine sleepy players and five staff -- and you find your plane isn't leaving at 7.45 after all, but closer to 10.00. It's Thomas Cook Airlines. Who knew that Thomas Cook had planes? Maybe they shouldn't....

The regulations say 20kg of luggage per person, plus no more than 5 kg of hand luggage -- and by God, that's all you're going to get if those people wearing Canadian Affair uniforms have anything to say about it. Which they do. So the bag with the team uniforms, which weighs 23 kg, has to come down to 11 kg or it's £15 per kilo over, thank you very much. So shorts and shirts and socks get stuffed in everyone else's bags and baggage and the martinets eventually relent.

Then you all pile on board the plane, every seat full, hand luggage weighed with a beady eye at the gate, and it's after 10.00 and the plane pulls out of the stand and heads for the runway. Where it stops.

Some strange warning light has come on in the cockpit. Or maybe (an old Bob Newhart joke) an ashtray has fallen out. Except they don't have those anymore.

"Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. And boys and girls. We're just going to taxi back to the stand and the engineers will come on board and get us all fixed up." The words no one wants to hear.

Visions of men in white vacuum suits, like in ET, prove reasonably accurate (day-glo flak jackets). Are we going to leave at all? Yes. Was it fixed? Hopefully.... Three hours late, the plane creaks up into the sky.

In the air

Thirty-five thousand feet, and the helpful map on the seat-back screen shows the plane just moving out into the North Atlantic with about nine hours to go to "Destination". Not the final destination (Vancouver), but a stopover in Edmonton. Which is in Alberta. Where they're about to destroy the entire province by extracting oil from endless square miles of tar sands.

Three movies available, all crap (sorry, subjective judgement -- you can make up your own mind about the Green Hornet), a few TV programmes that don't actually play, and possibly the worst airline meal ever (dessicated chicken and don't ask). Many, many, many hours later, the plane lands in Edmonton.

Edmonton is on the endless Canadian prairie. To the west, the Rocky Mountains loom, but Edmonton is flat as a pancake, and dusty, like in old cowboy movies with tumbleweeds. The airport seems almost deserted, like the end of the world has happened and those of us on the plane are the only ones who don't know. The man who stands under the plane and waves his day-glo sticks seems to be the only human around and could, of course, be a robot. It's more than likely.

Nevertheless, most of the people on the plane get off, a new crew gets on, and an hour later we start the strangely relaxed final leg, 80 minutes into Vancouver, with a quarter-full plane and a crew prepared to sit around and laugh with the passengers. The players start to have a good time again.

On the ground

And so the GB Under-19 Women's Team -- well, nine of them, plus assorted coaches, managers and others -- arrived in Canada on July 5 to take on the cream of world junior softball at the Canadian Open Futures Tournament, part of the Canada Cup.

Once in Vancouver, the team is joined by four North American-based players, three (handily enough) from the Vancouver area and one from Texas, and all are ensconced in a flamingo-pink resort hotel on the outskirts of the seaside town of White Rock, which is as close as you can get to the US border without actually crossing it. Which is not necessarily easy to do. A helpful sign on the highway tells you how long you're going to be held up at Crossing Point X as opposed to Crossing Point Y.

A little to the north of the hotel are the fields of Softball City (some countries take softball seriously!), Cloverdale Athletic Park and Sunnyside, where some of the world's top national teams will play in the Canada Cup International Division, while there will also be a women's club/travel ball division, and Under-19 and Under-16 tournaments.

The GB Women's Team will be meeting some of those teams from the International Division -- the USA, Japan, Canada and Australia -- in about three weeks' time in the Sixth World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City, so this is the perfect opportunity for Hayley Scott, head-coaching both the GB Women and Juniors, to do some scouting.

But meanwhile, countless teams with names like White Rock Renegades 94, Richmond Islanders 93 and California Aces 92 as well as Venezuela, Brasil and Peru will play almost 400 games over six days in the world's largest festival of softball. It's a massive party, and the GB Under-19s will see if they can keep their heads above water and take it all in.

Getting prepared

The preparation started yesterday, July 6, with a morning workout and two training sessions, with the London contingent a little jet-lagged but the local players eager and ready to go. It's about blending groups of players together that don't see each other very often, figuring out positions, getting  basic understanding of defensive plays, signs etc.

Today will be two more training sessions, and then the GB team will play a series of three scrimmage games against local Canadian teams on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before opening the tournament on Monday, July 11 with a game against (reputedly) one of the very best American teams, California Aces 92.

After that, the GB Juniors will play five games in three days against Canadian teams, and then it will be into whatever labyrinthine playoff arrangements are made for a tournament this big and with so many permutations. Figuring that out will be next week's job for the coaching staff.

This week, though, is about taking in the surroundings (the Pacific Northwest!) and getting ready for some huge challenges on the field.

The personnel

The GB players and staff engaged on this great adventure are:

Lauren Bromage
Susie Hall
Carling Hare
Saskia Johnston
Vicky Keswick
Ellie Pamenter
Nicole Ratel
Sara Robb
Louisa Scott
Amy Trask
Amy Wells
Charlotte Wells
Chloe Wigington

Hayley Scott (Head Coach)
Liz Knight (Assistant Coach)
Rachael Watkeys (Physio)
Carmel Keswick (Manager)
Bob Fromer (Managerial Assistant/Website Reporter)


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John Mills 10:44

Wow - sounds like an epic journey.  Similar to one I had a few years ago to Denver.  Enjoy the environment and atmosphere.  If you see Mark Kerr, please say Hi!


Marty 17:49

You made me laugh Bob, Sorry!

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