“Reclaim the title” is GB Slowpitch mission

Mon 15 Jul 2019

By Bob Fromer

Budapest, Hungary: 15 July – The mission to reclaim the European Slowpitch Championship that was lost two years ago to Germany begins tomorrow morning for the GB Slowpitch Team – early tomorrow morning!

GB will kick off the tournament against Serbia at 8.25 am on Tuesday, on a pitch – one of two being used for the competition -- that threw up controversy at tonight’s technical meeting and is bound to throw up controversy during the tournament.  That’s because it’s a fastpitch field inside a baseball field, but with a temporary outfield fence set at fastpitch distance: 220 feet from home plate.


Roman revenge

But wait – it gets more bizarre.  The dirt infield on this diamond is immaculate.  The outfield grass – up to that 220’ fence – is like a bowling green.  “It will without doubt,” GB Slowpitch Manager Kellie Whitaker said at the Technical Meeting, “be one of the best surfaces GB has ever played on.”

But the temporary fence at 220’ marks the boundary of that pristine surface, and between the temporary fence and the permanent baseball fence – another 100 feet away – is an area of rough, bumpy, un-mowed grass.  “A lot of us have played on worse,” Kellie told the Technical Meeting, and every one of the record number of 11 teams taking part in this Championship requested that the organisers remove the temporary fence and extend the field by bringing that rough grass area into play.

But the organisers, who over the past few months were going to improve that area and extend the field a bit, and then extend it fully, and then not extend it at all, were adamant: the temporary fence must stay and the rough area cannot be used.

The reason is that the municipality won’t allow it.  And that’s because there is a massively important archaeological site – an unexcavated Roman town – under the fields.  Whether this constitutes a reason not to use the rough area while using the rest is open to debate.  But not for the municipality, which has a law that sport can only be played on areas dedicated and approved for sport.  Which the rough area isn’t.  QED.

And so a pitch on which GB will play three of its five pool games, the Budapest Field, will have an over-the-fence home run limit of three per game, regardless of which gender hits them, with every subsequent ball hit over the fence being an out.  Since GB is a team that has always relied on home run power, and has masses of it in the team selected for this tournament, how GB will approach these games – against Serbia tomorrow morning, Austria tomorrow afternoon and the Netherlands on Thursday morning – remains to be seen.


The other field

But what about the other field, I hear you ask?  It’s a baseball field, called the Antonia Morua Field, and it’s the pride and joy of the local baseball club and the municipality.  It’s just as immaculate as the inner part of the Budapest Field, if not more so, and the fences are at 90 metres, or just short of 300 feet.  It has a baseball pitching mound behind the slowpitch pitching circle which hopefully will not have much effect on the action, but it will certainly be a joy to play on.

While these two fields appear at a casual glance to be in a rural setting, a frequently-used train track runs along one side of the complex, and behind centre field on the Antonia Morua field is the largest industrial smokestack/cooling tower this reporter has ever seen.  Although probably no longer used, it’s part of a massive industrial complex just down the road replete with huge metal pipelines and the kind of satellite dishes that are used to search for signs of alien life in distant galaxies.


Down to business

None of this will matter, however, to the very strong GB Team that is here to reclaim the title they won on the first 10 occasions that a European Slowpitch Championship was played.

But as German captain Wolfgang Walther said, “GB will have to earn the title back,” and that may not be easy.

There are some unknowns here – teams from Italy and the Netherlands taking part in a European Slowpitch Championship for the first time.  How strong will they be?

What about the Belgians and Austrians, back after a number of years?

Will Germany be able to challenge for the title again?

What kind of team will the Irish have? 

How will Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary fare?

All will be revealed starting tomorrow – but it won’t be just about which team wins the gold medal.

European Softball Federation President Gabriel Waage announced at the Technical Meeting that the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) still plans to have a World Slowpitch Cup for national teams in 2020, a proper World Slowpitch Championship, probably in Clearwater, Florida, and this European Championship will qualify teams for that competition.

The only problem is: it hasn’t been decided how many European teams will get places, though it could be a fair few.  So the scramble to finish as high up the table as possible will be intense, even for those teams that don’t wind up with a medal.


Opening groups

With that record number of 11 countries entered, the tournament will begin with two round-robin pools, as follows:

POOL  A
GB
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
Hungary
Serbia
Austria

POOL B
Germany
Ireland
Belgium
Italy
Bulgaria

Round-robin games will finish on Thursday morning, with three teams from each group going forward to Championship playoffs.  Playoffs will begin Thursday afternoon, climaxing with five games on Saturday that will decide the top 10 places.

Reports from all GB games, plus goings-on in the tournament as a whole, will be posted daily during the week on this website.

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