Friday 24 February -- The British softball community lost an outstanding player and person at far too young an age when Emily Tomkins, who most softball people will know better as Emily Clifford, died earlier this week from cancer.
She leaves her husband, Phil, and two young children, four-year-old Max and Hannah, who will be two in April.
Emily was voted into the British Softball Federation Hall of Fame as a player in 2016, towards the end of a distinguished softball career that began in 1998, at age 17, when she started playing as an outfielder for the Canterbury Mets, a recreational slowpitch team in Kent.
In 2001, Emily took up fastpitch as part of what was then the GB Development Team and began learning to play first base.
By this time, she had moved up to A-grade slowpitch, playing one season for the Pioneers, another local Kent team, when they won the National Championship in 2002.
Around this time Emily, who worked as a primary school teacher, began coaching fastpitch softball with junior girls and was a key figure in developing fastpitch programmes in West London as a teacher and a coach with BSUK’s Grassroots Fastpitch initiative and the Monkeys youth fastpitch team.
For 10 years, from 2003-2012, Emily was a key member of the Baker Tomkins Softball Club. Always a force at National Championships, the team won the European Slowpitch Cup in 2008, and Emily won the MVP, Best Female Batter and Female Slugger awards at the same European club competition in 2009.
After Baker Tomkins disbanded in 2013, Emily joined Slammers and played first base for them for the next few years, helping the team to a second place finish in the National Softball League standings in 2015. Her final club team was H2O, for whom she last played in 2017.
Emily’s GB Slowpitch career began in 2003, when she played for a GB second team in the Turkey Shoot competition in Richmond, Virginia. In 2004, aged 23, she was selected to the squad for the European Slowpitch Championship in Linz, Austria, and was a fixture in the team through the next eight European Championships, playing for the last time in 2017.
She also played for GB in the 2005 and 2014 Slowpitch World Cups in Florida and won more caps that almost any other female player.
In 2011, Emily won the Best Female Batter award at the European Championship and had the top batting average among GB Slowpitch women players at European Championships in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2013, when she hit .682. At the 2008 Europeans, she was given the GB coaches’ Female MVP award.
At the 2014 Slowpitch World Cup in Florida, where GB won the silver medal, Emily produced one of her best fielding displays, and was again given the Female MVP award by the coaches.
Her proudest moment was being made vice-captain for Great Britain at the 2015 European Championship.
A long-time softball observer has written:
Emily was a fixture in the GB Slowpitch Team and in A-grade softball for well over a decade, and her tremendous work ethic and desire to improve made her an outstanding first base player and a tremendously effective hitter, with the ability to hit the ball to all fields and down both lines.
An abiding memory of Emily – and one that sums up her approach as a player – was watching her at a European Slowpitch Championship getting a teammate to throw dozens of balls at and around her feet before a game so she could perfect her technique for picking low throws out of the dirt at first base.
That kind of dedication is unusual in slowpitch softball and explains why Emily was instrumental for GB in so many European Slowpitch Championship triumphs.
Veteran GB pitcher Dan Spinks, who shared those GB triumphs with Emily, wrote:
I played with Emily for GB Slowpitch, Pioneers, London Madcows (in the Advertising Softball World Series in the USA) and against her in the early days of the Kent League when we were much younger!
Emily was such a fierce competitor, but with a very kind and humble nature. Emily had time for everyone and would pass that passion for the game on to the younger players she coached. Emily mastered the art of hitting slowpitch consistently and was always a very tough out to get!
At first base, where she played most often, she was fantastic at receiving throws and more so the difficult ones, which I’ll specifically remember her for. She was a positive voice, a vocal teammate and someone who had a smile on her face all the time. Emily was a key component in the success of GB Slowpitch Softball in Europe.
Emily had made a family away from softball with a husband and two young children, which was wonderful to see. Emily was a very talented and passionate player and will be missed by the community.
Emily’s good friend, GB outfielder Ruth Macintosh, wrote:
Softball gave me the opportunity to meet Emily and over the years we developed a really lovely friendship. We always said we were able to be friends because there was no rivalry between us as we never competed for the same position! That may have played a part, but I think we would have been friends anyway -- even though she always managed to trump my batting average!
Emily played such a big part in my softball career, my fellow GB rookie ❤️. She was one of the most talented, mentally strong and fierce competitors in softball and a phenomenal first base player! We shared so many memories which I will cherish forever. I just wish I had her incredible memory for remembering every detail of every game over the years!
Emily was a beautiful person with the kindest heart. When she left softball to focus on her new family it didn’t matter that we were at opposite ends of the country, our friendship continued. Although distance meant it was mostly remote contact, we did meet up a handful of times and I was able to meet her husband Phil and see her in her element as a wonderful mum. Her children are such a beautiful reflection of her. I’m heartbroken to have lost a special friend.