Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Great crowd, uncertain future

36 comments
Black Sox baseman Nathan Nukunuku celebrates with the crowd. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Black Sox baseman Nathan Nukunuku celebrates with the crowd. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"Where does this leave softball?" someone asked, as New Zealand stormed to a world championship final victory over Venezuela at Rosedale Park.

Long gone are the days when we believe small sports can turn an instant corner, that a strategy genius can take hold of a nugget and turn it into a gold mine. Experience has taught us the limitations in rugby-land, although basketball has made terrific strides in Auckland.

Softball is an intermittent sport with no league to latch on to, is under pressure from baseball, and most significantly gets no regular TV coverage. And TV dictates everything in sport. The feelgood factor for softball will be way higher than normal however, especially after a huge crowd roared New Zealand to the title.

Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase said: "Look at this crowd - fantastic. This is huge - we're in a bit of a lull."

Retiring catcher Patrick Shannon reckoned: "I hope this gives softball a kickstart.

It's amazing how many fans we pick up. We don't try to be famous - but we've been famous for an hour-and-a-half each night."

The sun shone again on a surprising final day, when Australia made one of the game's famous blunders by failing to start their brilliant pitcher Adam Folkard in the grand final qualifying game against Venezuela. Even New Zealand softball identities were sceptical about the Black Sox beating Folkard in a final. One respected former coach rated the hard throwing Folkard in the late, great Kevin Herlihy's league. The experts were convinced Folkard could pitch two games in a day just as Herlihy and the other oldtimers did.

Australian coach Bob Harrow thought otherwise and started long, tall Andrew Kirkpatrick, once a reasonable rival to Folkard's No 1 status but not any more. Venezuela pounced. Bye bye champions. That set up a surprising final contest at the end of a tournament that contained a handful of classic matches in 10 days of often thrilling sport in an intimate setting.

There is something special about softball. Yes, it can be divided and get belligerent, as seen with the scrap between New Zealand and Australia on Friday night. But there is a rare camaraderie in small, well spaced communities around the world featuring interwoven relationships made primarily through the North American club scene.

Softball is even a lifestyle of its own and the victorious world title pitcher Jeremy Manley, who lives in the States, told me he still likes to watch the seminal 1998 documentary Fastpitch, about players such as Kiwi Shane Hunuhunu and their itinerant careers in North America.

Being a sport of distant communities, softball is tailor made for the internet which leads to the question: where are we heading with television coverage in sport?

A veteran journalist tapped his laptop at Rosedale Park and reckoned "this is where it is all going to end up one way or other". The internet potential for a sport like softball is encouraging and there will come a time when sports are no longer at the mercy of the giant media corporations, when our viewing habits will change.

The world championship was streamed by a company called Seen on Screen, which sent the pictures and commentary worldwide in the first week when Sky did not cover the tournament for its New Zealand subscribers.

Crammed into a little media room that contained, among other things, a box of apples and the Sky commentators, Seen on Screen's Louise Jones operated a row of computer screens - a far cry from the giant outside broadcast operations parked at big sports venues.

For $5 a day, subscribers from about 20 countries took up the service. Seen on Screen used five of its own cameras during this period but leaned heavily on Sky for the final three days, when geo-blocking prevented New Zealanders from taking the streaming service. (Softball paid Sky $36,500 for the three day coverage). The streaming customers even got to hear softball legend Mark Sorenson's commentary, thanks to Sky's support.

Rosedale Park will be trimmed from a 3500 capacity to 500 now the tournament has ended. As softball is pulled back down to size, sport and media schemers are thinking upload. No one can know for sure where live sport coverage is going. There are rumours that a modest but significant sports streaming business is afoot in New Zealand, to cater of the "minor" sports. For now, it's a case of live in hope and watch this space.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 29 Jul 2014 20:13:09 Processing Time: 332ms