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

Softball: Black Sox set to pull in the crowds

New Zealanders face Aussie Steelers in double-life clash tonight, then sellout attendance for last two matches.

The Black Sox perform the haka. Photo / Getty Images
The Black Sox perform the haka. Photo / Getty Images

The Black Sox will be backed by some of this country's biggest softball crowds as they set about grabbing the world title from Australia over the weekend.

The eight-team finals system begins today, with Eddie Kohlhase's men facing the Aussie Steelers in a double-life clash this evening. The impressive Canadians face Venezuela in the other top clash. The winners of those two games meet tomorrow, with the winner going to Sunday's grand final at Rosedale Park in Albany.

The rebuilt ground, which can hold 3500 for these championships, is a sellout tomorrow and Sunday, and the "full" sign will very likely go up for today's action as well. It might sound like small beer compared to major sports, but it's champagne-opening time for softball.

"We had always hoped, but this is really beyond our dreams and makes the tournament an outstanding success," said organising chairwoman Fay Freeman, one of the North Harbour softball stalwarts.

The crowds will match those that watched the final days of the 2004 men's world tournament in Christchurch, so North Harbour is holding its head high.

Television coverage by Sky begins today, which will also give the batting sport, once a summer mainstay, another shot in the arm.

On a limited budget, softball used social media as its key advertiser. Ticket sales indicate the public is lapping the world tournament up beyond expectations but compared to softball glories past, general interest and media attention has been down. This reflects a changing sporting landscape built heavily on ratings in which a longish tournament full of obscure teams struggles for attention in the cities.

But the heart of the issue is television coverage. Softball had to stump up $36,500 for the final three days to be covered, a price the sport reckons is fair in the current market. Extended coverage would have improved interest though.

The Black Sox went in to the tournament with questions around their performance and they have not been answered overly-positively.

Australia are committed champions with the outstanding pitching battery of this tournament in Adam Folkard and Andrew Kirkpatrick.

They had a dangerously easy ride in Pool A and relished the tougher outings later in the week against Venezuela and Samoa. New Zealand had the much tougher pool, which could be an advantage going into this evening's match.

The Australians will surely start with Folkard, who has become more established as the No 1 ahead of Kirkpatrick. The word is that neither Aussie pitcher is that comfortable on the Rosedale Park mound. Kohlhase has a few selection possibilities although whether they include captain Rhys Casley, who has only just returned to the fielding lineup after injury, remains to be seen.

Big games

Sudden death: Samoa v Japan, noon; Argentina v USA, 2.30pm.

Double life: Australia v NZ, 5.30pm; Canada v Venezuela, 8pm.

- NZ Herald

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