Chris Rattue

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

Softball: Sorenson keen to make mark on Sox

Man of the land Mark Sorenson has big shoes to fill, stepping up to the plate as coach of the world champion Black Sox. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Man of the land Mark Sorenson has big shoes to fill, stepping up to the plate as coach of the world champion Black Sox. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New national softball coach Mark Sorenson has big shoes to fill - his own. As a player, Sorenson did it all in a career that brought - among many things - four world titles and wide regard as the game's greatest player.

The 45-year-old has stepped up to the plate as the Black Sox coach, taking over from 2013 world title winner Eddie Kohlhase.

Sorenson talks softball, opponents, teammates, his little black book ... with a spot of farming thrown in.

Q. Was this always on your radar?

The timing is right and I'm deeply passionate about the Black Sox. I made lifelong friends in the Black Sox with unique bonds that only come when you do great things - most of those guys have gone, which makes things a bit easier.

Q. Employment ...

I was a regional manager with Spicers Paper and have taken a similar role with Allied Work Force - I needed a new challenge after 19 years with Spicers.

Q. Nineteen years, that's a long time these days ...

I'm a pretty loyal type of guy. It's a value I hold highly.

Q. You are living ......

in Pauatahanui, just out of Porirua, with my partner Janine and our 3-year-old daughter Holly. My son Grayson, who is 14, is with us for half the time. We've got a lifestyle block - I'm a farmer now with four beef cattle, nine sheep and half a dozen chickens. I've got no background at all in farming - there have been plenty of comedy moments. I've ticked off bucket list items - I've got a ride-on mower, a ute ...

Q. You were renowned as the ultimate softballer thinker, which should stand you in good stead ...

Sports history is littered with former players, great athletes, who failed on the coaching front. My past will help with credibility, but you've got to earn your stripes. Tactically, my knowledge should be of benefit.

Q. What about that "black book" - a file on everyone and everything in softball. What was in it?

Defence-wise, knowing what the opposition batters' tendencies were. The general rule of thumb is don't let the best batter in the opposition beat you. On offence, I recorded what pitchers threw to me. People are creatures of habits - they might hold the glove higher on the body while gripping the ball before throwing a rise ball and lower on the drop ball. Things like that. Knowing that turned the percentages into my favour but the bat isn't a magnet. You still need timing and hand-eye co-ordination.

Q. Any old cases you can tell us about ...

There was a Canadian Dwayne Dyck who poked his tongue out when he threw the change up. It was a great pitch and hard to hit and he couldn't work out why we suddenly started smashing it. My coach at Sioux City spotted that one.

Q. Did you share the intelligence with Black Sox teammates?

It was something you had to guard like Fort Knox. Everyone wanted a look but teammates can change organisations. Yes, I did share it with the Black Sox - [coach] Mike Walsh drove that. It was part of a culture shift in which we went from an extremely talented group who were not totally a team and didn't win to one where we had no secrets, where everything was on the table.

Q. The world championships will now be held every two years instead of four. Are you in favour?

No. I don't know if our sport can afford that for too long.

Q. Softball's profile has fallen - was this inevitable or because of poor governance?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing ... a bit of both. There was a certain inevitability with the development of professional wings in other sports. We need more Black Sox games in New Zealand.

Sky TV was very pleased with the ratings for the world championships. We need that television exposure then tie it in with commercial partners. We've got a great game enjoyed by many people. There's a huge amount of talent in the under-15s, -17s and -19s.

Q. The big question ... who was your favourite pitcher to catch to?

If I pick one it will annoy 50 others ... I really liked Michael White. He was a thinker as well. That's part of what we are trying to do with the development of our young pitchers. I'm greedy - I want them to throw hard and think about the game. You have to be an artist painting around the core of the plate, understanding the consequences of each pitch. Michael could throw hard but his philosophy was about getting 21 out. Sure, strikeouts help the ego, but he'd much rather have 21 ground balls if that meant winning. The great example was the 1996 world final against Canada. His warm-up was so bad I told Mike Walsh to ready another pitcher. But White was so determined and trusted his defence ... he ended up throwing the perfect game and they hardly got bat on ball from the third innings.

- NZ Herald

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