It is softball's time in the sun. The men's Black Sox team just won another world title.
I'm happy for them. They work hard, there are some good people involved and, from my perspective, they try a lot harder and are more talented than any other nation in the world.
But instead of celebrating the team's success this world title has brought out the typical over-the-top chest-beating and propaganda that infuriates someone that actually understands the sporting landscape. That's why I'm writing this. The Black Sox deserve applause but we need to accurately put into perspective what they have achieved.
Many are lauding the number of world titles won and pushing the Black Sox case for a Halberg Award but that argument simply doesn't stack up. The catch cry of "little old New Zealand beating the world" seems a bit off to me. Let's be honest - the world doesn't play softball at an elite men's level.
My colleague at The Herald Grant Chapman wrote a piece about how many countries play softball - 127 according to his research. More than hockey (125), cricket (105), rugby (102 & 17 associates), netball (49 & 25 associates) and rugby league (45). I don't doubt my mate's numbers but if we're honest about this it is blindingly obvious that very few of those countries consider softball even a medium-sized sport.
While loads of countries have recognised sports bodies it doesn't mean they are legitimate major players. There are 102 countries that play rugby but how many are relevant? How many even have an actual chance of winning a World Cup? You wouldn't need a second pair of hands to count.
All countries at the Softball World Championships are also countries where baseball is a significantly bigger sport - New Zealand aside of course. We are the exception not the rule. Everywhere else men that play diamond sports at an elite level play baseball. Softball is a social sport or something to turn to when the baseball career finishes.
The sad truth is this. The Softball World Championships are not a big deal at all. They were held in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada of all places. It has a population of about 25,000 which is smaller than say Pukekohe, where I live. Our town recently got its first set of traffic lights; we have one high school and a few too many fast food and off license joints.
A tiny hick town in the middle of nowhere is an appropriate place to hold a tournament where a bunch of amateur sports people, pay their own way to go and compete in a sporting competition that doesn't command any commercial interest. We aren't talking the bright lights of New York here. If the tournament was such a big deal why does it continue to be staged in towns like Whitehorse and why is every second or third event in New Zealand? Could it be that maybe New Zealand is the only legitimate country that takes notice now?
Surely the number of world titles is worth celebrating right? Well sort of. Yes, they are talented and hard-working athletes but are they any more deserving than other barely-recognised sportsmen - our shearers, water skiers, tug-of-war teams etc? It is more interesting to note that not one other country competing gets national funding to play the game.
The Black Sox got campaign funding to the tune of $250,000 to compete at this year's World Championships. They beat a whole stack of countries that don't bother to invest so if no-one else cares, why should we think it is a big deal? I could climb Pukekohe Hill more times than anyone else but it doesn't mean the achievement is significant to anyone outside my immediate friends and family. Every day Kiwis are achieving sport success that means a lot to those involved but very little to anyone else.
Chappy and many others rightfully make the obvious comparison to the sport of baseball when putting into perspective the Softball World Championship success. Softball is a bigger (playing numbers) sport in New Zealand than baseball is. It would be the only country on the planet that could say that. A quick look at the respective domestic competitions and it is obvious that what once was a big gap between the two codes is closing fast.
Baseball is the sport on the rise and softball is heading in a different direction. The access to ESPN (which SKY airs in New Zealand) allows us to follow the MLB and that is certainly growing the sport in a younger generation. Maybe that is the reason why so many former Black Sox greats' kids are now playing baseball instead of the sport their fathers played.
Chappy and others point out that baseball gets a payout from the TAB on all legalised baseball betting - generated via MLB. He's right they do get that rather sizeable cheque but for softball to be crying foul about baseball funding is seriously on the nose.
Baseball New Zealand didn't get a dime when they assembled their team to play at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Sydney last year - playing against a couple of Major League players. Softball received a participation figure of $310,000 this year and will get the same amount the next two years while Baseball New Zealand receives $20,000 each year for the next three years - a drop in the ocean by comparison.
There have been suggestions by a number of people that SKY chief executive John Fellet, who is a Baseball NZ Hall of Fame inductee, is influencing the amount of baseball on television and putting up hurdles for softball to get its air time. This is just simply wrong.
I have spoken to both Fellet and Softball NZ boss Tony Giles and there is no truth to that whatsoever. Fellet, who has coached both sports during his time in New Zealand, takes a straight feed from the USA of ESPN - the world's largest sports network and doesn't determine what individual programs they air. SKY had live coverage of the 2013 Softball World Champs held in Auckland and the only reason there was no coverage of this year's event is because the tournament didn't allow for it.
They had only two stationary cameras and wanted to charge a fee for the rights. SKY are often criticised for the their plans and pricing and can hardly be accused of not doing right be their own shareholders so when they were asked for a rights fee that they wouldn't make back for a sub-standard broadcast it is understandable that they passed.
Softball has done a great job, thriving in an amateur era in New Zealand. But with the advent of internet, pay television and better access to the world's major sports - it is going to decline in terms of its importance to us because the rest of the world doesn't pay much attention to it.
Likewise baseball will naturally grow - maybe not as fast as the sport would like but it will continue to gain in popularity like it has everywhere else around the world.
If we want to celebrate a true sporting achievement it would be for our best athletes to help New Zealand Baseball achieve on the world stage.