New Zealand softball must develop its own women's game more if the White Sox want to compete at international level.
This was the call from Hawke's Bay's White Sox coach Kevin Gettins when commenting on his retirement from the job. He had been in the role since 2015 and was the Junior White Sox coach for the previous seven years.
"Our domestic competition is very poor. It doesn't prepare us for international level," Gettins said.
"Imports are propping up too many of our New Zealand teams. They have a place but it must be on the back of the development of our local players. If the New Zealand player base is to become strong there needs to be restrictions on imports introduced through a phase plan," Gettins said.
A former Ravensdown works manager, Gettins, 57, admitted he lost his spark in the White Sox role.
"It becomes a chore when it is not something you enjoy."
Gettins, or "Bear" as he is nicknamed, is the first Hawke's Bay coach to be appointed to the role and his final assignment with the White Sox was the Olympic Games Asia-Oceania qualifying tournament in Shanghai last September. With one win and two losses in pool play New Zealand didn't progress beyond that phase of the event, where Australia secured the sole berth for Tokyo.
"Shanghai was always going to be a battle. If all the stars lined up we had an outside shot," Gettins recalled.
"Since 2016 when softball got put back in the Olympics players from the China, Mexico, Australia and Canada teams have played regularly in the United States Pro League. Those countries have got the jump on everybody else."
A former Hawke's Bay and Hutt Valley senior men's representative, Gettins coached the White Sox at two world championship tournaments. In 2016 they finished seventh in Canada and in 2018 13th in Japan.
He considered 2016 as his best year at the helm. The White Sox beat Chinese Taipei for the first time in two decades with a 4-0 victory, during which Hawke's Bay pitcher Rita Hokianga conceded five hits while taking 10 strikeouts.
During a 9-2 loss to defending champions Japan, the White Sox did well to keep the Japanese to 2-all at the bottom of the fourth inning. Gettins pointed out having then Softball New Zealand high performance manager Darren Smith in Canada was a big plus.
"Darren did a great job and changed my way of thinking on a lot of things. His video analysis stuff was spot on."
A former Black Sticks men's hockey player, Smith was appointed head coach of the team in 2017.
"After 2016 our White Sox team was like a car driving down the motorway at 60km/h being passed by other countries doing 120km/h."
During his time with the Junior White Sox, Gettins coached them at three world championships. They finished sixth in South Africa in 2011, fourth in Canada in 2013 and sixth in Oklahoma in 2015.
Back in those days he saw the benefits players from Mexico, Australia and Puerto Rico got from playing in the United States college system.
"The international game is strong on the women's side of things. We don't get exposed to the high level of softball we need to," Gettins said.
Although he has retired from international coaching, Gettins hasn't ruled out a return to a coaching role in the future.
"You never say never. It's in my blood and I will always maintain an interest."
He believed former Black Sox player Roman Gabriel, the new White Sox head coach, will do a good job. Earlier this week the White Sox were beaten 7-1 by Chinese Taipei and 1-0 by Australia A in their first matches at the Pacific Cup tournament in Australia.
The Shanghai qualifier was also the last tournament for Hokianga and also for Gettins' daughters, pitcher Courtney and catcher Melanie, as White Sox. Melanie played in five senior world championships.
"It's definitely been tough financially for the players involved in our programmes. I remember one year Melanie had to find close to $20,000 as she had two tournaments. But we've been lucky as the families involved with softball always find a way to help their kids."
During his provincial coaching career Gettins guided five Hawke's Bay age-group teams to national titles and the Dodgers to the national women's interclub title in 2014. That year he won the coach award and the side the senior team award at the annual Hawke's Bay sports awards function.
Gettins heaped kudos on his former Ravensdown workmates for the support they have given him during his coaching career.
"I worked there for 34 years. They were a great company."
These days he is working alongside his wife and former White Sox infielder Charmaine for the family's Weighing and Measuring Solutions business. With no coaching commitments, third baseman Gettins hopes to be available for the Hawke's Bay Evergreens team again from next year.
"I've missed the last four or five national tournaments and while I will miss next month's I should be able to get ready for next year's."
We couldn't let Gettins bow out without getting him to name the best White Sox side from his time at the helm. It is:
Pitcher, Jennifer Feret; Catcher, Melanie Gettins; First base, Pallas Potter; Second base, Ellie Cooper; Third base, Lara Andrews; Short stop, Hailey Breakwell; Designated player, Krysta Hoani; Left outfielder, Mikayla Werahiko; Centre outfielder, Kingsley Avery; Right outfielder, Mereana Makea. Bench: Rita Hokianga, Taylor Paige-Stewart, Kelly Renner, Stefanie Smith.