The old heads looked at each other and nodded, knowing it was a step in the right direction.

Black Sox legends Thomas Makea and Jarrod Martin had just seen their latest intake of future softball stars easily put paid to Denmark, their final warm-up match before they take on the World Series at Palmerston North.

Junior Black Sox coaching team of Thomas Makea and Jared Martin, and manager Wayne Small, congratulate their team on a good hit out against Denmark in Levin last night.
Junior Black Sox coaching team of Thomas Makea and Jared Martin, and manager Wayne Small, congratulate their team on a good hit out against Denmark in Levin last night.

But it is just a step. The nature of international softball at under-18 level means that most of the top 12 teams in the world could beat the other on any given day.

The nod between Makea and Martin said they knew there was still a mountain to climb, and waiting for them could be their nemesis, Japan.

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Ranked number one in the World, Japan are the reigning champions and have beaten the Junior Black Sox in their last four encounters. They are the team to beat.

The Junior Black Sox pose with the Denmark under-18 team at Playford Park in Levin after their final warm up match for the World Series in Palmerston North.
The Junior Black Sox pose with the Denmark under-18 team at Playford Park in Levin after their final warm up match for the World Series in Palmerston North.

Makea said the Denmark game was an ideal build-up and they are looking for the chance to play a World Series on home soil.

"It's been a good chance to iron out a few things," he said.

Meanwhile, Makea said they had originally started with a squad of 40 young players and had worked hard at spreading the net wide, with an even spread of players from around the country, even tracking down promising pitcher Brandon Bristow, based in Australia.

Junior Black Sox pitcher Brandon Bristow sends one down at Playford Park against Denmark.
Junior Black Sox pitcher Brandon Bristow sends one down at Playford Park against Denmark.

Martin, who was in the last junior Black Sox team to win a World Series in 1989, said the current squad was full of promising players that had the potential with hard work to go on to big things.

"You can't take shortcuts. It takes hard work and we try to instil that in these young men. It's at an international level now," he said.

"We've always been there or thereabouts and have been on the podium the last three campaigns and have been proud of what we have achieved."

It was fortuitous that New Zealand softball had greats of the game so willing to give back to their sport. Makea is head coach, Martin his assistant, while batting coach is Bevan Martene.

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The Junior Black Sox perform their haka ahead of the match against Denmark.
The Junior Black Sox perform their haka ahead of the match against Denmark.

Junior Black Sox manager Wayne Small said he remembered the day when Makea and Martin were asked if they could coach the Junior Black Sox, soon after the 2013 World Series triumph.

Legends of the game, straight away Makea and Martin said "yes" and has been with the team ever since, he said.

"These guys aren't paid."

A coup for softball is that many of the World Series games were to be televised on Sky Sport.