Elijah Mataira knows he is the envy of many of his Hawke's Bay under-18 softball teammates.
Despite only playing the code for three years outfielder Mataira, who previously focused on touch during the summer, joined pitcher Kahurangi Beamsley-Allan as the two Bay players named in the New Zealand team for the inaugural Under-18 Men's World Cup which begins in Palmerston North next month.
The pair were selected after their Hawke's Bay team finished eighth at their 13-team nationals which ended in Palmy on Sunday.
"I know a lot of my teammates have been playing since they were 4 or 5 and never make New Zealand teams. I tell them Kahurangi and I only make national teams because of the work our teammates put in to help us get there," Mataira said.
"Gaining Junior Black Sox selection was the ideal form of consolation for our Bay team missing out on the top four and Kahurangi and I missing out on tournament team selections. We could have done better but what we have done in the past worked in our favour," Fast Pitch club player Mataira explained.
He had two tournaments, one in Queensland and one in Lower Hutt, with Junior Black Sox training squad teams last year, while Maraenui Pumas club player Beamsley-Allan played in the same two plus one in Auckland.
Mataira is impressed with the talent throughout the Junior Black Sox squad and agreed there is enough ammunition to achieve national title glory on home turf.
"It would be mean and it is a realistic goal providing we put in the work between now and the event."
Mataira pointed out both he and fellow 17-year-old Beamsley-Allan have learned plenty from the Junior Black Sox coaches, retired Black Sox legends Thomas Makea and Jarrad Martin, who both played for his club early in their careers.
"They have taught us a lot. There is nothing about softball they don't know."
Mataira agreed having played the national tournament in Palmy will prove beneficial when the 12-team World Cup starts.
"There are different sorts of weather every day. It was good experiencing those conditions so we can adapt during the World Cup."
This event will be his first of two cracks at becoming a world champion this year. In April the Hastings Boys' High School Year 13 student will travel with his school's 1st XV as a utility back to the Sanix World Youth Rugby Tournament in Japan.
Former Te Aute College student Beamsley-Allan first started playing softball with the Pumas club as a 4-year-old and proved he was a player with potential when he hit a home run for the club's premier team as a 14-year-old.
He set Junior Black Sox selection as a goal after playing for the North Island under-15 team in a televised fixture against their South Island counterparts in 2017.
"It was pretty exciting when I heard my name read out for the World Cup. All the extra work has paid off," Beamsley-Allan said, referring to numerous gym visits and pitching sessions on his own.
"Obviously there is more hard work to be done yet. Now I'm in the team the goal is to become the No 1 pitcher. I'll be working on my skills as well as location and consistency."
Beamsley-Allan hopes to score a building apprenticeship after the World Cup.
He and Mataira are the first Hawke's Bay players to be selected for a Junior Black Sox World Cup team since Pumas catcher Callum Carson and the Saints pitcher-catcher combo of Adam Woon and Jacob Zurcher were selected for the 2016 silver medal-winning team.
The Colquhoun Park-hosted tournament will be played from February 22 to March 1.The top three teams from Group A will play the top three teams from Group B in the Super Round with the top two nations in the standings after the Super Round meeting in the final match.
New Zealand are in the same pool as Japan, the United States, Mexico, Denmark and Guatemala. Defending champions Australia will be joined by Argentina, Canada, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Singapore.
Recent world rankings and previous world junior tournaments suggest the Junior Black Sox, Japan and the United States should make the Super Round from their section while Australia, Canada and Argentina should make the cut from theirs.
However, as the fourth placing recorded by the regular World Championship-winning Black Sox team last year indicated, the fancied teams are being pushed harder by the once minnow nations as the code becomes more global.
The assistant coach for the Hawke's Bay under-18 side, Quentin Chadwick, said Mataira and Beamsley-Allan have been rewarded for some hard yakka produced during the past two years.
Chadwick was also thrilled with the selection of Mataira's clubmates and fellow outfielders, Ben Mackey-Gotty and Brock Coulbeck, in the tournament Rest side at the weekend.
"They both put in a lot of work with the Fast Pitch Academy and their selection, along with Elijah's, will give us a boost for the Bay premier men's post-Christmas comp which starts this weekend."