As a young man, Kevin Stockford grew up playing softball in Horowhenua with a desire to one day play softball for the New Zealand Black Sox.

But the softball gods had different ideas. The winds blew him far, far away.

Now, as a grown man, he returns home for two international games in Levin next month, and with a softball tale for the ages.

From a devout softballing family and growing up playing in the Horowhenua scene, he made age grade teams as a youngster, rising the ranks to the Black Sox training squad, and for a long time he was on the cusp of national selection.

"I always had ambitions of playing for the Black Sox," he said.

Advertisement

But such was the strength of the Black Sox at that time, vying for spots with legends like Mark Sorenson, the chance never came.

Like many good young softballers, he spent the off-season abroad, and on one Northern Hemisphere sojourn in 2008, as a 23-year-old, he never returned.

To condense the following 12 years of his life since then, he has played and coached softball the world over, attending three World Series after becoming head coach and player for Great Britain.

He played in Australia, and Canada too. While playing in Denmark, he met his future wife Sabrina. They were married, settled down, and have a 10-year-old daughter, Tiana.

Stockford also became coach of the Danish under-18 mens side, who early last year had an outside chance of qualifying for the World Series, to be held in Palmerston North next month.

But qualify they did, much to Stockford's delight, and he can't wait for his players to experience the New Zealand softball scene as they build towards the World Series.

That build up includes a game against Levin United Men's team at Playford Park on Saturday, February 15, and a match at the same venue against the New Zealand under-18 men's team on Wednesday, February 20.

The NZ U18 team is coached by Black Sox softball legend Thomas Makea, who has strong family ties to Horowhenua and who used to coach Stockford when he was a youngster.

Advertisement

Stockford said the moment his team qualified for the World Series, his thoughts were of his native country and the prospect of enriching his players with a visit to his home town.

Denmark had a squad of 16 players and would also play games in Auckland and Hawke's Bay prior to Palmerston North, games that Stockford said were invaluable.

He lobbied hard for Levin to be included in the tour itinerary, and then touched base with Makea to make it happen, and he planned a coaching clinic for young players during his stay.

"I wanted to give back to Horowhenua softball, because that's where it started, and when you get older you want to give back a little bit of what you have learnt," he said.

Softball was a minority sport in Denmark with fewer than 1000 players nationwide, but they showed their strength in beating Great Britain and Israel last year to make the 12-team World Series.

USA originally missed out during the qualifying period, but would compete in Palmerston North as a wild card entry, for which there was one spot.

Stockford had been at the helm for the last two years and couldn't wait to see Denmark players develop with the experience of a New Zealand tour.

"It's exciting," he said.

"From my point of view, when I saw Palmerston North was the destination, I was told by the Danish Federation it would be too expensive."

"I said we have to make it happen. It's a way for these young men to experience a different lifestyle and learn how softball is played down there."

"We've worked hard for two years. There is a big difference in skill level, but the build-up will be a stepping stone for what's to come and we will learn a tremendous amount."

Stockford said there were some promising players in Denmark. The difficulty was gaining regular games against top class opposition.

"The difficulty you have is holding on to these top players. In New Zealand, if a player is unavailable, you have 10 more that can replace them," he said.

"The goals are to be competitive and come back and create a better level of softball in Denmark."

Meanwhile, Stockford said during his time in Denmark, his grasp of the native tongue was now of a high standard, although conceded that his wife's grasp of English was "probably better than mine".