For organizers of the Canada Cup International Fastpitch Tournament, waiting for the Softball City gates to open each summer – after months and months of planning – is akin to a child waiting for Christmas morning.
Now, pretend the previous two Christmases had been cancelled, and you might be where tournament chair Greg Timm and his army of volunteers find themselves today, just a few weeks from the first pitch.
After having to cancel the 2020 and ‘21 tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re excited, to put it mildly. But Christmas Day is almost here, with the tournament set to run June 17-26 at Softball City, Sunnyside Park and Cloverdale Athletic Park.
“It’s earlier than usual – two, three weeks earlier than we usually do it, so for all of us, it’s coming fast. It’s getting ready to run us over like a train,” laughed tournament chair Greg Timm.
“But it’s so exciting. We’ve been sort of biding our time here for three years, and it feels like things are normalizing again… and our host committee, our 30 people who lead it, they’ve just nailed it again.”
And though they’ve been sidelined since they last organized the 2019 Olympic qualifier tournament in September 2019 – “We have to remember how to perform again – it’s been 34 months since we’ve actually done anything together as a group,” Timm said of his organizing committee – the longtime chair of the event said it didn’t take much convincing to get people back onboard.
“What drives us all is what the experience is for the children. The kids who play in it, the girls who serve as bat girls with the internationals teams, the nine-year-old watching in the stands with her dad,” he said.
”That’s what we’ve kept our minds on as we’ve sorted through the challenges we’ve had.”
As in previous iterations of the Canada Cup, this year’s event will have three main divisions – women’s international, Futures (U19) and Showcase (U16) – with the international tournament featuring a bevy of recent Olympians. Four of the six teams that competed at last summer’s Tokyo Summer Olympics – including the bronze-medal winning Canadian squad – will be taking part.
The international division will include 10 teams: national teams from Canada, the United States, Australia, Mexico, Chinese-Taipei, Australia, Philippines, Korea, Czechia and – for the first time since 2013 – the Netherlands.
Australia will also send a second team, a development squad, and two club teams – the Alberta-based Calahoo Erins and Triple Crown Colorado – will also take part in the women’s international tourney.
Originally, Japan was part of the group, but had to pull out due to a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this spring in the country’s fastpitch league in which the national team members play; in order to reschedule games, the season had to be extended into late June, thus overlapping with the South Surrey event.
Nevertheless, Timm expects the level of competition to remain as high as its ever been. He singled out Czechia – not a traditional softball country – as a team to watch.
“They’ve really improved. They have good coaching, and their pitching staff looks like it’s going to be really solid.”
As well, he noted the Czech team has recruited former Simon Fraser University women’s softball coach – and former Canadian national team coach – Mike Renney to serve as an advisor and bench coach.
“It’s going to be a spectacle to watch, if you like to watch high-level softball,” Timm said of the division.
And though they have yet to release an official roster for their summer schedule, Team Canada will look quite different than they did the last time they hit the field at Softball City. After their bronze-medal win at the Olympics last summer, seven members of the team retired, with three of them – Kaleigh Rafter, Jenn Salling and Joey Lye – staying on as coaches. Rafter is the new head coach, replacing Mark Smith, who also retired after Tokyo.
Several familiar names will be back on the field, however – led by Maple Ridge’s Larissa Franklin, Delta’s Kelsey Harshman, and longtime national teamers Natalie Wideman and Victoria Haywward.
In fact, Canada’s pitching staff at the Canada Cup will be entirely new, as former mainstays Danielle Lawrie, Lauren Bay-Regula and Jenna Caira all hung up their cleats last summer, and a fourth pitcher – former White Rock Renegade Sara Groenewegen – is likely to only participate with the national team on a part-time basis this summer, according to Softball Canada’s website.
“It was just such an incredibly long run for those players, especially the pitchers who have to put in a bunch of extra time. They were ready to go to the Olympics in 2020, and then when that got (postponed until 2021), they had to give up a whole extra year of their life, and that was a big challenge,” Timm said.
“So I think, as a group, they were quite burned out, so some of them are on a bit of a break… a well-deserved break.”
While tickets to attend games in person will be available through the tournament’s website (www.canadacup.com), this year’s Canada Cup will also be streamed online for a fee.
All games at Softball City’s main diamond will be streamed live, and it will be a far bigger production than just sticking a camera beyond the centre-field fence, as has been done in other instances. This year, production will include five cameras, a director and producer and graphics, Timm said.
As well, well-known sports broadcaster Peter Loubardias – an analyst on Calgary Flames radio broadcasts – will be handling the play-by-play. Loubardias also handled broadcast duties during the 2019 Olympic qualifier, Timm noted.
Information on tickets and streaming will be available on the Canada Cup website.