Stephen Mullaley stars at the international level of the game
Mullaley is a common name in these parts, particularly in Stephen Mullaley’s hometown of Freshwater, Placentia.
But on the International Softball Congress (ISC) travel circuit, where Mullaley plays for the Hill United Chiefs from Six Nations, Ont. it’s anything but common and it’s almost always mispronounced.
“I don’t hear a whole lot when I’m getting to the batter’s box, but it gets to the point where I almost listen to wonder how they’re gonna screw it up,” Mullaley says with a laugh.
“I’m a proud individual, proud of my name and proud of where I’m from. If they do it while they’re talking to me, I’ll be sure to let them know, the same way as any Newfoundlanders says ‘it’s Newfoundland, not New Found Land.’”
Even if the name of Mullaley’s home province doesn’t roll off the tongue for the people in the “close-knit” international softball world, the praise for Newfoundland-born ball players comes easy according to Mullaley.
“Within the softball community, Newfoundland is high on the radar. When people hear you’re from Newfoundland, they start to expect that you’re a pretty good ball player.”
And they’re not wrong, joining Mullaley on the circuit this summer are Chiefs teammates Jason Hill of St. John’s and Harbour Main’s Brad Ezekiel — “He’s proven time and time again that he’s one of the best, if not the best, ball players on the planet right now,” he insists.
There’s also Harbour Main’s Sean Cleary and Goulds’ Ryan Boland who toil for the Toronto Gators, and Brad’s brother Blair Ezekiel and Petty Harbour’s Sean Whitten of the New York Gremlins. The teams are ranked within the top 5 in all of North America.
Together, they represent some of the best fastpitch softball players ever produced in Newfoundland, backed up by the fact that all but Boland were invited to Softball Canada's senior men's national team camp earlier this year. (Shane Boland, his younger brother, also took part in the camp along with Justin Gill of St. John’s.)
“The quality and presence of Newfoundland ball players has grown over the last five years, and to see a lot of the young ball players... making the jump to senior and being leaders on their club teams and at the ISC and to make the national team, it’s unreal,” says Mullaley, pointing out that it’s started trickled down to the coaching level with local John Hill coaching the Chiefs this season.
“The Newfoundland softball presence on the highest stage is there and people know it.”
Starting today in Kitchener, Ont., and on the heels of a second-straight American Softball Association championship last weekend in South Bend, Indiana, Mullaley and the Chiefs will look to hold off the Gremlins, Gators and 45 other teams as they begin defending their ISC World Fastball Tournament title.
“Winning it is difficult, defending is even harder,” Mullaley explains.
Unlike the ASA tourney, the only major softball tournament that awards a double life to the top team, the ISC is a week-long tournament that gives the top ranked teams byes through the first day of competition and rewards wins with more accommodating schedules throughout the round robin.
“It’s more strategic,” says Mullaley. “If you keep winning, you have some breaks and if you have a hot pitcher, you can use him more often than you would in a weekend tournament.”
The goal at the ISC is make it to Friday night, after which “every single game can make or break your tournament.”
Mullaley, who calls Toronto home these days, feels good about the Chiefs’ chances to defend, and after a slow start to the season he feels better about where his game is at.
After choosing not to play in a senior league in the Toronto region this summer — “It takes an hour in traffic to get home from work, then another hour to get out to play a ball game... it didn’t make sense,” Mullaley says — the slugger found the lack of regular ball had an impact on his game.
“I was struggling in our first few tournament,” he concedes. “I was frustrated and not playing well at all, at least not to the standard I expect myself to play at.”
With the ASA and ISC’s fast approaching, Mullaley took it upon himself to spend more time in batting cages and praticing at ball neaby fields.
The results — MVP and top batter honours at the ASA tournament — speak for themselves.
“I just hope it carries forward for the ISC.”