Province expected to field two competitive teams

Bradley Bouzane
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CANADIAN SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

As winter begins its shift to spring and summer, attention shifts from pucks and curling rocks to bats and rawhide leather.

This August, the finest fastpitch softball players in the country will make their way to St. John's for the 2007 national senior men's championships and all eyes will be on the two local entries - a provincial, or 'first' team, and a host squad.

As winter begins its shift to spring and summer, attention shifts from pucks and curling rocks to bats and rawhide leather.

This August, the finest fastpitch softball players in the country will make their way to St. John's for the 2007 national senior men's championships and all eyes will be on the two local entries - a provincial, or 'first' team, and a host squad.

While the majority of the players representing the province this year will be born and bred Newfoundlanders, there is room for some outside help for each team at the competition.

Provincial team coach Glenn Littlejohn said with many local talents on the move in their every-day lives, it's hard to build a team around players who still reside in the province and as a result, import players will be used for the event, which runs Aug. 26-Sept. 2 at the Caribou Complex in Pleasantville.

"We're allowed three imports and I'd imagine we'd take advantage of what we're allowed under the rules," said Littlejohn, who had numerous national medals to show for his eight national appearances as a player.

"So I'd say we'll do everything we can to have the maximum numbers. The names are out there, but until we make our final decisions, I'm not prepared to go there.

"Most of the players who will be competing on the first team travel on a regular basis now anyway."

With three import players on their roster - an increase from one import, which was the case in some previous tournaments - the two local teams can pluck players from anywhere to field the strongest team.

"If I could get (St. Louis Cardinals' slugger) Albert Pujols to come in, I could use him, but I don't know if I could fork the coin for him, though," Littlejohn joked.

He said a meeting is planned for Thursday to have more discussions with potential players.

Lloyd Power, president of the Softball Newfoundland and Labrador, said the province's fourth crack at hosting - Newfoundland and Labrador staged the senior men's event in 1979, 1989 and 1995 - should leave a strong impression on visiting delegations.

Holding off

He said many teams have held back during the last couple of years in anticipation of this year's event.

"Last year, for example, in Prince George, B.C., there were only eight teams, and speaking to a number of teams directly, they were holding off intentionally because of the costs associated with going to the nationals," said Power, who has represented the province five times as a player at the nationals. "They all wanted to come here this year.

"The reputation of Newfoundland hosting this event is second to none, and everybody knows the calibre of ball that'll be played here this summer."

More info coming

He said host committee meetings are ongoing and ticket details and other tournament information should be available in a few weeks.

Power is expecting a minimum of 14 teams this year, including the provincial team and the Bill Nixon-coached host team, and figures more than 1,000 people will come to the city which, he said, should equate to about $1 million for the local economy.

He said the provincial softball body has come under fire in recent years for not placing bids on other major tournaments, but Power said the organization wanted to take the time to prepare and do things right.

He's confident now that everything is in place to put off a good show.

All-star format

Both teams will be formed using an all-star format, with the provincial team having first choice of players.

Considering Newfoundland and Labrador has never won a national senior title - the closest the province got was silver in 1995 and 2005 - both Power and Littlejohn have high hopes for the two teams.

"We've had many kicks at this can and any time we've hosted, both our teams have been competitive," Littlejohn said.

"We have a tradition of being strong at our own nationals and I don't expect anything different this time. I think anything less than the medal round is a failure.

"The goal is to put the best team on the field and win a national championship.

"We've been close a couple of times, but we've never gotten to the top of the mountain, but I think this year we'll have a legitimate shot."

bbouzane@thetelegram.com

Organizations: St. Louis Cardinals, Softball Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Pleasantville Prince George

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