Monday, March 19, 2012Hawker, Canberra — Coming off a national championship win for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) men’s open team in mid-February, Australia men’s national softball team representatives Nick Norton and Adam Folkard are getting ready for more softball later this year, including the Australian club championships to be held in Brisbane in June.
Folkard and Norton have both won the World Championships and have each won a total of ten national championships with the ACT side. They are both named to the current men’s national team, which has roughly thirty players, and believe they are likely to survive the December cut down to eighteen players who will represent Australia at next year’s World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand.
The World Championship is one of the two most prestigious available to male softball players. The other is the International Softball Congress, an event Folkard and Norton have both competed at.
As national team representatives, there are a lot of expectations for them. In Australia, there is almost no financial support for the men’s game so they must cover most of their own costs, including travel to and from international competitions. According to Folkard’s father, these costs can be prohibitive. In one year, when Folkard was a representative on the men’s U18, U23 and Open team, it cost A$15,000 for travel and other expenses just for Folkard. When costs for bringing family members such as Folkard’s sisters to major international tournaments, the costs were even higher. Folkard, his father and Norton all joked this cost his father an investment property to allow Folkard to continue to compete at the highest level. Both Folkard and Norton currently work as tradesmen to support softball playing.
Beyond money, the national team requires players to be actively involved in wider softball community. Players must represent a club at the club championships in Brisbane if they want to retain a spot in the squad. Folkard plays for a Western Australian club and Norton plays for a Sydney based club, driving down from Canberra to play every Sunday during the season.
Folkard and Norton have both played softball at the highest level in the United States, where the men’s game is not yet fully professionalized but still presents more opportunities for players than are available at home. For several years, Folkard has gone to the United States for three-month stints, playing for teams in Chicago, Pennsylvania, and New York. One side he played was sponsored by Ernst and Young. Folkard currently plays for a Canadian side and has been trying to convince Norton, whom he has grown up playing softball with, to join him like Norton has done one previous season. According to Folkard, playing with a North American club has certain advantages. The clubs pay for his travel to and from Australia, and pay for Championship rings. When asked how North American clubs sign Australian players, he said they follow men’s softball in Australia and call up players to offer contracts. Australian men’s players gain additional exposure to potential clubs when they compete, with some sides approaching them during the North American season and seeking to contract them for the following season.
Both men would love the opportunity to play softball in the Olympics, but believe such an opportunity is unlikely. According to them, softball at the Olympics is a women’s game intrinsically linked to men’s baseball, and men’s softball is unlikely to ever be considered on the programme as a result.
Folkard and Norton both play for the same club in the ACT territory club competition. Their team has secured a grand final berth for the match in ten days. They are waiting to find out who they will play against based on a match this weekend. Both have previously won this competition.