I am 31 years old, I started playing Fastpitch softball for the first time in 2015. Ireland began its first ever female fastpitch team to represent in the 2015 European Championships in Holland. This was a new and exciting opportunity but also a daunting one. Realising that we were tad poles in a pond of frogs. We were the babies that had so much to learn, but also we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, which I believe gave us a bit of an edge at our first major tournament.
All the other teams were playing for years and had real pitchers and players that were playing fastpitch in the womb. We had 3 players that had played when they were in high school and a bit in college, but had not played in a long time at any level. We all had history from slow pitch and that was our familiar sport and ability. The majority of us had represented Ireland in the European slow-pitch Tournaments, which in all honesty has no comparison to fastpitch tournaments.
We trained so hard for 9 months as a team with no pitcher or other fastpitch teams to challenge us or help us develop. We had an American girl who used to pitch when she was at home in the states, but it had been a while. We relied on her for batting practice but needed to be cautious as she was our only pitcher for the tournaments and we could not over work her or hurt her. We relied on the batting machine and our coaches to toss us their best fastpitch ball from behind a net.
We played a junior boys baseball team and a senior men’s baseball team once before we travelled for a European championship. Them 9 months were tough, we had juggle our own lives and other obligations as well as take almost every second weekend a month Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday to train, usually in a school in limerick or at the Limerick college and stay on campus, or sometimes in hotels. We had to pay our own way as we had no financial support at all beyond our own funds and any fundraising we do before tournaments. We would start at 10am on the Saturday or sometimes 9am and go until 5 and the same again on the Sunday. Some girls would travel down that morning to save on paying for accommodation. A two or three hour journey in a car and then straight into a 6-7 hour intense session, followed by dinner and bed and same again Sunday.
We are not a young team so therefore majority of us worked full-time and had other hobbies or sports, which had to take a backseat because of the increase of injury. I gave up Gaelic and soccer closer to the travel time because we were told we had to due to limited numbers travelling and we could not afford injury. Due to the distance between players and not able to train together other than scheduled session and scheduled bp once a week, I would have to go to the field with my dog and practice my distance throwing and accuracy while he retrieved the ball for me. Occasionally when a couple of us had the same day of (maybe 4 times all year before travelling) we would meet up and do training (sprints around bases, ground balls, speed throwing, base running while trying to throw down and accuracy base throwing) the best we could do with what we had.
For a while we had a trainer guy that would come and do bleep tests with us and help us with our fitness but this was maybe for like 4 sessions and then nothing so consistency was a major thing we lacked. But we all had our own routine and way of staying fit and throwing. I had my dog and also the gym, which I went to at least 5 days a week and would get the owner of the gym to help me build up the muscles in my arm for throwing by using certain machines, and I would run about 15k a day and cycle around 40k just to make sure I could run the bases as fast as I can if I got on base in the tournament.
It was tough, I am social care worker and currently about to enter my last year in college and at the time of the tournaments I worked two jobs. A full-time overnight care job and a support worker during the day when I was not in class, and then fitting gym and training in on my lucnch break or at night in the 24hour gym. Getting time of for the weekend sessions meant losing pay and that was never good as we were self-funded.
Unfortunately, this year for the Europeans I cannot play as I have a serious shoulder injury and am awaiting surgery. I played at the Europeans and the world’s last year in Canada. Both tournaments I was struggling with my shoulder but I was a starting player and didn’t want injury to interfere with me representing my country and doing right by my team due to lack of numbers. I played in agony as centre fielder in Canada last year but I had a great tournament and just took legal pain killers and anti-inflammatory to see me through each game followed by ice and tears. But it is the first year we have more players and more recruits from various backgrounds (Heritage Players) which consist of ss, pitcher, catcher and outfielder. This is a good team going over, a few girls we missed last year at worlds due to pregnancy and injury will be travelling and we have a lot of new younger players too. They have been working hard and have had more pitcher practice than the two years previous and a lot more training has been involved as we learn from previous tournaments.
We have a strong chance of winning most games and competing at a high level this year and we have a few returning players that will bring with them two tournaments and a lot of experience and guidance for the new comers. I will be watching every game online and am still trying to get a flight over to Milan for support.