A record-breaking field of 37 teams will visit Keterson Park in Mitchell the weekend of June 15-17 for the 2018 International Softball Congress (ISC) Canada East Qualifier, the U23 championship and the inaugural Legends (50+) championship.
And it’s anybody’s guess who will come out on top.
At least that’s the view of one of three Canada East Commissioners entrusted to organize the tournament, Blair Setford, in conjunction with the Mitchell Mets intermediate club.
“With the field of teams that we’ve got and for what’s at stake it’s going to be a super competitive weekend across the board,” Setford said, adding the fact that the ISC world championship is being held in Kitchener in August helps draw teams to this qualifying event.
“I think it’s going to be a dogfight in all three divisions.”
Twenty-four men’s teams are vying for what Setford guesses will be 12 berths to the world championships, while five teams will fight for an Under-23 berth at the worlds as well. Adding to the fun, and showing that high level fastpitch softball still is near and dear to many people’s hearts, an inaugural Legends division for players 50-years and over will be held as well, and eight teams have entered seeking that first championship.
“It’s just wonderful to see these guys who literally were legends of the game in their own time and still continue to play,” he said. “They are still out there competing but mostly they are out there to have fun.”
The commissioners met with the Mets last fall about the possibility of hosting this qualifier, recognizing that with the world championships in Kitchener that there would be a lot of teams showing interest and they needed a place with at least four diamonds.
“We’ve got a history of the qualifier being in Mitchell (as recently as 2014) and we know the people there are great ball fans,” he said. “It was a mutual effort where the Mets were interested and certainly where we knew we could be accommodated.”
The defending champion Toronto Batmen will be a contender once again, Setford notes, plus a young up-and-coming squad such as the Nith River Monsters and veteran teams like Elmira Expos, Shakespeare Falcons and Kingston Axemen to keep an eye on. New teams setting foot in the ISC program, such as Milverton and Dundalk as two examples, will get their collective feet wet in the program and look for experience for the future.
“The Toronto Batmen are the defending champions but there’s a half a dozen teams that could upset them,” he said.
Setford commented on the state of the game, as rising numbers of baseball players take to the field with the popularity of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I like to think it’s holding its own,” he said. “There are pockets in small towns where it’s doing great and there are big cities where it’s not. What we need to do is get the game into the schools and get more people playing.
“It’s an effort but you can say the same for all sports. It’s a challenge to get the young kids off of devices and out on a playing field.”
The host of this qualifying tournament is the Mitchell Mets, who are in their 41st consecutive season of competitive men’s fastpitch softball, a feat that Setford called “impressive.” Although the Mets per se aren’t playing in the qualifier, a handful of their players are playing for various teams, including AJ Moses, Kevin Ward and Scott Lealess (Elmira) and Tyler Pauli (Nith River) while Mitchell-area residents and natives Andrew Medhurst (Shakespeare) and Joe Harris (Ponsonby) are also scheduled to make an appearance. Local teams from Monkton, St. Pauls and Milverton are also entering teams.
Some true legends are also expected to participate, including former all-world pitcher Darren Zack (Sudbury). Longtime Met Jeff Pauli is also playing in this division, suiting up with Waterloo.
Monkton will also host some games in this tournament, primarily the Legends, rekindling some memories for many as the village hosted their own prestigious tournament from 2004-2009.
Action begins on all four Mitchell diamonds, plus Monkton, on Friday, June 15 at 6 p.m., and continues Saturday, June 16 at 8 a.m. and goes all day as well as Sunday. The Legends final is set for 1 p.m. Sunday in Monkton while the U23 championship will be played at 3 p.m. Sunday in Mitchell. The men’s championship game is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We think we’ve got the best of both worlds here – the best players, the best umpires, the best sponsors…and it’s that team effort that makes a successful tournament,” Setford said, adding getting involved at the ISC level along with Joe Todd and Kyle Smith as commissioners “is a labour of love.”
Members of the organizing committee have reached out to various organizations for help in running the tournament including the Mitchell Jr. C Hawks (refreshments), Mitchell Legion, br. 128 (food), Mitchell Curling Club (gate/admissions) and the Mitchell Jr. Mets (grounds crew). More volunteer help is still needed in a number of areas. If interested, contact Moses (firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-348-4600).
“I hope there’s some surprises and I know we’ll have an absolutely terrific weekend of ball,” Setford said.
Admission will be $5 for the day or $10 for a weekend pass.