By Jan Hora
After 36 hours on the road from Prague through Dubai or Bangkok, I was welcomed in a warm New year’s morning by my friend Ron Huison at the Kingsworth airport in Sydney. From there we went straight to the ball park in Blacktown which held the Olympic tournaments back in 2000 and this year it hosted 70th Australian Softball Championships called Gilley’s Shield Trophy.
It was a shock to be on a sunny softball field on a New year’s and to prepare for the first big tournament of the year. It was a situation I have never experienced before.
All of the umpires were up to two games per day, in the beginning, one per day during the final days of the tournament. In total, I was involved in 12 games including the playoffs and final.
Each game was somehow unique and interesting. I got the opportunity to work with several different umpiring systems: the basic one three-person system with runs into the outfield, that is mostly common in the USA or Canada, even the classic four-person system used for the World Championships. Before and during every game, you had to keep in mind the differences between the systems which was quite difficult.
Most of the women’s teams were on a similar level and you could see a nice offensive softball with lots of hits throughout the competition. Some of those hits even ended up over the fence.
The tournament used the WBSC SD rules filled in with some minor adjustments, for example, the rule about changing catcher on base with two out was obligatory instead of optional.
Jan Hora (on the right) as one of the umpires of the Australian Championship final game
On Sunday, right after the tournament finished, we took the car and went some 300 km south of Canberra, where the Men’s championships took place from the next Monday – John Reid Shield Trophy.
This event used the same format as the Women’s championships a week before. Representatives of six provinces battled each other in two-round phase to get into short playoffs.
The heat had a lot to say this time. Especially in the final days of the tournament, the temperature reached even 40°C during the day. Softball Australia uses Heat Policy in case of similar weather conditions. This means that after each 3rd, 5th and 7th inning, everybody has to leave the field for 5 minutes and take a break in shadow. There are strict rules that state with what temperatures and humidity conditions this policy takes place.
The umpires had a similar amount of games here as during the first tournament, I was involved in 11 of them. During the championships, we had the opportunity to discuss and analyze our performances with the video and find specific areas on which we could work to improve. We did the analysis with Leigh Evans from Softball Australia who has experience with methodology within softball division in World confederation.
Again, the three-person and four-person systems took place. Again, it was a challenge to adapt quickly to the correct style for the very next game.
This year, the men’s tournament was also a camp for the Australian men’s national team – the Aussie Steelers – so you could see a lot of top-level players around. The games were on a level similar to our domestic play-offs. When some of the teams played their no. one pitcher, the performances were at the World Championships level.
I rate my participation on both tournaments very positively. I value the opportunity to gain new experience and I value much-needed help from my Australian colleagues to handle all situations in a new environment. I am glad to the management of European softball that allowed me to attend these tournaments. In total, I was involved in 23 games in 14 days and I believe I can use this worthy experience to my advantage in the future, either in our domestic competitions or during some other international events.