Not to put any pressure on Nik Hayes, but his dreams of playing in March's world championships do hinge on what happens over the next few days.
The Hutt Valley hurler is one of several pitchers who'll start the National Fastpitch Championship tomorrow knowing that there are still a couple of spots in the Black Sox's rotation up for grabs.
Hayes, arguably, has the inside running on one of those places, by virtue of having pitched usefully for the Black Sox on this year's North American tour after being called in as a late injury-replacement.
That's enough to give the 23-year-old some encouragement, but definitely no peace of mind.
"It's a do-or-die kind of thing," Hayes said of what awaited him over the four days of the NFC at Auckland's Rosedale Park.
"If you have a good tournament, you're in. If you don't, obviously it hinders your chances.
"Because I have come into the Black Sox picture late, I've got a smaller chance. I'm competing with five or six guys for pretty much two spots."
Ever since the 23-year-old made the Junior Black Sox in 2008, his target has been the 2013 Auckland-hosted senior world championships. But parenthood - Hayes has two young daughters - and a subsequent lack of national recognition meant he'd all-but given up hope.
Then Black Sox assistant coach Dave Workman called to tell Hayes that he should try to tee up some leave from work, in case he was needed for the June/July tour to North America.
It turned out he was, with the only problem being that his job as a truck driver for Envirowaste was the least of Hayes' concerns.
"My partner was due to give birth three days after the tour finished so I was thinking ‘Do I risk going over and maybe missing my daughter's birth?' In the end, she came a week early," he said.
"It was hard but, at the end of the day, you have to take chances like that."
Hayes was then involved in last month's internal Black Sox tour, which required him taking more unpaid leave. The NFC necessitates yet more unpaid time off, as would selection in the squad for the world champs.
It's not ideal but, as Hayes said, you don't get that many opportunities in life to represent your country.
As far as the NFC goes, Hayes is confident about Hutt Valley's chances. Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington loom as favourites, but Hayes believes there's little separating the eight teams in the men's section.
Auckland and Canterbury contested last year's women's final and look strong again, as do Hutt Valley, under player-coach Kiri Shaw.
Hutt Valley men: Nik Hayes, Tane Richardson, Dave Gollan, Edward Albright, Tyson Byrne, Scott Cartwright, Campbell Ngarimu, Steve Deans, Joel Evans, Michael Telfer, Cameron Willis, Craig Wallace, Carl McIlroy, William Makea, Jason Croy. Coach: Thomas Makea Sr
Hutt Valley women: Chance Warbrick, Yulanda Hogervorst, Monique Whareumu, Sharma Bradbrook, Yvonne Burgess, Danica Ferriso, Ashley Johnston, Ngahuia Kapene, Taylah MacDonald, Amelia Rika, Kiri Shaw, Cindy Potae, Talilotu Tonu'u, Rebecca Jefferies, Megan Thompson. Coach: Kiri Shaw
Wellington men: Thomas Cameron, Karl Gollan, Fabian Makea, Josh Gettins, Wayne Laulu, Gene Lutton, Campbell Makea, Jarrad Martin, Thomas Makea, Jerome Raemaki, Dante Matakatea, Aaron Neemia, Daniel Tarapi, Frank Pointon, Corey Timu. Coach: Warren Stoddard
Wellington women: Jasmine Kaiaruna, Marissa Berkes, Brooke Cutting, Emma Francis, Megan Cross, Katie McAndrew, Keri Simeon, Madison Lovatt, Kayla Rangiwha, Vicki Shand, Alison Boys, Jardene Tipa, Hope Weber, Victoria Reyland, Ancelle van Molendorff, Natalie Lundon. Coach: Robin Cutting
- © Fairfax NZ News
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