For a while it looked like the 2009 world series final might be the last time Jarrad Martin took the diamond for New Zealand.
A winner of three successive world titles with the Black Sox, including one as captain in 2004, the veteran first-baseman disappeared from view following his team's loss to Australia in Saskatoon.
It was almost as if Martin had stopped thinking about international softball entirely.
In reality the 5-0 defeat was rarely out of his thoughts. Being the skipper of the Black Sox team which surrendered the title had wounded Martin and any time he started to forget what that felt like, all he had to do was roll over.
"I've had my silver medal next to my bed for four years and been looking at it every day," 39-year-old Martin said yesterday.
"I've definitely never lost focus or lost sight of where we finished at the last world champs, so that's the reason that I have that thing next to my bed.
"It's a little reminder that I need to work harder to get the right medal back."
The question then was when to return to the Black Sox fold. In the end it took something of a crisis to get the wheels in motion.
The defection of a trio of players to baseball a year ago left Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase short of experience ahead of a tournament in Australia.
Martin made himself available, before the goal of a return to the world series became a reality on Sunday when Kohlhase named him in his 17-man squad for the March 1-10 tournament at Auckland's Rosedale Park.
Martin will be 40 by then, but after helping Wellington finish fourth at the national fastpitch championship over the weekend, he is sure he will be up to it.
"I actually feel like a new man. The time that I had off in the last couple of years has helped and, mentally, I feel right there and that I still have a lot to offer," the New Plymouth-based electrician said. "Physically I'm going to be putting more work into it over the next couple of months but, no, I don't feel old. Only when I look in the mirror and see a few grey hairs."
Wellington team-mate Thomas Makea is the other player in the squad who will be attending his fifth world series and Martin doubts the centre-fielder has forgotten Saskatoon either.
"There's a bitter taste from the last one, knowing that we had a good enough team to win it and I just think winning this one here would be hard to describe," he said. "But we've got a lot of work to do between now and then.
"Once again, we've definitely got the team to do it, but it's going to take a full team effort to get it back."
Wayne Laulu is Wellington's other player in the Black Sox squad, while Hutt Valley, who finished third at the fastpitch champs, are represented by pitcher Nik Hayes, infielder Tyson Byrne and captain Rhys Casley.
Hutt Valley's women's team was fourth at the fastpitch, with Wellington beaten 5-0 by hosts Auckland in Sunday's final.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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