Catcher Caleb going places

Caleb Delany has his eye on the ball. With his catcher's mitt he plans to take every opportunity that comes his way in softball.

The 14-year-old from Waimea College has just returned from an international softball competition in Australia, where the under-14 New Zealand International Softball Academy team won 10 of 12 games in seven days but lost the title to a Japanese team by a solitary point.

"The coach was really happy, he said we played well and was pleased with our batting because we hit it quite a lot, scoring the runs we needed to win the games," said Caleb.

"The only loss we had was against Japan, but we also drew with Australia. [The performance came because] our coaches were really good, they taught us quite a lot over the week. I am going to try my best to get into the under-15 squad next year."

The International Softball Academy was formed in 2007 to host international tours for softball players to expose players to elite softball and elite coaching through tours and academy programs.

Two selectors from the academy attended the under-15 South Island softball tournament in Invercargill in January. They were there identifying potential selections for the team and Nelson's talent impressed.

The Nelson side won nine out of 10 games at the tournament and successfully defended the South Island title after defeating Canterbury 4-0 in the final before four players were named in the tournament team.

Caleb, a catcher, was invited to join the ISA side for the International Youth Challenge hosted by the New South Wales Softball Association, played at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. It is a prestigious event that featured some of the best young softball players from Australia and Japan.

The boys were immersed in everything sport and softball had to offer in Sydney. Apart from the competition, the itinerary included a specialist skills camp, an NRL match between the Bulldogs and Sharks, a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondback. The group even travelled to Canberra to visit the Australian Institute of Sport, an internationally recognised model for high performance athlete development.

Given all the action packed into the week-long trip, Caleb's highlights remained clear.

"It was probably catching in the games. I guess I caught well, I played nine of the 12 games."

Caleb explained the role of a catcher was much more complex than sticking a mitt out and taking a pitch.

"Yeah, you just catch the ball from the pitcher, but you also call all the pitches. When the batter has two strikes on him, I like to call a different pitch. It was pretty good, we got quite a lot of strike-outs."

Nigel Kelly, coach of the champion Nelson under-15 side, said Caleb has the potential to be involved in national softball teams if he continued to work hard.

"Caleb has been involved in softball for the last six years. He has just been a very solid player, with good hand-eye coordination. He is not a superstar, but he just turns up every week, works really hard and gets the job done.

"Ask any number of coaches and most of them will tell you, it is players like Caleb, with the work ethic and drive to succeed that will go on to achieve in their chosen sports.

Caleb is already "punching above his weight". At 14 he has been catching in the Nelson men's grade this season.

"He has very good glove skills," said Kelly. "At bat, he is one of our most consistent hitters over the last four years in our club side."

While there was no official pathway from the ISA into the New Zealand age group teams, Kelly said the ISA programme was "like a stepping stone" and a "great development programme", with high level coaching and training plans.

"This is a privately funded New Zealand team. It's not recognised or endorsed by New Zealand Softball yet, but I think there is a high chance it will in the future. As an example out of the 17 kids named in the New Zealand Softball under-17 team, 15 of them played in the under-15 ISA team."

Caleb hopes to take all the chances that come his way over the next year. Nelson rep softball and men's club grade will hopefully provide good platform heading into next season's ISA selection. And from there he hopes to snaffle a spot in a New Zealand age grade team.