Milne: 'I owe Southland softball a lot'
When Demons product Daniel Milne steps into the world championship arena, he will spare a thought for two late, great Southland softball stalwarts.
Milne has lived and played ball in Christchurch for 15 years but the 34-year-old Black Sox utility player says Southland gave him his softball grounding.
"They started me off and gave me the opportunity . . . I owe a lot to the people in Southland softball, as well as some of the coaches I had back then."
Milne said former Black Sox infielder Jamie Campbell and his father, Niall Campbell, had been two of his early influential coaches. Both Campbells have passed away but Jamie's sons are still among Southland's top players, with Tim Campbell representing the Junior Black Sox at the 2012 junior world championships.
Milne said his uncle Russell Frisby also helped shape his softball career before he left Invercargill to play for Christchurch United alongside his cousin Jamie Frisby, Russell's son.
Milne now runs his own painting company and has been kept busy since the Canterbury earthquakes but while he's at the world championships he's left his business in safe hands - former Canterbury and Black Sox infielder Paul deLatour is his business partner.
Milne will have family in the stands at Auckland's Rosedale Park, including his wife, Nic. The former Canterbury women's softball representative is due to have their second child in June. Son Austin, 5, will also be an avid Black Sox barracker. "He's looking forward to see my games," Milne said.
Southland has had world championship representatives before, including pitcher Garth Tattersfield in the late 1960s and Jamie Campbell in 1980, but only Milne and former Southland Boys' High School student Clayton Willocks, who hailed from Clinton in South Otago, have been selected for a world tournament in New Zealand. Willocks was in the 2004 title-winning team in Christchurch.
Milne - nicknamed Whero (Maori for Red) - made his Black Sox debut in 1999 as a 21-year-old. He was an unlucky omission from the 2004 gold medal-winning New Zealand squad in Christchurch but later established himself in a group that won 112 out of 120 games between 2004 and 2009.
He forced himself into the starting lineup at left-field in the 2009 world championships in Canada, playing 10 games and hitting .313 with five hits from 16 at-bats. Milne also made critical defensive plays and returned home as one of the success stories on a Black Sox squad that lost to Australia.
He goes into these world championships in fine hitting form, having belted a three-run automatic home run in a 9-0 warm-up win over South Africa. "I got lucky," he chuckled.
"The team is coming along really well. The pitchers are starting to get into their rhythm and the hitters are starting to hit."
The versatile Milne played in the infield in some of the Black Sox's buildup games at club tournaments in Auckland but has been used predominantly at left-field or right-field in latter outings since an extra infielder, Nathan Nukunuku, joined the squad.
He said losing the last final to Australia 5-0 still hurts. "But we are trying not to think about that. That's in the past, we are trying to look to the future now. We're just looking to take each day as it comes and take the opportunity in front of us."
Milne has learnt from what went wrong in Saskatoon four years ago and believes he is a better player now.
Nor will the 2013 necessarily be his swansong now the tournament is played every two years. "I'm just focusing on this one, and then I'll see how things are. But I don't know about the ‘R' word [retirement] yet." Fairfax NZ
- The Southland Times