Diamond sports should combine at top level

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 11:59 16/12/2012

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Diamond sports in New Zealand are at the crossroads. Different paths have been travelled down for decades to get to this point.

OPINION: Down one long stretch has come softball, the sport that has long held sway on diamonds around New Zealand.

The sport has always enjoyed a charmed existence in this country, long receiving government funding to grow and maintain the game.

And it is a sport that has given much back, to many. Especially in Auckland, the wider Wellington area and Christchurch, softball has become deeply entrenched with the men's Black Sox their local heroes.

It has nurtured a sense of family for decades and seen exceptionally talented New Zealand sportsmen and women achieve across the world.

For young women, it offers much. Scholarships are to be had in the United States and Canada - which many young Kiwi women have taken up over the years.

For men, it is different. The international level represents the ceiling of what you can achieve in the sport.

Down the other stretch has come in baseball. In New Zealand, this road only really began in the last two years.

For a long time, the sport here was a bumbling apology, operated and largely played by expat Americans.

But over the last two years, the sport has bounced up to nearly 7000 people playing nationwide, and recently enjoyed the surprising successes of the national baseball team, the Diamondblacks, at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Taiwan.

Past the near-irrelevance of the international baseball game, the sport offers incredible opportunities. Top-quality educations are available in the US college system, while the pro game offers youngsters a level of sporting success few Kiwi sportsmen have.

Young catchers Te Wera Bishop (Wellington) and Daniel Devonshire (Auckland) are two such examples - having signed contracts with major league teams in the US within the last 18 months.

Many former and current Black Sox have privately admitted that had baseball been a better option when they were growing up, they would have taken it.

But this week has seen softball's administration issues brought into the limelight. At its highest levels, the sport appears to be malfunctioning here.

It has the money and playing numbers (albeit decreasing), while baseball has the opportunity, while operating on virtually nothing.

Mirroring the likely coming together of the international softball and baseball bodies this week, New Zealand should follow.

The sports should combine at the top level to form a diamond sports national body to govern both codes - with greater emphasis on growing softball for women, and creating stronger links with American universities, and growing baseball for young men.

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The crossroads should not divert again - the paths should move together as one.

- Sunday News

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