Black Sox selectors have plenty to work with
The New Zealand Black Sox squad to contest the 2013 world championships will be named in Auckland tomorrow.
Softball writerTony Smith runs the rule over contenders.
United States-based Jeremy Manley has long been rated New Zealand's likely ace. The Manawatu man had to play second fiddle to 43-year-old veteran Marty Grant in Saskatoon. But 2013 could be a more mature Manley's time to live up to his undoubted potential.
Auckland southpaw Heinie Shannon threw for Samoa at the 2004 world championships in Christchurch but was on New Zealand's mound, pitching to brother Patrick, in the ill-fated 2009 final defeat to Australia. He hurled Auckland to the national title last year but has to work on hitting the corners to stay away from opposition hitters' power zones.
Former Marlburian Nik Hayes is making a late dash for a place on the pitching roster. A tall, hard-throwing right-hander now with Hutt Valley Dodgers, Hayes was a late callup for last winter's North American tour and made every post a winner.
Canterbury's Penese Iosefo is approaching his pitching prime at 26. He's a bright prospect for the 2015 and 2017 tournaments but impressed on the last two North American tours and is good enough now to command a place. He must prove himself at the NFC.
Regan Manley (Hawke's Bay) throws as hard as older brother Jeremy and has been one of the best on the domestic scene for several seasons.
If the Black Sox selectors look for an outfielder, who can also deputise as a fourth pitcher, Wellington duo Thomas Cameron and Karl Gollan come into the mix. Left-hander Gollan performed that role in 2004 but isn't playing in the NFC, which might not help his cause.
Cameron was a specialist pitcher in 2004 and still is, but he played outfield adequately at last December's Canberra Skins tournament.
The New Zealand softball public only truly appreciated Mark Sorenson's greatness after he retired. The Hutt Valley catcher with an encyclopaedic understanding of opposition hitters was the man behind the mask when Michael White pitched a perfect game to win the 1996 world final, when Marty Grant threw a no-hitter in the gold medal game in 2000 and when Jimmy Wana beat a star-studded Canadian batting lineup in 2004.
Patrick Shannon got the catching job in 2009 but had an off-day in the final. But his hitting power could give him the edge over Aaron Neemia, the best of the specialist catchers. Neemia would have been at Saskatoon but for a ban after his second positive test for cannabis, a banned substance. But he's done his time and deserves his place in 2013.
The great talking point here surrounds the selection of New Zealand's greatest shortstop Nathan Nukunuku, who is still in top touch with the ball and the bat but hasn't played much for the Black Sox since his disappointing displays in Saskatoon. Should he be given another chance?
Canterbury infielder Tyron Bartorillo won a gold medal with his native Australia in 2009 but has switched allegiance after living in Christchurch since 2006. He's a contender for the hot spot at third base and can also cover shortstop where Hutt Valley's Tyson Byrne may feature.
The best first-base option would be Canterbury veteran Darren Davies, the safest pair of hands defensively and a great lead-off batting option as a left-handed contact hitter. But he's never been in an Eddie Kohlhase squad and it's hard to see a mindset change now.
Brad Rona, the Black Sox's batting star in Saskatoon and a two-time gold medallist, is back after a brief baseball flirtation. He is probably too slow for third base but is among the options at first.
The infield mix could depend on captain Rhys Casley's fitness. He has had shoulder surgery and is facing a race against time to be fit for the world championships. Casley's been playing second base where Byrne can cover.
Auckland's Ben Enoka, Canterbury's Daniel Milne and Wellington's Wayne Laulu are considered certainties here while young Aucklander Jarome Haretuku hasn't let the Black Sox down either.
How many veteran outfielders, who can still hit but now struggle in the field through injury or age, is it safe to include?
Kohlhase may have to bite the bullet and omit New Zealand's greatest outfielder, Thomas Makea, a star performer in the last four campaigns but now hobbled by knee injuries.
Will Makea have to make way for his much younger brother, Campbell?
Canterbury captain Gareth Cook remains a proven performer but hasn't been selected since Saskatoon to the chagrin of South Island supporters who believe the former Junior Kiwi offers plenty on and off the diamond.
Pitchers: Jeremy Manley (Hawke's Bay), Nik Hayes (Hutt Valley), Heinie Shannon (Auckland), Penese Iosefo (Canterbury). Catchers: Patrick Shannon (Auckland), Aaron Neemia (Wellington). Infield: Brad Rona (North Harbour), Tyron Bartorillo (Canterbury), Tyson Byrne, Rhys Casley (Hutt Valley). Outfielders-utilities: Donny Hale, Ben Enoka, Jarome Haretuku (Auckland), Wayne Laulu, Campbell Makea, Thomas Makea (Wellington), Daniel Milne (Canterbury).