World champion Black Sox back in club colours
Fifteen of the 17-strong Black Sox squad that won this month's world championships in Auckland will play for their clubs at the national tournament in Christchurch, starting today.
Only ace pitcher Jeremy Manley, who is based in the United States, and Wellington catcher Aaron Stroman-Neemia were not on the club rosters submitted to Canterbury Softball.
Three senior Black Sox members, catcher Patrick Shannon (Waitakere Bears), second baseman Nathan Nukunuku (Ramblers) and first baseman Brad Rona (Northcote), will be player-coaches for their respective clubs.
Black Sox captain Rhys Casley is listed on the Hutt Valley Dodgers' roster with New Zealand team-mates Tyson Byrne (shortstop) and Nik Hayes (pitcher).
Other Black Sox stars set to line up include Canterbury trio Daniel Milne (PCU Devils), Penese Iosefo (Richmond Keas) and Tyron Bartorillo (Papanui); Thomas Makea and Jarrad Martin (Poneke Kilbirnie), Heinie Shannon (Waitakere), Wayne Laulu (Miramar), Donny Hale (Ramblers) and Ben Enoka (Auckland United).
Casley, Iosefo and Martin had to receive dispensations from Softball New Zealand to play in Christchurch as they had not played the required minimum number of club games because of injuries and Black Sox commitments.
The club open is a highlight of the domestic softball season, with the top players as passionate about winning honours for their clubs as they are in a Black Sox uniform.
Long-serving PCU Devils coach Ted Forrester believes the presence of so many Black Sox gold medallists will add zing to this week's tournament.
Auckland United, led by Enoka and his brother, Thomas, who pitched for Samoa at the world championships, are the defending champions and top seeds again this week.
PCU are seeded second and should have a good shot at winning their third title after triumphing in 1997 and 2001.
Milne has plenty of support from former Black Sox Gareth Cook, Stephen Ratu and Darren Davies.
Ratu and Cook both hammered three-run homers off Iosefo in last Sunday's Canterbury club final victory.
Forrester said "anyone in the top eight" would be a major threat, with Auckland United and Hutt Valley Dodgers fielding strong squads and Poneke Kilbirnie full of "good hitting and pitching".
Teams from Canterbury, Southland (Demons), Nelson (Stoke Eagles), Wellington, Hutt Valley, Hawke's Bay, North Harbour and Auckland will line up at the tournament.
The 20 teams are drawn in four sections of five, with the top two qualifying for the playoffs.