Veterans recalled to boost the Black Sox ranks
Three comeback kings, including Black Sox great Thomas Makea, have been named in the world champion New Zealand softball team for their trans-Tasman test series against Australia in Auckland next week.
Makea and catcher Stephen Ratu have been coaxed out of retirement and former New Zealand and Samoa pitcher Thomas Enoka has reinvented himself as an infielder to gain selection alongside older brother Ben, the Black Sox's key outfielder.
New coach Mark Sorenson, who has played alongside Makea and Ratu for the Black Sox, is delighted to have the experienced pair back in the squad.
Makea, 39, first played for New Zealand in 1994. He retired after helping the Black Sox win a record sixth world championship title in Auckland last March.
The Wellington outfielder, who will play alongside younger brother Campbell next week, joined Sorenson and Jarrad Martin as the only Kiwis with four world championship gold medals.
Sorenson said Makea had agreed to help out the team ''for one more tour of duty'', but Ratu - who last played for the Black Sox in 2009 at the world championships in Canada - said he hopes to make the 2015 world championship squad.
Ratu, 38, retired from representative softball in 2012 but answered an SOS call from Canterbury and has continued to play club and representative softball.
Sorenson said he approached Makea because he felt the squad needed his experience for the three-test series against an Australian team led by world class pitchers Adam Folkard and Andrew Kirkpatrick.
''I asked Thomas if he would give us one more tour of duty and he said, 'if the guys need help, I'm there'.
''He's still a world class player and he will just give us that guiding hand we need in the dugout. He demands respect. He won't start, but he will be there and the Aussies will know we've got Thomas to bring off the bench.''
Sorenson said he would blood more young players on the winter tour of North America but needed proven performers against the Australians.
He said Ratu was still a top catcher for the Canterbury Red Sox and the Parklands Christchurch United Devils club team and formed a ''great combination'' with Black Sox pitcher Regan Manley at club and representative level.
Ratu will contest the catcher's job with Wellington's Te Wera Bishop, who has returned to the Black Sox after a brief career in baseball with the Boston Red Sox organisation.
Sorenson said Thomas Enoka had developed into one of the best hitters in New Zealand over the past couple of seasons and was one of the top performers in fitness testing at a pre-Christmas training camp.
''He fully deserves his spot. Big brother Ben was one of the standards for the Black Sox in the last couple of years and now Thomas is right up there alongside him and there's a younger brother, Campbell, showing plenty of promise too.''
Seven of the Black Sox squad won gold medals in Auckland last year, including new captain Nathan Nukunuku, Donny Hale and Brad Rona, who have each won three world titles.
Veteran lefthander Heinie Shannon leads the pitching staff along with Manley, Hutt Valley ace Nik Hayes and young Marlborough hurler Kurt Schollum.
Hutt Valley shortstop Tyson Byrne, one of the Black Sox's stars last year, will not play in Auckland to focus on personal commitments.
Wellington shortstop Jerome Raemaki, regarded as unlucky to miss last year's world championship team, returns to the ranks.
Canterbury outfielder Josh Thomson, 26, will make his Black Sox debut.
Games will be played on Friday March 28 at 7.30pm and Saturday March 29 at midday and 2.30pm.
BLACK SOX SQUAD
Pitchers: Nik Hayes (Hutt Valley), Regan Manley (Canterbury), Kurt Schollum (Marlborough), Heinie Shannon (Auckland).
Catchers: Te Wera Bishop (Wellington), Stephen Ratu (Canterbury).
Infielders: Tyron Bartorillo (Canterbury), Thomas Enoka (Auckland), Nathan Nukunuku (Auckland) (captain), Jerome Raemaki (Wellington), Brad Rona (North Harbour).
Outfielders: Ben Enoka (Auckland), Donny Hale (Auckland), Wayne Laulu (Wellington), Campbell Makea (Wellington), Thomas Makea (Wellington), Josh Thomson (Canterbury)