Barker blasts Red Sox clear of Hutt
Pinch-hitter Paul Barker produced the batting fireworks before an Auckland squall rained on the Canterbury Red Sox's parade at the National Fastpitch Championships.
The 32-year-old "rookie" stepped up for his first at-bat at national level and slammed a two-run automatic home run against Hutt Valley.
"I couldn't have asked for more, really," Barker said during a rain-break at Rosedale Park as a storm raged outside at the Albany venue.
Barker's blast, with a runner at third base, gave Canterbury a 5-3 lead which they held till the deluge delayed proceedings in the seventh inning.
"Chew" Barker - Star Wars fans will get the reference - plans to make the most of his late-career callup to the elite softball ranks.
The Papanui outfielder was one of the province's most promising ball-players 15 years ago when he played for the Canterbury under-19s and broke into the premier club ranks with Papanui.
But he spent 10 years in the social grades while ice hockey became his primary sporting passion for eight winter seasons.
"I used to be captain of the senior non-checking ice hockey team and played in the Canterbury team for five years.
"I gave up for family and financial reasons but I ended up managing the Canterbury Red Devils [national league] team for a season . . ." Barker dropped down to "F grade" with the Papanui Wildcats presidents grade team "for about 10 years". But Papanui head coach Colin Sutherland asked him to return to the premier ranks three seasons ago. After hitting three home runs in his first premier reserve game, Barker was promoted to the premier starting lineup and has stayed there ever since.
Asked if regretted not returning earlier, he said: "Yes and no.
"I learned a helluva lot about softball from playing F grade, probably more than I would have from playing premiers, from guys like Buzz Terrey and the Kerrigan brothers at the Wildcats. Being in the Red Sox now, I'd like to thank those guys from the bottom of my heart."
Barker said he had had huge help with his hitting from Papanui stalwart Colin Chee, a New Zealand representative in the 1960s. "I've got him on speed dial."
Nine hours after starting the Hutt Valley game, Canterbury resumed the final inning needing three outs. Penese Iosefo completed the 5-3 victory with a clutch strikeout.
Barker batted in two runs and Black Sox shortstop Tyron Bartorillo, who had cracked a home run against Hutt, had three hits from four in Canterbury's 5-1 win over Counties Manukau-Waikato last night.
Former Black Sox stars Gareth Cook and Stephen Ratu hammered home runs in Canterbury's opening 8-0 win over Southern Pride. Cook clouted his with Tyron Bartorillo and Daniel Milne on deck and Ratu's walk-off shot, with Matt Holmes on board, ended the game in the fifth inning. Aiden Cocker pitched a shutout for Canterbury.
Meanwhile, the Canterbury Red Hawks' women's softball team suffered a fifth-inning fielding implosion to lose their opening game at the championships.
Counties Manukau-Waikato beat Canterbury 9-2 after batting through their order to score seven runs in the fifth frame.
Former White Sox international Sina Hunkin scored for the northerners in the first inning and Stephanie Roy doubled the lead on Kristina Green's Texas leaguer hit in the second inning.
But Canterbury came back to tie the game at 2-2 when captain Nicole Baxter and Steph Kepa scored in the top of the fourth. Baxter popped down a safe bunt and crossed the plate when Kepa forced an infield error before Emma Frost batted in Kepa with a right-centrefield drive.
But those were Canterbury's only hits off Counties Manukau-Waikato's former New Zealand pitcher, Michelle Kingi.
The Red Hawks play three games today, against Wellington, Hutt Valley and Hawke's Bay.