Brad Rona calls 'time' on Black Sox career but skipper Nathan Nukunuku stays on
Brad Rona has retired from the Black Sox after four world titles but captain Nathan Nukunuku is keen to chase a fifth.
The pair brought up their 100th caps for the New Zealand men's softball team on their way to the gold medal in Canada this week, but Rona, 41, has lowered the curtain on a career that began in the late 1990s.
"We have a tradition in the Black Sox that guys retiring leave their cleats on home plate," Nukunuku said. "Brad put his there after the final... that's him finished."
Rona, 41, and Nukunuku, 37, won their first gold medals in South Africa in 2000 and were key members of the 2004 triumph in Christchurch and the 2013 victory in Auckland.
But Nukunuku - who has been elected a players representative on the World Baseball Softball Council - isn't ready to hang up his glove yet and is targeting a title defence in Prague in 2019.
"I'm going to go home and reflect on it and talk to my boss at Placemakers about continuing on," he said.
"I'd like to keep playing if I can. I'm not ready to stop just yet. I'm 37 now... and 39 isn't far away, but I'm not ready to stop yet.
Nukunuku said he would like to "finish my career in the Czech Republic and play a world series in another continent" if his employers are amenable.
While the Black Sox get some funding from High Performance Sport New Zealand, the players have day jobs. "It's about work for me.," Nukunuku said. "Work is where I make my money to support my family."
Ranking world championships is always a difficult task, but Nukunuku said this week's was "probably the best, only because the teams we had in the past were very experienced sides that know who wins".
"We talk a lot about the Black Sox legends, but these young fellas this week have created a new legend.
"Ten of this year's [17-man team] hadn't won a world championship before. Now we've got an extra 10 guys who've got a gold medal and they're still very young. That's obviously pleasing for the future. We talk about about the Brad Ronas, Thomas Makeas and Donny Hales, but these guys now also know what it takes to win a world series."
Nukunuku said the Black Sox had won in Whitehorse was "massive" without "two of the best players in the world". Jerome Raemaki did not tour due to a knee injury and Ben Enoka hurt his leg in the first inning of the third game and did not play again.
The skipper said he was proud of the Black Sox's character epitomised in their comeback from a 9-2 deficit to beat champions Canada 12-11 in a vital playoff game on Sunday (NZ Time).
"The way it's been led from the top down has been really good. We got a couple of key things right this week, especially the belief factor.
"When Ben Enoka got injured we asked everyone 'can we go on and win this thing?'. "And all the boys said, 'yeah, we can'.
"Today [in the 6-4 grand final win over Australia] we saw how resilient this team can be."
Nukunuku marvelled at the development of "a whole bunch of guys who took their chances this week". He said outfielder Campbell Enoka and catcher Kallan Compain had been "absolute stars" at their first world championships and Joel Evans had fought his way into the starting lineup to go on and smash the grand slam home run in the final.
He was also pleased for coach Mark Sorenson, who achieved his goal of winning the world series as a player and a coach.
"Whatever Mark decides to do [in the future], we will support him. He's given a lot to New Zealand softball ... he's a played a big part in ensuring the Black Sox legacy has been passed down, him and Dean Rice, my brother [Dion Nukunuku] and K J [Kere Johansen] have instilled that Black Sox attitude."
Now, Nukunuku said, the mantle has been passed to a new breed of Black Sox, many of whom could be around for several more series yet.
Of the 17 Black Sox, only Rona, Nukunuku, pitcher Karl Gollan, 38, outfielder Wayne Laulu, 36, and third baseman Tyron Bartorillo were over 30. Most are in their early to mid-20s with shortstop Cole Evans already having two world series under his belt at 19.
AT A GLANCE
The world champion Black Sox squad was: Pitchers: Nik Hayes (Hutt Valley), Josh Pettett (Wellington), Campbell Gibson (Auckland), Karl Gollan (USA-based). Catchers: Kallan Compain, Zane van Lieshout (Auckland). Infielders: Nathan Nukunuku, Cole Evans, Isaac Fletcher (Auckland), Brad Rona (North Harbour), Joel Evans (Hutt Valley), Tyron Bartorillo, Josh Harbrow (Canterbury). Outfielders: Thomas Enoka, Ben Enoka, Campbell Enoka (Auckland), Wayne Laulu (Wellington). Head coach: Mark Sorenson. Assistant-coach: Darryl Marino. Pitching coach: Jim Wana. Statistician: Ian Ditford. Video analyst: Jamie Frisby.
3-Bartorillo (1 with Australia)
2-Laulu, B Enoka, Gollan, Hayes.
1-Pettett, Gibson, Compain, van Lieshout, C Evans, J Evans, Fletcher, Harbrow, T Enoka, C Enoka.