A pleasant phone call from Chet Gray in early March brought me the news that I had been appointed to the Canadian Open International – fantastic and exciting. First task is to organise my leave from work, then get started on travel plans and paperwork.
I enlisted our colleague Alex Turnbull as my travel agent and also planned a few weeks holiday for after the tournament. There was plenty of pre-tournament communication with Jeff Whipple (UIC for Softball Canada), Brian Van Os (TCU for the International tournament), Dave Brewer (TCU for the Futures and Showcase tournament) along with the tournament office. Just prior to travel I sent through my emergency contact details.
Off to Melbourne airport, I lift-off on my first leg to Sydney. A few hours at the airport plus some flight delay, and then I make my way through customs for the flight to Vancouver.
The long flight passes with a good book, dinner, great music, noise-cancelling headphones, sleep and breakfast. Before I can ask myself “What day is it?” I arrive in the sunshine, blue skies and warmth of Vancouver, six hours prior to leaving Australia! As I’m having a couple of tourist days before the tournament, I catch the Skytrain into the city and walk to my hotel, kit-bag and luggage in tow. Over the next couple of days I visit Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, the Canada Day fireworks on the harbour, the Fly-Over Canada attraction and Grouse Mountain. I receive contact from our Canadian Aussie colleague Claire Austring, inviting me to join a local crew on an evening Men’s game out in beautiful Ladner, which is a great chance to blow off a few cobwebs, have a great meal, and meet some more fine people.
On the Thursday morning, Brian picks me up and we head to the airport to collect Spanish umpire Nacho Pardo, then head for Softball City out in Surrey. An excellent facility with four skinned diamonds, there are grounds crew making preparations and the food and refreshment vendors setting up. Later that day we have close to forty umpires at the crew meeting for the Futures and Showcase divisions of the tournament.
Over the next few days I umpire six Futures/Showcase games, the junior section of the tournament, enjoying my time on the diamond with the local developing umpires. Everybody is great to work with, and also up for a chat. It is either my lovable nature and great stories, or the fact that I talk funny, but it seems everyone wants to talk to the Aussie, or listen to him talk! The sunshine and warmth are simply wonderful and I get more than my fill of Vitamin D.
In the umpires area at the ballpark there is an old two-seater couch, affectionately named the Dusty Rose Couch of Napping – I find myself lured into her arms late on the hot Monday afternoon and promptly head into noddy land for an hour or so! My new ‘friends’ take a few snaps to post on Dusty Rose’s Facebook page as she takes another victim.
On Monday evening the International crew gather for our umpires meeting, where we run through logistics and protocols, discuss the three different pitching rules in force, the procedures to be used in a protest situation, and receive reminders about stretching, hydration and maintaining our professionalism on and off the diamond. Equipment and bat checks are to be conducted at the diamond each game.
Tuesday was the start of international play and included the opening ceremony. I was proud and honoured to be asked to deliver the Official’s Oath at the opening ceremony, and received positive feedback on my delivery. A real off-diamond highlight! “On behalf of the umpires and officials of the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championships, I promise that we shall officiate in these games with complete impartiality, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them in the true spirit of sportsmanship.”
The accommodation was at Pacific Inn about 15 minute drive from the ballpark. A number of international teams were also staying at this establishment. It was clean and comfortable. Daily ground transport was with crew mates using their personal vehicles. The pool and spa were welcomed, although closed at night on our return, and thus utilised in the mornings.
The tournament is a busy one with four diamonds in play constantly. I umpired two or three games per day with all games using the four-umpire system. The games were of high standard and played with intensity and generally good sportsmanship. Crowds were large, particularly when the Canadian team was playing. Games on the main diamond were also broadcast to the big screen in left field. There was a large contingent of friendly volunteers helping to run things.
I umpired fifteen international games and twenty-two for the whole tour. Each game had something of interest or something to learn from. There was no shortage of close calls and pitches nibbling the edges of the zone. I enjoyed good camaraderie and on-diamond working relationships with each crew that I worked with. All the crew had good English skills and in situations when translation was deemed helpful, Spanish speaking umpires were used. The crew were a fantastic bunch of guys and girls to work with, and I instantly felt very welcome and embraced into their family. I was also fortunate to work with nearly every other crew member, which was invaluable. It was also nice to strike up and enjoy conversation with a few players and coaches. One of the best things about softball is the relationships that we make, the great people we meet and the new friendships we form, and this tournament enabled me to make a whole bunch more.
Finals Day was Monday with just the two games scheduled, so a number of the crew went to Arne and Val Austring’s for a leisurely afternoon of great Canadian hospitality, waffles, maple syrup, coffee, fresh fruit, stories and laughter – a lovely way to spend our last tournament day.
Game highlights included: 3rd base Canada v Japan, it was a warm night with a very large crowd and a lingering smoke haze from some nearby fires casting an eerie light over the stadium; the plate for Cuba v Canada (1 v 4 playoff) was an intense and exciting game; and being appointed to 3rd base on the bronze medal game Canada v Cuba rounded out a great tournament.
A 10:00am departure from Vancouver airport on Tuesday morning took me off to the US to meet up with my two sons and begin a 16-day trip. After that awesome adventure I arrived back in Melbourne at the end of July, happy to see my family, happy to be home.
The Canadian Open was a fantastic experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. My sincere thanks and appreciation goes to the NUC, Softball Australia, Softball British Columbia and Softball Canada for the opportunity. I would recommend this tournament to any of my fellow umpires.