Elite softball players all over the world have set long-term goals focusing on Japan. For most of them, the goal is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But for Simone Freeman, the focus is on a much more humble event in the same country.
The Toyota Cup, a pre-season tournament that brings together players from Japan’s professional leagues, is barely a blip on the softball radar compared with some of the high-profile events.
But for Freeman, who believes in taking her softball career one step at a time, the Toyota Cup is a chance to establish herself as a member of the Aussie Spirit.
Having represented Australia previously, but missing selection in last year’s international events, Freeman plans to make the most of her new opportunity when she and 15 teammates travel to Japan next month.
“My focus wasn’t very much on softball last year. But I’ve put a bit more effort in this year and I’m kicking a few more goals now,” she says.
While some players are overwhelmed when they first play in Japan, where crowds are much louder and more boisterous than in Australia, Freeman has no such concerns. “For me it’s not such a big deal, because we had a lot of that at college, where there was also a lot of atmosphere at big games.”
Freeman attended sporting powerhouse Oklahoma State University, where she was a standout pitcher whose career highlights include pitching a no-hitter and being named conference player of the week in 2014.
That’s another reason she is not looking any further ahead than 2017. The Spirit will play a tournament in Oklahoma later in the year, and if Freeman makes the team it will be a homecoming of sorts. “I’m just looking one year at a time. Staying in the team for the Canada Cup and the Oklahoma City series would be a big thing for me. Oklahoma would be pretty much like going home to play. It definitely feels like home over there.”
Freeman’s college career wasn’t all about softball. She achieved high academic standards and earned a degree in strength and conditioning that has been put to good use since returning to her home town Sydney.
She now works with the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL and netball teams and is completing a masters in High Performance Sport.
Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow says the Toyota Cup is the ideal place for Freeman to establish herself in the Aussie Spirit team.
“Simone has been on the brink of Aussie Spirit selection for a little while and will get her chance in Tokyo to prove she deserves more opportunities,” Barlow says.
“Simone’s priority role will be to pitch, but she has the ability to hit for power and cover first base if required.
“I’m looking forward to watching how Simone performs. I’m sure she will do well.”
Freeman, 25, is determined to do just that, believing a new attitude she showed at the recent National Championship and Down Under Series will help her consolidate her place in the team.
Asked about that new approach, she says: “Pretty much just playing for me again. I just played how I want to play. I played happier, which made me play better. I just found my feet again. Before, I was playing like I was trying to fit into a mould that other people wanted, but now I’m playing the way that makes me happy.”
As for the long-term goals, it’s hard for anyone to ignore the chance of being a part of the Olympic team. “It’s always in the back of your mind,” Freeman says. “But to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it too much, which is quite odd. Most of the girls have thought about it, but it’s still a long way off and I’m taking it one step at a time.”
That next step is the Toyota Cup. The Australians will play about 10 games in the tournament, which is held annually at the Toyota company headquarters, about 300 km southwest of Tokyo.
The squad will leave on April 3 and play some practice games before the tournament, which runs from April 6-9.
Australian team for the Toyota Cup
|Jess Bahn (Vic)||Rachel Lack (NSW)||Erin Thras (Qld)|
|Janice Blackman (Qld)||Stacey McManus (NSW)||Taylah Tsitsikronis (NSW)|
|Amelia Cudicio (NSW)||Gabrielle Plain (NSW)||Clare Warwick (ACT)|
|Jackie Di Siervi (Vic)||Sam Poole (NSW)||Belinda White (SA)|
|Chelsea Forkin (Qld)||Ellen Roberts (NSW)|
|Simone Freeman (NSW)||Carmelle Sorensen (Qld)|