The kids in Jackie Di Siervi’s class don’t know much about the Toyota Cup. All they know is that their teacher will be playing softball for Australia in Japan — and they’re excited.
But not quite as excited as their teacher, who will be representing the Aussie Spirit for the first time after several years on the fringes of Australian selection.
The Toyota Cup is a pre-season tournament for teams in the Japanese professional softball league, featuring the best players in the country plus a few internationals who play professionally in Japan.
While some of the Spirit players have had previous experience in Japan, it will all be new to Di Siervi. “I was in a few junior squads, but this is my first time playing for Australia,” she says.
“It’s really exciting. I was pretty shocked at first, but now I can’t wait. It’s going to be awesome.”
Explaining all this to a Grade 2 class at Oakleigh South Primary School isn’t easy. “They kind of understand, but not really,” Di Siervi says. “All they know is that I’m going to Japan to play softball, and they’re pretty excited about that.”
Having been on the fringes of national selection for a while, Di Siervi needed to have some strong performances at the recent National Championships and Down Under Series to force her way into the team.
“I had an OK Nationals, but I was a little disappointed with my performance at the Down Under Series,” she says. “Still, I guess it wasn’t so bad, because I made the team.
“I never really thought over the last couple of years that I would make this team. I was happy to be playing for fun, playing for me and with my mates, so to make the Australian team is pretty exciting.
“I think that when I try too hard, it doesn’t happen, but if I just play to enjoy it, then it happens.”
Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow says Di Siervi’s recent performances earned her a spot in the Toyota Cup team.
“Jackie is young in age but has a lot of domestic on-diamond experience,” Barlow says. “She has produced consistent performances for the Victoria Titans the last two years and earned the call-up for Tokyo.
“Jackie will play middle infield during the tour as we look to increase our depth and competition for spots in those positions.
“This is a great opportunity for Jackie to show she is ready to play at international level.”
Along with fellow newcomer Jess Bahn, Di Siervi will be the first Victorian player to wear the Spirit uniform for quite a while.
Di Siervi, who plays with Bahn at Glen Eira Moorabbin in Melbourne’s southeast, hopes their inclusion signals a resurgence in the state that was once a softball powerhouse but has had precious few national representatives in recent years.
“It’s been quite a while and it’s exciting for Victorian softball,” Di Siervi says.
“Jess and I both play for the same club team, and our club is really stoked. We’ve got an awesome culture down there, so everyone has been pitching in lending a helping hand to train us.”
Being the only Melburnian in the team (Bahn lives in Geelong) makes it tough for Di Siervi to get high-level training. But with the help of some local coaches, she is doing plenty of work in preparation for Japan. “Between strength and conditioning, speed work, batting, fielding, pretty much every morning and every night … it’s pretty full-on.”
After Japan, Di Siervi’s immediate aim is to consolidate her spot in the Spirit squad, with an eye on next year’s World Championship and Olympic qualifying tournament.
“That would be ideal. I would absolutely love to stay in the team. But at the moment I’m just really excited to be in this one and hoping that all this hard work will be paying off and I’ll be able to perform and stay in the team.”
Further down the track, of course, is the chance to represent Australia at the 2020 Olympics. But Di Siervi isn’t looking that far ahead. “Oh, that’s way, way in the future for me. Yes, it would be awesome and I think it’s really amazing that softball is back in the Olympics, but at the moment I’m not thinking too much about that. I’m just excited to be on this trip.”
The Australians will play about 10 games in the Toyota Cup, which is held annually at the car company’s 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.
Although she hasn’t been to Japan before, Di Siervi has heard about the raucous crowds and highly charged atmosphere at softball games there. “The Japanese take baseball and softball really seriously. It’s their passion. It will be really cool to play in front of crowds like that. I don’t know how I’ll go, but I’m hoping for the best.”