When most top athletes retire, they take a step away from their favourite sport and focus on other things.
But not Zenon Winters.
One of the all-time greats of Australian men’s softball, Winters has announced his retirement from the Aussie Steelers.
But far from stepping away from the sport, Winters, 33, plans to remain actively involved in softball.
Long considered one of the world’s best hitters, Winters was a key member of the Australian team that won the World Championship in Canada in 2009. He has represented his country 113 times in an international career that began at Under 19 level in 2001, when was a member of the Australian team that won gold at the Junior World Championship in Sydney.
He spends about 22 weeks a year travelling, and doesn’t see that changing just because he won’t be playing for the Steelers.
He and Adam Folkard will continue their successful coaching business, which involves giving pitching and hitting clinics around Australia and overseas. Their A to Z Ballers Academy caters to everyone from youngsters learning the fundamentals to experienced players who want to take their game to a higher level.
Winters has played all over the world, including a recent stint in Indonesia. He must have made a big impression in Jakarta, because he has been asked to coach the Indonesian national team, and plans to take up that role next year.
“I think I should wait a year before I start coaching against Australia,” he says. “Indonesian softball is developing. The men’s team (current world ranking 20) could soon be in the top 15. They are investing in the game, bringing in players from overseas to help develop it.”
And although he has finished playing for the Steelers, he may not be finished at international level. “I have Dutch heritage, so I might go over and help out with the Netherlands national team,” he says.
Retirement from the Steelers will give Winters time for other pursuits. “The timing is right. I’ve got things going on in my life. I’m now coaching a fair bit around the world. I’m still travelling internationally playing ball, and that’s taking up a lot of my time.
“My kids are now three and five, and my wife wants to do some stuff, so it’s time to focus on the family.”
He will also find time to look after the Plus Fitness gyms in suburban Brisbane, in which he holds the franchise.
Long-time team manager Mike Titheradge has watched most of Winters’ career from the dugout. “Zenon continues to put back into our sport in so many positive ways,” Titheradge says. “Those values, combined with his presence as a player, cannot be replaced and will be missed by the Aussie Steelers.”
Originally from Rockhampton, Winters started playing softball at age 6. In recent years he has represented the ACT at national championships, a key component of a very strong 89ers team that again won the John Reid Shield this year, helped by a Winters home run in the final against Queensland.
With the Steelers taking out the World Championship gold medal in Saskatchewan in 2009, there’s no doubt which moment in Winters’ career stands out as a highlight. But he also has fond memories from eight years before that, when he was first chosen to represent Australia at the Junior World Championship. “I was only 17, going on 18, and it was a huge thing for me to make the team.”
In the years that followed he played with and against some of the world’s best players, but few better than teammates Andrew Kirkpatrick, Michael Tanner and Jeff Goolagong. “Those guys had amazing careers and we have always remained a close group.”
Having seen the current Steelers team in action, Winters has high hopes for them. “They have some youth coming through, players who are capable of stepping up. I wish those guys had been around a couple of years ago, then I might have been able to retire earlier. But to me they look like a team capable of winning a World Championship in the next few years.”