Singapore brimming with belief

Singapore's softball team celebrate an unprecedented win over Philippines in their final game at the World Championship in Prague. The 4-3 win last month placed them 15th out of 16 teams.
Singapore's softball team celebrate an unprecedented win over Philippines in their final game at the World Championship in Prague. The 4-3 win last month placed them 15th out of 16 teams.PHOTO: CZECH SOFTBALL

Softball team aim for SEA Games gold after respectable outing at World Championship

Singapore's softball teams have never touched gold at the SEA Games level, with their best showing a silver by the women in the 2007 edition.

However, men's captain Ivan Ng believes they have not only convinced the Singapore National Olympic Council they are worthy of a ticket to the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines, but also the ability to win a historic gold medal.

The Republic won bronze in the 2011 and 2015 editions, while the sport was not offered at the 2017 Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The belief stems from their showing at the June 13-23 Men's Softball World Championship in Prague, the Czech Republic, their first outing at the level since 1992.

While the 22nd-ranked Republic finished 15th among 16 teams, they won two of their eight games there - a 4-3 opening-round victory over South Africa (12th) and, crucially, a 4-3 win over the Philippines (17th), the regional powerhouses and 2015 SEA Games gold medallists.

Head coach Diamond So, 41, said: "To win against the Philippines is something that the players think is possible after so many years; it is a guide for us to go for gold."

The Republic's squad were the youngest at the World Championship, with an average age of 22.8.

This was the result of a 2011 initiative by the Singapore Baseball and Softball Association (SBSA) to introduce age-group teams, from Under-16s to Masters (above 35).

As such, many softballers have been playing since primary school, advancing through different age-group teams, with some participating in major tournaments such as the Youth Asian Championships.

Shortstop Mohammad Huzaifah is one who followed that path.

The 18-year-old, who picked up the sport in primary four, said: "Now, a lot of the national players became coaches and are developing their own school teams. There are more talented players now and the future generation will be much better than it is now."

But the softballers know they have to do more.

Captain Ng, 31, said: "The worlds has given the boys an insight into what is possible and the different things we can work on."

GOLD IS POSSIBLE

To win against the Philippines is something that the players think is possible after so many years; it is a guide for us to go for gold.

DIAMOND SO, Singapore men's softball head coach, on the team's target for the upcoming SEA Games. 


INNER BELIEF

The worlds has given the boys an insight into what is possible and the different things we can work on.

IVAN NG, Singapore men's softball captain, on the experience at the World Championship last month.

To prepare for the Games, the SBSA plans to form a four-team league comprising two teams from the national side, the national youth side and tentatively a team of Singapore-based Japanese players.

And they know the journey ahead will not be smooth, as softball is still a niche sport here with limited support and funding.

The team had to raise about $80,000 for the world championship, and have been training on the Farrer Park fields since last year, after vacating the Kallang Diamonds following the expiry of the lease.

Their current ground does not have a diamond, and training at night is a challenge as the field is unevenly lit by two light towers.

Still, there is hope for a better tomorrow. SBSA president Foo Pei said: "Hopefully our current team will have inspired another generation of young softball players to pick up the sport at the competitive level and win more honours for Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore brimming with belief'. Print Edition | Subscribe