Softball success even sweeter after toil and pain of move

Singapore's softball men celebrating a historic first gold, with teen pitcher "Big Al" shining in the 6-1 grand final win over the Philippines, who had won eight of the previous nine editions the sport has featured.
Singapore's softball men celebrating a historic first gold, with teen pitcher "Big Al" shining in the 6-1 grand final win over the Philippines, who had won eight of the previous nine editions the sport has featured.PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE
Aloysius Ong
Aloysius Ong

They hauled heavy electrical generators to power the lights, cleared weeds from the fields and risked injury to train on a bumpy surface scattered with potholes.

But those experiences only made it sweeter for Singapore's softball men's team, who won an historic gold at the SEA Games yesterday after stunning home favourites, the Philippines, 6-1 in the grand final.

It was only the second time the Filipinos had failed to win the men's title in the 10 editions in which the sport has featured.

They last lost the final in 1997 to hosts Indonesia.

Singapore captain Ivan Ng, a corporate banker, paid tribute to the doggedness of his team.

The Singapore Baseball and Softball Association had to move from its original Kallang training base, the sport's home for two decades, to a temporary space at Farrer Park at the start of last year. The Kallang site was later earmarked for development of new sports facilities.

Ng, 31, said: "For the 2015 Games, the (sports authorities) did a wonderful job at Kallang. Unfortunately we had to move to Farrer Park. It is not the easiest place to play because of the (poor) lighting and terrain, which resulted in a couple of minor injuries.

"But the (association) was resourceful enough to get lighting in, and the players did our part - weeding the ground and flattening it.

"It was a lot of self-help... pushing the (electrical) generator from one end of the field to the other... We just tried not to make any excuses and made the best of what we had."

HE'S GOT OUR BACK

With Big Al on the mound behind us, we knew we had the pitching advantage.

DOMINIC HAN, Singapore's vice-captain, hailing the major contribution of 1.87m and 18-year-old pitcher Aloysius Ong.

Head coach Diamond So, 42, added: "I'll be very frank, it was very tough. The ground was not ideal at all but, at least, we had one to train on, which we appreciate."

The softball body will relocate to Jurong East next year.

Despite the difficulties, Singapore softball has achieved several milestones in the last two years, such as qualifying for their first world championship, which was held in Prague in June.

Singapore beat the Philippines in a placing match to finish 15th of 16 teams. That victory gave the team belief they could repeat the trick at the Clark International Sports Complex in New Clark City.

Even though the hosts won 8-0 in the teams' preliminary-round match last Wednesday, Singapore got one back with a 4-3 win in the play-off match two days later to earn a spot in the grand final.

Yesterday, Singapore also unleashed their secret weapon, 18-year-old pitcher Aloysius "Big Al" Ong, who had been rested during the preliminary match.

Team vice-captain Dominic Han, 26, explained that the first match had "no bearing" on the latter stages of the competition, and preserving Aloysius would make him more effective in the finale.

"Credit to the coaches for their planning. With Big Al on the mound behind us, we knew we had the pitching advantage," said Han, who delivered the hit which brought three runners home in the third inning and swung yesterday's tie in the team's advantage.

For Ong, whose nickname stems from his 1.87m frame, the gold vindicated his decision to take a gap year from his studies at Hwa Chong Institution to train and play more regularly ahead of the Games.

He even tapped on his own contacts to train with the Josai University team in Japan for two weeks last month to polish his skills.

He said: "I'm definitely very happy. This was my SEA Games debut and I was nervous coming up against the region's powerhouses, but my teammates backed me up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2019, with the headline 'Softball success even sweeter after toil and pain of move'. Print Edition | Subscribe