As strong as the sport of fast-pitch softball is in the United States, there was a short period of time when the Republic of China had a fearsome national team, too.
Colorado resident Ran Liu, with a little help from local softball teams such as the Colorado Banana Slugs of the Indian Peaks Girls Softball Association, is trying to build the sport back up in his homeland as softball once again gets a nod in the Olympic Games in 2020.
On Saturday night at The Ballpark at Erie, the Banana Slugs 14U team hosted the Shanghai Minhang academy team, a group of young women from the Minhang district of the city who train almost daily after their schooling to be the best softball players they can be.
It was the first time that Liu, who has dual residency in both the U.S. and China, was able to bring a youth team across the Pacific Ocean to play an American team, and the importance of the experience was generally recognized by more than just the Chinese team.
“I’m really happy to see it growing because I really like softball and hope it’s something I can keep doing in the future, and I’m just glad to see it’s making a comeback,” said the Slugs’ Kyla Mares, who will be a freshman at Frederick High School in the fall.
“I think it’s great that more girls are trying to get better,” added Niwot incoming freshman Jasmine Aldama. “It was just pretty cool to be part of.”
On a global scale, the sport of softball took a hit when in 2005 it was voted out — along with baseball — of the Olympic competition. Ironically, the 2008 Games in Beijing were the most recent to include it.
Liu said there had been a drop in interest in China, even from the higher powers in government concerning athletic development, to emphasize growth in softball.
In 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted to restore softball for the 2020 Tokyo Games, and there has been a push to get the talent level back to what it was in 1996, when China took silver in Atlanta.
Other Asian countries have continued to support it — Japan and Chinese Taipei, in particular, but Liu said the girls in China have gotten much later starts to their training. They also do not get the chance to play a lot of games, he said.
“Here in the states, a lot of girls who play might start because of the family and their parents playing, so they’re getting their gloves and bats when they are 6 years old,” said Liu, who works as part of the Chinese Softball Association and whose father was the national team head coach. “By 14, they have eight years experience and a lot of understanding of the game.
“Our girls only get one tournament maybe all year, so not much game experience. Some of them train and study the game hard and pick it up fast, but others it’s been slow. We try to give them more and are picking up more teams to make a strong national team.”
Saturday’s exhibition showed that the commonalities of young women involved in sport, no matter where they were from. Coaches were barking instructions to attentive batters, runners and fielders, while the girls in both dugouts had seven inning’s worth of cheers for their own.
“They had sort of their own style … I liked listening to the coach and I wish I could understand her advice, and I liked how they were cheering for each other, too,” said Mares, one of three girls on the team with Frederick ties (Ellie Clapp and Haley Howell are the others). “When they made a mistake, they didn’t get down on themselves. They kept playing, and it was really cool.”