It was Team Japan winning the gold medal at the 2023 Canada Cup Women’s International Softball Championship in South Surrey on Sunday (July 16).
Following 425 games over the past 10 days, the Japan vs TC Colorado game closed one of the strongest tournaments in its history, with a sunny evening and plenty of spectators packing the Softball City stands.
The International Division featured some of the world’s best, including Team Canada, Team Japan, Team Mexico, Team Australia A, Team TC Colorado, Team Israel, Team Greece, and Team Italy.
“We are incredibly proud to have hosted a tournament which saw such a strong level of play – from the Women’s International Division to our Futures and Showcase Divisions, we saw extraordinary athleticism on the field of play and true sportsmanship between nations,” said tournament chair Greg Timm.
The tournament – now in its 30th year – showcased some of the top female athletes from across Canada and the world and includes five divisions: Women’s International, Futures Select (U19), Futures Gold (U19), Showcase Select (16U) and Showcase Gold (16U), with games played at Softball City as well as Cloverdale Athletic Park, Sunnyside Park and Sullivan Park.
Timm noted attendance was at an all-time high this year.
“We have experienced support this year like never before. Our gate attendance has surpassed all previous records, and the community support for Team Ukraine, our Pride Day celebrations and for all the teams has been incredible!”
Although Team Canada’s gold-medal aspirations were cut short in a playoff loss to Italy earlier on Sunday, several of their stars were recognized for their stellar performance throughout the tournament, including Delta’s Kelsey Harshman, who was named Canada Cup’s outstanding second baseman.
Team Canada head coach Kayleigh Rafter, who officially transitioned from player to coach in 2021, has been playing in Canada Cup tournaments since 2007, playing in 14 events and coaching in two, for a total of 16 tournaments.
“I think, towards the end of my playing career, I probably I considered myself half-player, half-coach… a lot of (players) referred to me a coach Rafter when I was still playing,” she told Peace Arch News last week.
“It’s still pretty early in our season – our big thing is using this as preparation… we have a world championship qualifier coming up in Italy on the 19th.”
Team Canada is a young team, she noted, and she focused on trying to give every player as many opportunities to play as possible, as the Canada Cup allows a larger roster than other tournaments.
Rafter noted the support from fans is awesome to experience.
“To see all the little girls waiting to get autographs… we did a youth clinic the other day, and one of the girls – she got her bat signed by the whole team – she came down started swinging it she goes, ‘Oh, I can already feel it’s better right now,’ she was so excited,” Rafter said.
“I think that fan interaction – just seeing how much the littles look up to our team, and also for our team to have that experience as well,” is amazing.”
Timm, a former White Rock Renegades coach, remembers that in 1992, when it was just announced that softball would be in the 1996 Olympics, and the then-president of the Renegades and founder of the Canada Cup and Softball City, Glen Todd, wanted to help their country to be able to compete.
“Team Canada had no money, so they were expected to compete at the world level against countries that had pretty big budgets,” Timm said.
“The way the Olympic association worked in Canada back then, is if you didn’t have Olympic status, you didn’t get much money. (Todd) was sort of the chief and I was second in charge, and and it was our mission – we said, ‘OK, if we can’t travel our Canadian team around the world, let’s bring the world to Canada.’”
The first tournament, held in 1993, featured eight teams, with the U.S. club team the Redding Rebels from California defeating Australia to win the first Cup.
“The park was a lot different than it is now… it didn’t have those big concrete bleachers, just little schoolyard bleachers,” Timm recalled.
Now, the event brings 1,600 athletes together over 10 days, as well as volunteers young and old.
“We have 104 bat girls, we have 285 into our kids camps, we have young officials… I think we counted 2,600 kids under 18 years old hanging around that park… they’re going to find a hero they’re going to find friends… they’re going to learn to love sport,” Timm said, noting that none of it could happen without the 550 volunteers who help before, during and after the 10-day event.
“We’ve got lots of young volunteers who help us – there’s two young guys over at Cloverdale Athletic Park with the rakes and the shovels – they own those fields right now, that’s their job and they’re going to make those things perfect,” Timm said last week.
The engagement of young children and sport is why he got involved, and why he stays involved, every year, he noted.
“That’s my favourite part and I think that’s why I got so involved with it. When I was a kid, I loved the tournament atmosphere. I could sit and watch games all day, it was safe, I could follow teams and see how they’re doing and follow players and get into the momentum of it… I think that’s why I’ve stay so engaged for so long – just trying to let another kid have that experience.”
Timm thanked everyone who helped, including “original volunteers” Gordie and Laverne Hogg, who have volunteered since the first Canada Cup in 1993.
“We are so grateful to our community for the massive volunteer effort – 25,000 hours of volunteer time will be invested here,” Timm said.
“These are people that are not necessarily sports people, they’re just awesome community people… they just love the buzz of the community and they love seeing the kids have fun.”