The Azzurre, currently in ninth place in the world ranking, believe in the Olympic qualification. And the National team is pulling a growing sport that also involves men in our country On the toilet of a ship it was impossible to play baseball.
Yet the American sailors wanted it so much, so someone created a ball of rags and drew a diamond on the deck, obviously without the launch mount. It was in this way that softball was born, literally ball (“ball”) soft (“soft”), for all the female version of baseball. That’s not really the case, because males also play softball, just as women play baseball.
In two years in Tokyo, both disciplines will return to the Olympic table after two laps of break. No London and Rio for the diamond sports, but in 2020 in Japan could not miss men’s baseball and women’s softball, a sport in which the country of the rising sun is at the forefront.
It will be a return to reduced ranks, since only five teams will fly to the Far East, to which will be added the masters and hosts. Six for three medals: it will be more difficult to qualify than to get on the podium. They know this well at home in Italy, where in the softball section they are already working towards the World Cup next August in Japan, not in Tokyo but in Chiba.
From there the first team for the Games will leave. Other places will be assigned at continental level (Europe is in the same grouping as Africa) in 2019, while the last qualified will be known three months before the five circle review, since the last qualifying tournament is scheduled for March 2020.
Italy believes it because at the moment our maidens with clubs and gloves are not in the world rankings and second in Europe behind the Netherlands. It will be with the girls dressed in orange the challenge at the last launch to fly to Japan. There are about five thousand women who practice softball in Italy, but no more than twenty dedicate most of the day to this sport.
Yet the Bel Paese has churned out what is currently the best batter in the world: Erika Piancastelli, a 22-year-old from Emilia, who grew up in California and is currently the backbone of McNeese State, a franchise of a Louisiana university college.
In the States, in fact, softball is practiced mainly by students, since there is no professional league. In addition to beating Piancastelli, she is also the favourite receiver of the best Italian pitcher, Greta Cecchetti, born in 1989 in Bollate, the most awarded Italian association.
In the top series – which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary – there are 12 clubs, scattered like a leopard along the boot. Caronno Pertusella, Bollate, Saronno and Legnano are the capitals of Lombardy, in constant struggle with the Bolognese, the Parma or Romagna Rimini and Forlì, reigning champion of Italy.
The fortress of Friuli is Ronchi dei Legionari, that of Veneto Bussolengo. From the illustrious past, but from the less rosy present, the club of Caserta. The National team, led by Enrico Obletter, an Australian of Abruzzi origin, who came to us to play rugby, and then converted to a softball manager, mixes girls working in Italy with girls based abroad.
The palmarés reads 10 European titles – eight of them in a row between 1991 and 2007, the last one in 2015 – and nine World Cup appearances, with the best ranking being sixth in 1998 in Japan and sixth in 2006 in China. Replicating this result in the summer would be a success, but the president of Fibs (Italian Federation of Baseball and Softball) Andrea Marcon preaches humility:
“From this season we are striving to implement a change of mentality in the approach to competitions. Our goal is to make the girls more professional in the management of technical and physical preparation.
In the past Italy has participated twice in the Games: in 2000 in Sydney was fifth, in 2004 in Athens eighth. In search of the third experience to find a bit of notoriety:
“Unfortunately – continues Marcon – our sport is a sport that lives in the shadows, despite being a healthy game, able to educate and grow according to good principles. Internationalization is fundamental to improve: “Last January – concludes the federal president – the team spent a month in Australia.
In the future we will try to increase the rallies. The main differences with baseball are four: the duration of the game (seven innings instead of nine, so at most two hours), the size of the diamond (a quarter smaller), the size of the ball (larger) and especially the technique of launch. In baseball, the ball is thrown upside down, while in softball, the ball is released from underhand.
The Olympic version is the fast-pitch softball, the version with the fast throw. Amateurs also practice slow-pitch in parks, where the ball is accompanied slowly to allow the valid joke and develop the game accordingly along the bases. Softball is beautiful when the ball is in the air and the players run. Beat it and go towards the Olympic dream.