Oscar Whibley-Smith. PHOTOS/FILE

BASEBALL

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

The Wairarapa Spitfires Baseball Club are flying.

Three of the fledgling club’s top players will be winging their way to Japan to test themselves against some of the best players in the Asia-Pacific region in July.

Genuine Savaliga

Masterton Intermediate School pupils Ian McRae and Genuine Savaliga, and Greytown School’s Oscar Whibley-Smith, have been selected in a Wellington region squad to play in a Pony baseball tournament.

Similar to the popular Little Leagues that attract the best young players around the world, Pony, an acronym for Protect Our Nation’s Youth, is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit organisation that promotes baseball around the world.

Pony baseball leagues are held in 40 countries and involve more than 500,000 players in 4000 tournaments. Hundreds of Pony League players have gone on to Major League Baseball careers, including Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn [San Diego Padres 1982-2001] and Cal Ripkin Jr [Baltimore Orioles 1981-2001].

The Asia-Pacific Pony tournament will be played in Miyazaki City and Nichinan City from July 1-5.

The Wellington team will be away for 12 days and will play a series of pre-tournament games and a minimum of four tournament games.

Depending on their results, that could be followed by playoffs, semifinals and finals.

Ian McRae

The winner of the tournament will progress to the Pony World Series in the United States.

All three boys have previously played for representative teams.

Savaliga, who is in his first year of playing baseball, made the Wellington Under-12 Little League team that played Canterbury and Auckland in January.

McRae has played in the Gold Coast Summer Classic with the SuperCity Wellington team for the past two seasons and was picked up by North Shore City for the 2019 national Under-13 championships.

Whibley-Smith made the Wellington team for this year’s Gold Coast Summer Classic.

“All three players are capable pitchers but at their age they tend to be all-rounders.

“They’re all good utility players and can play in infield and outfield positions,” Wairarapa Spitfires founder, and club captain, Shane Fawdray said.

“They’re all very talented, they work really hard and they won’t let the team down,” he said.

The selection of the three 12-year-olds is just reward for the hard work at the Spitfires club, which only came into existence in 2017.

The club’s main team, made up of players aged from nine to 12, played their first game in the Wellington league last November.

Fawdray said the selection of Savaliga, Whibley-Smith and McRae was good for the club.

“We’ve only been going for a short while and to see the kids get selected in the team is awesome.”

“We only had our first win on the finals’ day of the last season, when we beat the Hutt Valley Hornets B team 7-4.

“The baseball community is very small. That result was really well-received and now to get these boys selected is a real highlight.”

As well as the Wellington league team, the Spitfires run a four-team midweek competition involving two teams from Masterton Intermediate School and two teams from South Wairarapa, and a rookie ball-programme for five- to 10-year-old children.

Fawdray is hopeful that the players’ selection will be good for the club.

“We’re going from strength to strength, we have really good parental support and Russell Thompson [principal] at MIS is really supportive. It’s all looking good for the future.”