Fastball has opened a lot of doors for Squamish native Kevin Schellenberg and he wants those same opportunities to continue to be available in Squamish for years to come.
Schellenberg was recently named to Team Canada for the International Softball Federation’s (ISF) Men’s World Championship in New Zealand in March 2013. It’ll be the third time he’s represented his country on the sport’s biggest stage. Playing shortstop for Canada, he won silver in 2004 and grabbed a bronze in 2009.
Schellenberg, 32, is one of only three players on the 2013 team competing in his third ISF championship and he said he’s hoping to add a gold to his collection.
“There’s definitely high hopes of winning gold this time around,” he said, noting that Canada is ranked third heading into the tournament. “I don’t yet know my exact role, but I’m definitely going to need to contribute from a leadership standpoint. I think this team is the deepest and most versatile of the three I’ve been a part of.”
Life on the diamond has been a long and interesting journey for Schellenberg, who was discovered by Team Canada officials while playing for the Squamish Greg Gardner GM team in 2000. He won a pair of silver medals as a junior at the fastball national championships, then won gold and silver with a senior team. He’s also won an International Softball Congress (ISC) world championship playing for the Bakersfield, Calif.-based California A’s. He said playing both baseball and fastball locally helped develop him into the player he is today.
“I played baseball from the age of four until about 18,” he said. “And I took it as far as I could. I just didn’t have the direction or resources to get to the next level in baseball. Then I got on with the national development team in fastball in 2000 and was named to the ISF team in 2003.”
Schellenberg’s path to the top of the fastball world has provided him with a lifetime of memories, which is why he’s disturbed by the decline of the sport in Squamish. The Howe Sound Men’s Fastball League (HSMFL) only sported three active teams last season and Schellenberg said even youth baseball interest seems to be drying up in Squamish.
“The biggest problem for men’s fastpitch is slo-pitch,” he said. “I’m not dogging slo-pitch at all, but it seems like people are choosing to play that more. Whether it’s because it’s more convenient or the fact that you can play as a couple, I’m not sure.”
He said one theory might be that the learning curve in fastball is much more steep than in slo-pitch.
“Fastpitch is a tough game and it’s especially tough to succeed when you first start out,” he said. “I find that we lose a lot of players that way, whether they’re intimidated by the pitching or maybe they’re just not pushing to be better and improve.”
Attracting youth for the sport also seems to be an issue. There was a youth team registered for the HSMFL last year, but the team folded due to lack of commitment. Schellenberg said the sees the same problem in youth baseball in Squamish.
“There seems to be a lack of interest in the sport for whatever reason,” he said of the youth baseball scene. “It’s become much tougher to find commitments and there’s a lack of volunteers and sponsors.”
The Squamish Slo-Pitch Association (SSPA) seems to be the only baseball-related league thriving, with more than 30 teams playing this past summer and 16 taking to the field this fall. Schellenberg said those with skills in slo-pitch or baseball should also excel in fastball with a little training. Compared to baseball, the field dimensions are smaller and players need to react defensively faster than in baseball. Also, the mound is closer than in baseball, which means batters often have to make quick decisions at the plate.
“Beginners can be a little intimidated by some of the pitchers in the HSMFL because each team has a really good pitcher,” he said, noting that pitchers can throw as high as 85 miles per hour in international play. “Pitching can be tricky, but overall it’s a fun game and I think people are missing out by not taking part.”
Schellenberg said he was lucky to have been discovered at a young age, but encouraged baseball and slo-pitch players to give fastball a try. He runs the B&B Excavating Diggers team in the HSMFL and said his team, as well as the Wizards and Lagers are always accepting new players. The season runs from May to September and teams usually play from 20 to 24 games.
As for his Team Canada gig, Schellenberg will travel to New Zealand on Feb. 16 and is set to return on March 12, hopefully with another medal to add to his trophy case.
For more information on the HSMFL, give Schellenberg a call at (604) 815-7413 or contact him via email at email@example.com.