An American import becomes a major hit in Ho Chi Minh City…
To a young british man like myself the word softball evokes scenes of Middle America from 90s coming-of-age family movies. But to many, especially in Asia, it’s a sport that has a dedicated following.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, softball takes the premise of baseball and brings it down to a more fun and manageable size. It uses a larger ball, one extra outfield player, taking a team size up to 10 players and the pitcher can only throw underhand. Bases are shortened to 60 feet and the rules encourage the batter to hit the ball, rather than employ the time-consuming strike out tactics of baseball.
“Being able to play the game that many of us in the league spent our youth participating in and still love is what has made the league solid,” says Jeff Thrash, the commissioner for the Saigon International Softball League (SISL).
The SISL was inaugurated in October 2009 to meet a clear demand. Starting from “a group of guys that would show up and just kind of play around” to having at one point eight regular teams playing, the league is a popular fixture. The season runs from October to April and even in the in-between months players still meet up at their home at the taiwanese school in District 7 to play.
Treated as a fun get together of 100 or so players each Sunday match day, the standard is evidently good. The first season saw a team of Vietnamese compete amongst the expat teams, mainly Western, with one team of Japanese and one team of taiwanese competing in this current season. However, Jeff adds “these [Vietnamese] players are now on the Vietnamese national baseball team”.
Such a diverse group of teams playing regular matches certainly makes for good sporting anecdotes. Kevin Siegmann, formerly of the Spirits, remembers, “One guy, out of nowhere, hits a huge ball that clears the 15 foot fence and the trees at the bottom of the field and is on a collision course with a Honda Wave flying down the road.” luckily the shocked driver was able to swerve out the way and the team accepted their grand slam with high fives and pats on the back.
The SISL also sends teams to tournaments in Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila. The tournaments are highly competitive with teams from across Asia descending on a playing field for a weekend of competition and socializing.
“These tournaments are a total blast. Everyone plays hard on and off the field and great friendships are formed. They become kind of addictive,” says Jeff.
Field of dreams
They have also hosted an international tournament which he hopes will become an annual fixture. Last year they hosted eight away teams, including those from as far afield as tokyo and Jakarta. RMIT South has been booked for the second tournament on the last weekend in August so is sure to be a hub of activity, fun and of course, intense competition with hopefully 12 teams competing for Saigon glory.
Jeff’s vision for the future is for “the league to continue to provide a fun, competitive outlet for the league members and continue to attract new players.” The players and teams are the life blood of the league and with international acknowledgement from the visiting teams it is sure to grow and grow.
Finishing in April they are already on the lookout to attract new players during the summer months.
If you want to grab a piece of the action or simply take in the spectacle of 100 plus ballplayers then head down to the bleachers at the Taiwanese school to find this welcoming crowd every Sunday from around 9am – 4pm. Failing participation in the daytime activities you’ll be sure to find them in the evening discussing match day events in the Banana Bar in District 7.
SISL – Taiwanese School, Lo S3 Khu A Do Thi Moi, Nam Thanh Pho, D7