Sluggers swing for more youth

The development of young talent is a widespread issue on the diamond in the Cayman Islands.

After age 17, there are few options for people to stay in baseball after their Little League days end. The result is a lack of junior talent in fast-pitch softball, the closet thing Cayman has to adult baseball. Marlon Thomas is president of the Cayman Islands Softball Association and coordinator for the group’s 2013 fast-pitch league. He says the issue boils down to the sport’s viability in Cayman.

“I must admit that adult softball is not in the best of shape,” Thomas said. “We seem to be losing players and not be able to retain the younger ones that join our league. However, I do believe that our level of play is not bad at all. Being exposed to tournaments overseas and seeing their level of play allows me to make some comparison.

“Lots of our experienced players are in their 40s and I would say started off playing baseball, but, for the last couple of decades, took on softball. I have not had much encounters with female teams in the Caribbean to be able to say what level we are at with our females.

“However, we do have experienced players and young and upcoming prospects that if given the opportunity and if they commit themselves to train hard, they certainly would give themselves a chance to compete at a high level.”

The 2013 league officially came to a close this month as the Redimix Patriots won the men’s division for the third consecutive year at the West Bay softball field, next to the Jimmy Powell Cricket Oval. Redimix would beat the Jose’s Escape Pirates in five games in their best-of-five championship series. Starring for the Patriots were Bradimir Robinson, Mark Chow and Michael Carey, while the Pirates leaned on Byron Bravo, Rodolfo Whitaker and Mel Omier.

The women’s division wrapped up in July with the Cayman Auto Diagnostic Clinic Stingers earning their second straight national title. The Stingers beat Cayman National Bank Team Xtreme in three games in the best-of-three finals at Field of Dreams. Starring for CADC would be Jessica Pawlik, Stephanie Watler and Krystal Arch, while Team Xtreme relied on Carneth Thomas, Molly-Ann Moore and Daneliz Thomas.

Fast-pitch softball now goes into its offseason, with the 2014 league scheduled to start next March. There are tentative talks of playing exhibition games next month in Cuba.

Johnny Johnson Sr., 48, suits up at shortstop for the Pirates and he said a dwindling player pool is a real concern for fast-pitch softball going forward.

“Talent-wise, there are a lot of young guys and middle-aged guys under 45 (in Cayman),” Johnson Sr. said. “Some of us guys over 45 are holding on to keep it going because if we drop out, there would be a big plunge in the level of play. They are the backbone of the league. Several of them will always be there in West Bay to play, regardless of whether we’re in season or not.

“With the younger ones, you need to do more to get them out and they really have a lot of talent.”