Who are the brains behind the super-successful softball league and just how do they make it all happen? We caught up with the committee members who've most recently joined to find out more...
L-R: Vanessa Furey, Leo Visconti, Paul Mehta, Rob Wyatt, Anastasia French, Matt Glass, Palak Bhatt
London Charity Softball League 2018: meet the organisers!
Team Harris Hill will be out in force (of course) for the finals this Thursday, where - via the world's biggest beer run and armed with enough ice to build a small Arctic village - we'll be racing to keep the refreshments coming cold and fast for up to 1,000 thirsty supporters.
But if we think we've got a challenge, it's nothing compared with the tremendous team who do the real hard work of keeping the whole show on the road throughout the summer, co-ordinating countless charities and a multitude of matches each week to make it happen.
Factor in that they're all volunteering on top of their full-time charity roles, and you have to wonder just how they do it.
We caught up with the original fab four back in 2016, who are still very much present and invariably correct (it says here), but since the team's grown bigger along with the league, we wanted to find out more from relatively-new kids on the block Anastasia French, Matt Glass and Palak Bhatt...
L-R: Anastasia French, Matt Glass, Palak Bhatt
What made you want to join the committee and how did it happen?
Palak: When I joined the league, what was intended to be a casual pastime for the summer turned into a genuine passion when the Royal Parks and Will2Win threatened to stop play and charge charities to play at Hyde Park.
The league decided to protest and Will2Win had no idea what they were getting themselves into! Everyone came together and defended the right to play for free and since then, I've been hooked.
Frankly, it was a no-brainer when I was asked to be part of the committee. The league is unique, welcoming and such incredible fun, and I'm so proud to be a part of it
Matt: I'd stepped down from being a captain as I wanted to just get back to playing the game. Little did I know that, along with Palak, the committee had noticed my enthusiasm and decided to see if I wanted to get involved - which I totally did!
Anastasia: I've been a captain for a few years now, leading my team to no success whatsoever, but was very impressed with the amount of effort that the committee put in to making it work. I had a very tense showdown with Leo last season though, so when I offered to help out I wasn't sure they'd accept it!
What are the best things about being involved, and the biggest challenges?
Matt: The best thing about the league is without doubt finals night. I can't describe how rewarding it is to see how many people come together to support the league and the finalists each and every year! The most challenging is fitting the time in around your work and personal lives.
Anastasia: The best thing has been getting to know the committee more! I was a bit scared of them but they're a really committed, lovely bunch of people. I have nothing but admiration for the sheer amount of skill, effort and enthusiasm they all put in to make it happen.
Palak: The best thing about being in the committee is to be able to watch the league unfold and seeing so many people get involved and excited about softball. Not least, witnessing the unabashed rivalry between committee members is always very entertaining.
Balancing a full-time job/education while helping out as the committee is always tough though. I'm currently finishing up my Masters so it's been challenging juggling committee duties and writing a dissertation! Although time-management has been a lifelong issue so maybe I'll get my act together eventually! (I won't.)
How has this season differed from previous years?
Palak: Unfortunately due to issues beyond our control, the league had to be condensed into fewer weeks - but as per usual, the teams have handled the challenge like pros! It did help that most of July saw London bathed in a cool 35-degree heat, ensuring our teams were able to play all of their games and get a bunch of friendlies in.
Matt: Definitely the weather - it's been blisteringly hot which NEVER happens. Given the condensed season, we could never have done it if the sunshine hadn't come through for us!
Anastasia: As the groups stage had to be squashed, we played more friendlies than competitive games. This actually made it more fun and relaxed, letting the teams focus on having fun, which is why it was created in the first place.
What have been your highlights or surprises of the season so far?
Matt: The biggest surprise I have to say, given it was only their first season last year, was seeing Dogs Trust make it all the way to the Cup playoffs this time - an incredible achievement they should be very proud of!
My personal highlight was watching Alzheimer's Society get the furthest they've ever been and make it to the Plate quarter-finals.
Anastasia: I heard a rumour that one player got it on with a rival player after being invited back to "stroke her ferrets"!
Palak: Letting Leo have control of the Instagram page has been a revelation. Waking up on Thursday mornings to typos, blurry photos, the overwhelming amount of St Mungo's posts - it's truly a sight to behold.
Any predictions for Thursday - and who will you be (secretly or otherwise!) supporting?
Anastasia: A lot of my favourites are out so I'll be cheering on all the teams, whilst clutching a free beer courtesy of Harris Hill!
Palak: It doesn't matter which sport or life event, I always root for the underdog - I've never really known why but it may have something to do with being 5ft3. I think it's the Saints' first time in the finals so I guess my money's on them! (FYI, Leo did not make me say that)
Matt: All my favourites are already out, but I do hope Leo gets another win under his belt, despite how insufferable he'll be after - good luck!
Lastly as long-term league veterans, what's your advice for teams who are just starting out...
Matt: Keep the games fun and you'll always have plenty of people wanting to turn up week in, week out. Have more than two captains - being a captain is a lot of work and splitting it between three people can really help with the workload when holiday season comes along. And get out and practice, the weather usually allows for friendlies to start in April!
...or thinking of joining the fun?
Anastasia: Get involved! Merge with another charity, get a catchy team name and you'll be sure to get a spot.
Palak: Do it! Bats, balls and beer - what's not to love?!
Many thanks to Anastasia, Matt and Palak (and the rest of the committee of course!) - and if you've been inspired to get involved next year, check out the league homepage, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds for ways to get in touch.
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