Loads of questions coming into the blog this week, but mainly:
a) Can it possibly be time for the charity softball finals? b) Seriously, it’s been a year already? and c) Why DO Cadbury’s Giant Buttons* taste so much better than the small ones despite being exactly the same chocolate?
To which the answers are respectively a) yes, b) I know! and c) no idea, it's a lightweight blog about softball, you want Mysteries of the Universe next door.
But yes, the big day is very nearly upon us, and after a gripping summer of unexpected twists, extraordinary turns and fast-paced-but-friendly competition, all eyes will be on Hyde Park tomorrow, Thursday 15th August for the Season 17 finale of the London Charity Softball League!
Spoiler alert if you’re still catching up on earlier episodes, but previously this season: 80 teams (made up of players from over 120 charities) battled it out in parks across London, and just six have now made it all the way to the grand finals to compete for the coveted Harris Hill Plate, Bluestep Shield and the granddaddy of them all, the Harris Hill Cup!
And your six finalists are...
Sustrans Sluggers vs Mind
Action on Hearing Loss vs Business in the Community
Anthony Nolan vs Food Fighters (Action Against Hunger and Fareshare)
Naturally we'll be on hand with refreshments (by which we mean beer) for no less than our 13th year, along with our excellent fellow sponsors, and we hope to see you there!
Meanwhile in keeping with more recent tradition, we also interrupted all six teams during vital last-minute preparations to fire a whole bunch of questions at them about their season and whether they’re going to win a prize.
Just to throw in some extra tension and jeopardy, it's been a race against time to see which teams would make it into this career-defining feature, but three were quick enough off the mark, so please would you welcome the Sustrans Sluggers, Anthony Nolan, and the hunger-tackling hybrid of Action Against Hunger and Fareshare, the Food Fighters!
► First up, the only one of last year's final six making a reappearance, this time challenging Mind for the Harris Hill Cup: it's the Sustrans Sluggers!
Answering the questions: Ami 'nition' Udeshi and Will 'Statman' Wright, Vice Captains
About the team: Sustrans Sluggers (the Slugs) are the team making it easier for people to walk and cycle to their softball game. We can normally be spotted by the large stack of bikes piled up near the diamond.
Tell us about your history in the league? We’re relative newcomers to the league having started in 2016. When we started we had no idea what we were doing - most of us just thought softball was "basically rounders", much to our captain’s dismay. Four years on and we’ve somehow slugged our way into the Cup final.
What's the best thing about being part of it? Playing an amazing, inclusive sport on warm summer evenings, hanging out with your colleagues and meeting people from other charities across London. You can’t beat it! There’s always a real buzz in the office every match day.
What's been your season highlight so far? Our captain “King” Cliff Batsuya and top batsman Oli “Big Slug” Gladstone promising to get slug tattoos if we win the Cup. This was at a time when no one ever dreamt we’d get this far. They’re somewhat regretting videoing their promise.
Friendliest team you've played? We’ve played so many friendly teams this season, and that’s what makes this league so special. Particular shout outs must go to Amnesty International and Rethink Forward for being especially awesome. We also love playing against Pitch'n'Mix and will always organise a friendly against them if we’re not in the same league
Who’s been your MVP this year?
Despite only joining the team last Friday, Slugs McKenzie has already earned a place in our hearts (or maybe nightmares):
Two years running in the finals - what's your recipe for softball success? For us it's down to a heady mixture of team spirit, unbridled enthusiasm and warm, cheap cans of lager. That, and a spreadsheet full of statistical analysis that puts the guys in Moneyball to shame…
And lastly, what are you hoping for from the finals night? Team spirit, unbridled enthusiasm and warm, cheap lager(we're all over it - Team HH). To be honest, we’re just looking forward to an incredible evening, whatever the result. We feel a bit like whenever Scotland qualify for the World Cup – we’re just happy to be here. Best of luck to Mind, we can’t wait!
► Battle for the Bluestep Shield
Our next two teams are both in contention for the Bluestep Shield, and the Nolans might appear to have a distinct advantage numbers-wise, including several pairs of twins, but it's purely because we've seamlessly (honestly, you'll never see it) stitched together two photos to try and get everybody in.
Paging team captain Amy Holland!
Answering the questions: Amy Holland, Team Captain and Donor Provision Coordinator at Anthony Nolan, meaning I look after donors when they’re selected to donate.
About the charity: Anthony Nolan is the charity that makes lifesaving connections between people with blood cancer and incredible strangers ready to donate their stem cells. We’re saving three lives a day, in fact. By growing the stem cell register, carrying out ground-breaking research and providing the best post-transplant care, we’re giving families a future.
So how long have you been involved in the league? Anthony Nolan have been in the league for about five years (it pre-dates the team we have now so we’re not entirely sure). We got to the Cup finals a few years ago but were defeated, and we made it through to the first round of the Cup last year but were beaten by Cancer Research!
Who are the friendliest team you’ve played this year? We’ve had some great competition this year and some lovely catch-ups in the pub after. A few notable mentions go to Southwark Sluggers, WWF and NDCS last week!
Who’s been your MVP? Probably Xenia - a few weeks ago we were missing most of our usual pitchers so I kind of threw her in (pun intended) and she was awesome! But she is also a great all-round player, picking up whatever position I put her in and being the only girl this season to hit a home run. Of course, everyone has been fantastic and played their part in getting us here!
Is that the secret of your success? I don’t think I can pick one thing; we can really knuckle down when the pressure is on which is great, and we have a really strong fielding team which has got us out of more than one tight spot this season! But we’re a really friendly team who all get along really well. We’ll be in the final without our co-captain, Chris, who left Anthony Nolan last week and moved to Cornwall for a new job in the NHS. Yet to determine whether this is an advantage or disadvantage to the team…
And how are you feeling about your chances on Thursday? Pretty good, it feels great to have even got this far so to win would be the cherry on top of an already-great cake. We have a strong team and everyone is pretty determined. One of our ex-colleagues plays for the opposition so it could get interesting…!!
► It could indeed: we don't know if said ex-colleague is in the photo below, but speaking of the opposition...
(aka Action Against Hunger and Fareshare)
Answering the questions: Luke Wiechula, Co-Captain of the Food Fighters and Community & Corporate Fundraising Partnerships Officer for FareShare.
About the charities: We have different means as charities, but we both agree that the notion of people going hungry in this day and age is absolutely abhorrent.
Action Against Hunger saves the lives of malnourished children. They ensure everyone can access clean water, food, training and healthcare, and enable entire communities to be free from hunger. FareShare believes that no good food should go to waste. We redistribute surplus food to charities that turn it into meals. We are doers, a community, and we change lives.
How did the partnership come about? Though FareShare have been playing for a few years this is our first year as a merged team (and Action Against Hunger’s first ever); all of our admin contacts left so we lost our spot as an independent team. However Action Against Hunger were kind enough to allow us to join them, both teams agree this has turned out to be a great decision and we’ve all made some great friends and memories as a result.
What are the best things about the league and making the final? Considering a few months ago most of us had never met, we’ve got lots of people playing their first ever softball season and to make it to the final is no small achievement. We’d love to lift The Shield, let’s hope the softballing gods are on our side. Besides that, it’s about:
- the camaraderie
- tactics (when they come off)
- summer days spent in London’s finest parks, glove in one hand, beer in the other
Who’ve been your toughest opponents this year? We played my old charity SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, a team that I helped set up - they bested us in that particular match thanks to some sublime fielding. Able to resolve all of our differences in the pub afterwards!
And the friendliest? Scope! Fantastic team, really closely fought but friendly game, looking forward to catching up with them on Thursday.
What about memorable moments on the pitch? Rich ‘arm-cannon’ Guion (think Barrett from Final Fantasy VII) had managed to get to a ball that landed way beyond him in deep field, cranked up the arm-cannon, launched it to myself in short stop, and as the runner was making her way between third and home I threw another Hail Mary and we were able to get them out. Great team play!
(Louis Theroux voiceover): 'None of us understood what Luke was saying, but there was an important softball game at stake, so we moved on'.
Any mascots, MVPs or special mentions? Hope ‘Superhands’ Rapp. A stalwart on first base and most frequently-awarded MVP (to the extent that she has her name pencilled in every game) for being so reliable, I honestly can’t think of a time she’s fumbled a ball.
So what's brought you all the way to the finals? Although we enjoy winning and we're all thrilled to make it to the finals, we as a team make sure that we're having fun first and foremost. There have been some teams that have beaten us, but I can guarantee they haven’t had half as much fun as our merry band! There have been some high pressure situations this season, but if we think positive and trust in the rest of the team, our positivity has allowed us to make it this far.
Will it be enough to lift the trophy on Thursday night? We know our strengths and intend to play to them, who knows how it will go. We can only do what we can do, but I think as a team we are quietly confident. All the planning can go out of the window immediately with someone injured or restricted by transport options. Keep happy, have fun, plan for the worst, hope for the best.
► Planning for the worst certainly sounds like good advice given the current forecast, but the sun always shines on the softball finals (eventually) so we're sure it'll be a triumph as ever!
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