I was very lucky and proud to be selected as the first European Softball Federation (ESF) Exchange Programme umpire. Held in Prague, I participated in both the European Premier Cup Women’s (EPCW) and European Super Cup Men’s (ESCM) tournaments held on the 19-22 August and 24-29 August respectively.
I departed Melbourne on Saturday 15th August and travelled to Prague via a 2 hour stopover in Dubai. I landed at approximately 1:30pm local time on Sunday 16th and was picked up and taken to our hotel, which was about 5mins from the Prague Eagles ground, where the women’s tournament was being held. Umpires filtered in over the next few hours and by their accents, came from all parts of Europe. That night we attended the umpires meeting and the technical meeting, where all teams brought their bats for certification.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t kind to us and it rained heavily for what should have been the first two days of the tournament.
We used that time to take the train into the city and wander around the twisting, cobbled roads of Prague. It is a beautiful city that is incredibly pedestrian friendly and there’s something to see in every street. We also visited the historic Charles Bridge, which is apparently a must-see if you go to Prague – and I won’t disagree. It was amazing!
The rain finally stopped on Wednesday morning and the diamonds were finally playable in the afternoon. My first game was on the plate and I was a little nervous but soon got into the swing of things. Rules and rotations were pretty much the same as in Australia except that the bases don’t go out on fly balls. That took a little getting used to but luckily I didn’t disappear on my crew for my first game on the bases. All games used the 3-umpire system.
The standard of play was very good and some teams had pickup players from other countries, such as the US. Italy and Russia in particular had excellent pitchers who were hitting spots all over the plate. The glares from pitchers if you don’t call one of their favourite pitches is universal and no translation is required! I was also very happy we used uniform numbers rather than names when coaches made changes – pretty sure I would have embarrassed myself if I had to pronounce many of the names!
My final game was on the plate for the 5 v 6 game. It was a hotly contested game and ended up going 8 innings with the winner getting up 1-0. Players and officials partied well into the night after the grand final, some getting back after 2am.
The next day, I was picked up early from the hotel to be taken to our accommodation for the men’s tournament. We stayed at the Sportovni Hala Radotin – a purpose-built hotel attached to the Radotin Softball Club. There were two umpires per room and two rooms shared a bathroom. Sounds kind of “school camp”ish – which I suppose it was but it worked fine for us.
The remainder of the umpires arrived over the next few hours and it was quite a mix. The crew consisted of umpires from Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Prague and Russia (I think). 23 umpires in total were in the crew to cover 3 different ballparks and 23 men’s teams. By the way, do you have any idea how long it takes to check the bats from 23 teams? The answer is over 3 hours.
Due to the number of teams, games were played at one of three fields – Radotin, Tempo and Spectrum. Teams and umpires were transported via minibuses to the various parks at the start of each day and stayed there until games were completed. That made for some very long days as some games didn’t start until 5:30pm. Radotin was the only diamond with lights and the last game started there between 7pm and 8pm, depending on how games tracked during the day. It was possible to travel back from another park and be allocated to a night game at Ratodin.
The level of play was equal to what we see at our national Open Men’s. The pitcher’s and catchers were awesome and I felt very safe behind the plate. Most games were played in good spirits but there were some games that were hotter than others. We had one bench clearing but luckily no ejections. I learned a few swear words in other languages, which is always a novelty!
The highlight for this tournament was being allocated to the bronze medal game on the plate. It was a game full of passion and close calls with several opportunities for there to be biffo on the diamond. I had a great crew and we managed to keep things calm – or at least calm enough where we didn’t have to throw anyone. Following this game, I was interviewed by playo.tv, who were live streaming the finals. They wanted to know how I came to be at the tournament and what I thought of the competition. I worked hard to avoid using words like “bonza” and “beaut” and it went pretty well.
Following the tournament, ESF put me up in a hotel in the city and I was able to spend my last hours in Prague having dinner by the river as the sun went down and the lights of Prague sparkled. I flew back to Australia the next day and was very happy to back with my family.
I would like to thank SAL for the opportunity to participate in the ESF Exchange Programme. It was a fantastic opportunity to visit Europe, where I’d never been, and umpire at two world-class tournaments. ESF looked after me very well and I would not hesitate to recommend that other umpires in Australia apply in future.
I made many friends during the exchange and feel very lucky and proud to be the first of what hopefully will be many exchanges between our federations.