The Aussie Spirit players have gone to great lengths — and distances — to be in the best possible condition ahead of next month’s World Championship in Canada.
When the players met for a training camp in Brisbane recently, a few members of the squad were missing. Some were in the USA, some in Japan — but none was as far away as catcher Belinda White.
So, with so many Spirit teammates in Japan and the USA, why go to the Netherlands?
“We had the World Championship here in 2014 and I really liked the place from what I saw when I was here,” White says. “I said at the time that if I got the opportunity I would definitely want to come back.”
Two friends played in the Netherlands at a lower level, and they helped organise a deal for White to play in the top-level league. “The timing was right, so I thought, Why not?”
White, 27, says the standard of softball in the Netherlands is much better than in Italy, where she has played previously, and a step up from club softball in her home town of Adelaide.
“It has high-quality pitching and some good hitters, so I think it’s the right standard in terms of preparation for Canada.”
Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow believes White’s performance in Surrey will go a long way towards deciding Australia’s medal chances.
“Belinda is a high-quality catcher with one of the best arms in the world,” he says. “She has taken her game to another level in the past 12 months.
“She’s a really critical member of this team. She’s one of those players who don’t say much, but her performance carries a lot of weight within the team and goes a long way to dictating the performance of the group at any given time.”
While White is enjoying life in the Netherlands, she can’t wait to rejoin her Spirit teammates and take on the best in the world. “I’m excited to rejoin the girls. We’ve been communicating through Facebook and emails, but I’m excited to see how much the girls have improved in the past couple of months.”
Australia won’t start favourites in Canada, but White believes a gold medal is a realistic possibility.
“It’s definitely an achievable goal. That’s why we play in this team, and that’s what we are aiming for.
“It’s about winning the gold medal, but it’s also about the process, how we go about it, making sure we have good
lead-up games, get some good-quality at-bats, get our pitchers rotating through.
“Then we will come together as a team at the right time and be at our best on that final day, in a gold medal match if — no, when — we get there.”
Until she joins her Spirit teammates, White is keeping busy in Haarlem. When not on the field, she spends her time coaching a junior team, training, going to the gym and sightseeing. And although she’s the only Australian in the DSS team, she hopes others will follow her in future.
“I’ve had an amazing experience at the club I’m at, so I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’d want to come over,”she says.
“It’s a beautiful place and everyone has been really friendly. I don’t have a bad word to say about anything here.”
After the World Championship, White will return to Haarlem to finish the season with DSS. Then she’ll head back home to Adelaide and play club softball for the Sturt Falcons.
That will be a case of returning to where it all began.
“I grew up with three brothers, so I was always out the back playing some sort of sport,”she says of her softball origins.
“Whatever my brother did, I had to do. He played tee ball, so I played too. I followed him into baseball for a bit, but at that time girls’ baseball wasn’t a popular thing, so I moved over to softball and played for the Sturt Falcons. I’ve been there since I was about 10.”