Few Australian sportspeople have spent as much time travelling as Kaia Parnaby has done this year. From Australia to Japan, over the the USA, back to Japan, back to Australia and then to Japan again … all in the past six months.
But while that travelling and playing schedule might have some players crying out for an extended break, Parnaby wants none of that.
The Japan Cup in November is a perfect example. Having spent many months playing in Japan, highlighted by some brilliant performances in the recent XVI Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Parnaby could be excused for giving this tournament a miss.
But rather than heading home to Sydney to lie on a beach, Parnaby is keen to rejoin the Aussie Spirit.
“I’ll always put my hand up for any Australian team,” she says.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to put the Australian jersey on. I would never say no to an Australian team. But it will be totally up to the discretion of the coaching staff and the selectors as to who they take.
“To play in Japan, I love it. And to wear the Australian uniform is even better. Any time.”
In Chiba, Parnaby pitched in every Aussie Spirit game except the one against Botswana. She finished with 41 strikeouts against only four walks and held opponents to a .192 batting average.
Softball Australia Chief Operating Officer Chet Gray, who was the tournament’s Technical Director, was among many people impressed by the left-hander’s efforts .
“Kaia is a world-class pitcher who performed very well for the Aussie Spirit, both in the NPF and at the World Championship,” Gray says.
“She has been a consistent performer at a high level for several years now and will be a key player for us as we go about the process of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
Parnaby has divided her northern hemisphere summers between Japan and the US in the past two years. This year she joined the Aussie Spirit for part of their debut season in the National Pro Fastpitch league, and enjoyed the contrasts between the world’s two best women’s softball leagues.
“The quality is the same, but the leagues have different aspects of the game that they are better at,” she says.
“The American game is so much more powerful, whereas the Japanese game is very tactical and everyone knows each other’s games so well.
“In Japan you train all week to play two games, but in the NPF you basically play day in, day out. You don’t get time to practise what you might have done the day before. You just have to learn back on the field.
“In the Japanese league you have the whole week to refine what you did in the game and really nut it out for games at the weekend.”
Parnaby is among those who believe the NPF experience was a huge benefit to the Aussie Spirit as a lead-in to the World Championship.
“I think we had so many more quality at-bats leading into the World Championship, and even when we got over to Japan we had quality games against Japanese teams.
“Just the girls feeling comfortable seeing live pitching, as opposed to only having a handful of games going into previous World Championships, it definitely gave the hitters confidence knowing they could take on any pitcher.”
It was Parnaby’s fifth Women’s Softball World Championship, beginning with the 2010 event in Caracas, Venezuela.
Australia’s fourth-placed finish in Chiba confirmed their world ranking and was a huge improvement on their 10th placing in 2016. “It was disappointing to come so close and knowing what our team has put in over the past 24 months since the last World Championship,” Parnaby says.
“We put in so much blood, sweat and tears into really wanting to crack the top two. We thought we could get the gold, so to come so close to cracking a medal was disappointing at the time.
“But when you look where we had come from 24 months ago in Vancouver, we came so far in everything. It was a massive improvement.
“So as much as it was disappointing, we have to celebrate what we did achieve. Fourth in the world is not bad.”
After Chiba, Parnaby, 28, took a quick break back in Australia before heading back to Japan to finish the season with her SG Holdings team.
“After the worlds, I took the initiative to have a small break before I jump back into it over in Japan,” she says.
She is already looking ahead to 2019 and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. “That’s my No. 1 focus at the moment, that’s where my head is. It was always going to be my No. 1 goal as soon as Worlds finished — to re-evaluate and see where we’re at, then go and grab that elusive spot for the Olympics.”
Softball wasn’t always Parnaby’s first love. At Newport Public School in Sydney’s northern beaches area, she was a swimmer who also played netball. But a high school PE teacher who steered her towards softball, which turned out to be a very shrewd move.
At age 18, Parnaby earned a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. Her success there ensured she would collect many more frequent-flyer points in subsequent years.
“I’m used to the travel now. It doesn’t really have much effect. I might be tired next morning, so it’s like, OK, coffee time. But other than that, I’m fine.”