Thomas Dick got his introduction to some top-calibre fastpitch softball competition.
And now the 45-year-old Tseshaht First Nation member is keen for more elite-level action.
Dick was a member of the Abbotsford Builders who participated in the 2023 Men’s and Master Men’s Canadian Fastpitch Championships.
The five-day tournament, held in Surrey, B.C., concluded on Sunday, Sept. 3.
The Builders participated in the Master Men’s category, which featured players aged 40 and over.
As for the men’s division, it was open to players 18 and over.
This marked the first time that Dick has participated in a Canadian tournament.
Fastpitch softball has some noticeable differences from the sport of baseball. A softball is considerably larger than a regular baseball. The bases in softball games are 60 feet apart as opposed to 90 feet in baseball. But perhaps the biggest difference is that softball pitchers must pitch underhand as opposed to baseball where overhand pitching is the norm.
The fastpitch variation of softball most noticeably differs from slo-pitch in the pitcher’s delivery while a player is at bat. Fastpitch has a 360-degree full-windmill style underhand throw to a batter, while a slo-pitch pitcher uses a half windmill.
The Builders won just two of the seven games they played in the tourney.
The Ontario-based Cobourg Force defeated Saskatchewan’s Melfort 222 Masters 4-1 in the gold-medal game of the Men’s Masters division.
“Two of the games (we lost) were really close,” Dick said. “If we had won those we would have done a bit better.”
The Builders did manage to register victories over the Alberta Masters Pirates and the B.C.-based Pukaist Masters Heat.
A total of eight squads participated in the Master Men’s grouping.
The Builders earned the right to participate at the national tourney by placing fourth at a regional qualifying event in Kelowna in July. The top four finishers at that competition advanced to the Canadian championships.
Dick, who plays second base, has spent the past several years playing with the Parksville Red Sox, who compete in the Nanaimo Senior Men’s Fastball League.
His Parksville squad made it to the league championship final this past month. A squad called Wheatsheaf Pub captured the league title.
Dick said it was Red Sox coach Gord Alberg who had suggested to him to play with the Abbotsford club this year.
“He was supposed to come with us to the qualifying tournament,” Dick said of Alberg. “He didn’t end up coming but he did recommend a few of us to be on the team.”
Though some other Indigenous players also participated at the national championships, Dick believes he was the only Nuu-chah-nulth athlete who took part.
Dick saw plenty of action with the Builders at the Canadian tourney. He played five full games, and half of another one.
Dick said the level of play was considerably higher than what he is used to in his Nanaimo league.
“My bats weren’t that great,” Dick said of his hitting efforts throughout the tournament. “But my defence was on par.”
Based in part on their fourth-place finish at the Kelowna qualifier, Dick said the Builders were not one of the favourites heading into the Surrey tourney.
“We were like the underdogs,” said Dick, who is a commercial fisherman, and also worked at a Port Alberni cedar mill until it burned down in July. “I was glad to be asked to be part of the team. And I enjoyed every second of it. The last game we played I was just looking around the field and soaking it all in.”
Softball Canada officials have already announced that the 2024 national tourney will be held in Saskatoon. That event will commence Aug. 28 and run until Sept. 1.
Dick said one of his teammates with the Builders has already expressed an interest in having him join a squad that will try to qualify for next year’s nationals.
Now that he’s participated in a Canadian tourney, Dick said he is rather keen to participate in future ones, including next year’s event.
“I want to train better and be a little bit better,” he said. “I want to see the ball faster and hit a bit better.”
Dick recalled he had previously played in one provincial tournament as a 12-year-old, when his Port Alberni squad competed at its B.C. championships.
“I’ve never played at such a high level of ball before,” Dick said of his experience at the masters event in Surrey. “But the thing I loved mostly was seeing the young kids play in the other (men’s) division.”