Marianna Casal and Theo Longboy became Under-19 European Softball Champions at the weekend.
Herts fans will recognise their names as both came through the Herts youth baseball programme. 2008 saw the inaugural season of the Herts Little League and at the time it is unlikely that Marianna and Theo would have expected to find themselves wearing the GB Team jersey playing in, and winning, the European Championships eight years later. Coaches Lee Manning and Marty Cullen who founded the club’s youth baseball programme had set very ambitious targets for the project but seeing two members of the league reach such heights is unlikely to have been one of those targets.
Both girls were seven years old when they joined Herts but they didn’t seem to mind competing against older players, most of whom were boys. This, along with the fact that they came from families which spent most of their time at the ballpark, may have helped them along the way.
Even when they weren’t playing they would be at the field in various capacities from cheering on their older brothers Carlos Casal and Zack Longboy or their dads who play for the Herts adult league teams to singing the national anthem in front of a large audience at the National Baseball Championships.
This is the first time that a Great Britain Fastpitch Softball Team has ever won a European Championship at any age level. Coincidentally, while the GB U19 National Team was battling it out in Spain last week, the International Olympic Committee announced that baseball and softball have been added back to the list of sports to be played at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Following the excellent play by the GB Women’s Team at the World Championship in Canada last month, it means that GB Softball is on the rise at exactly the right time, with the sport back in the Olympics for 2020 and a Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier likely to happen in three years’ time.
GB Team photos courtesy of Amanda Murphy
A good number of the players who went undefeated in this year’s U19 European Championships, with a record of 10-0 and two wins over both Italy and the Czech Republic, are bound to be involved when that Olympic Qualifier comes around. We have no idea if Marianna and Theo will get the call up, but it will be exciting for us Herts baseball fans to follow their progress in the coming years.