Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Mandarin Team Plays Softball with an International Flair

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Mandarin Team Plays Softball with an International Flair

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK BOLEKY

Twelve teenage Australian softball players came to Jacksonville last week, not quite knowing what to expect. They're now about to head home, with new equipment, some new softball drills and a bunch of new friends. Not a bad way to spend your summer vacation.

For six action-packed days, the Jacksonville Players 14-and-Under softball team, a Mandarin-centric squad that plays out of Greenland Park, hosted the Springwood Stingers club from Brisbane, a city on the eastern tip of Australia. "We didn't know anything about these girls," said Jacksonville pitcher Morgan Taylor, 14, a freshman-to-be at Mandarin High. "The first day we were all kind of quiet. The second day, we were like best friends." Springwood is considered one of the top softball organizations in eastern Australia and boasts such alumni as Sandra Allen, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. The group has made a trip to the United States four times in the past 15 years, all to California.

"We wanted to try the East Coast, and we started Googling under-14 softball teams, and we found their club," said Springwood head coach Tracie Kemp. "This was about 12 months ago. So I started e-mailing [Jacksonville Players team manager Jerry Blankenship]."

Blankenship and his group were very open to the opportunity to host the Stingers, and so the plans began. Kemp had brought a few of the current players in their last trip in 2006, but for most of them it was their first time in the United States.

The Springwood girls that came are all between ages 13 and 16 and were chosen based on their talent, attitude, and, of course, their parents' ability to foot the $5,000 bill for the three-week trip. The tour began on June 26 in New York, where they took in a Mets-Yankees game, then to Jacksonville for a week, and now in Orlando to play some more games there.

One of the first things they did after arriving was to load up on equipment. The cost of basic equipment is more than 50 percent less here than in Australia, which helped offset a little of the expenses. …

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