Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson is plotting to get the New Zealand men's softball team some vital diamond time before they host the World Cup in Auckland next November.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has seen Sorenson's squad sidelined since a fourth-place finish at the June 2019 world championships in Prague.
A New Zealand Sports Hall of Famer, Sorenson is striving to return the Black Sox to the winners circle, but he took time out to look back at his own career - which has featured six world championships gold medals - and to reflect on some lighter moments.
When are the Black Sox back in action?
All going well, it's going to be late May next year in a series against Australia in Queensland, which will ultimately be about three years since we've last played. It will be a great time to dust the cobwebs off the uniforms and get the guys back out on the diamond.
You're one of the few NZ sports team coaches with a day job. What do you do?
My wife [Janine] and I own a nationwide franchise business called Kelly Sports. We deliver childcare and sports programmes to primary school kids in the Wellington, Porirua and Kāpiti areas. I'm also a wannabe farmer, with two cows and 10 sheep, at Pāuatahanui, near Porirua.
When you won your first senior world championships gold medal in 1984, were you able to have a celebration drink?
It's been so long ago, I can hardly remember, but I can recall getting told off in the middle of the event by our coach Mike Walsh for having a couple of beers one night in the beer tent. So I would like to say, yes, I did have a couple with the boys, even though I was only 16 at the time.
Why do your softball mates call you Brutus?
It actually came from Basil McLean, an energetic former New Zealand third baseman who was assisting Dad (Dave Sorenson) coach [Hutt Valley] Cardinals. When I first started playing, Baz called me Markus Brutus... From there it just evolved, Markus was dropped and Brutus stuck.
Toughest pitcher you ever faced?
A guy called Pete Kulenkamp in the US. At the time I was in my early 20s, and he was in his mid- to-late 40s or even older. He threw pitches I swear looked like beach balls... he didn't throw hard, he just threw junk, but I could never hit him, I think he struck me out nine or 10 times in a row
Best New Zealand ball player?
Jimmy Cotter. He came to the Cardinals as a catcher, but because of his speed and ability he went to the outfield and basically became probably the best centrefielder in the world. Fast, great arm, could bunt, steal, hit for power. We've had a lot of great players, but he's the first guy I saw who could do it all.
What’s the funniest thing you've seen on a softball diamond?
I don't know if should say his name, but a certain teammate of mine playing in the outfield was tracking down a flyball. He missed it altogether and it hit him on the head and went over the fence for a home run, which wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t hit him on the head.
Which Kiwi coach from another code have you most admired?
[Silver Ferns netball coach] Noeline Taurua. Mainly because she's a straight shooter, she knows what she wants, she sets high standards and she took over a team that was in serious trouble and turned them around in a short space of time.
Driving to the final of the 2022 World Cup, what’s your song for the team bus?
AC-DC’s Back in Black. Some of the boys would groan, some would go 'What is this?, but the others would jump on board. I think it's a cross-generational rallying song.