NEW ZEALAND – It’s the off season for North American fastpitch and for most players, they’ve switched uniforms for a winter sport like basketball or hockey. Or they’re pumping iron at a fitness center muscling-up for the coming season.
Hitting, pitching, fielding? Not for a few months yet.
But not so for Yusef Davis and Tyler Bouley. These two young and budding stars – Davis, 22, and Bouley, 21 – shunned taking the winter off and instead boarded a plane for New Zealand.
All with the purpose of improving and pushing themselves to reach new heights in the sport they profess to love. As the saying goes, “to be the best you can be.”
Fastpitch is a pitcher’s game. Talented ones typically dominate hitters. So where better to improve one’s hitting than in pitching-rich New Zealand.
Bouley got a good feel for just how good these Kiwi hurlers are almost as soon as he landed.
“It has really helped my game because you don’t have to travel to (face) a quality pitcher,” said Bouley, who plays for Northcote Softball Club. “Every premiere team has a pitcher that either has competed at the (International Softball Congress World Tournament) or is capable of competing at the ISC. Two of the best I’ve faced so far are Bailey Hoani and Josh Pettett.”
The two young men are at opposite ends of the fastpitch spectrum: Bouley is a left-handed power-hitting catcher, while Davis relies on tremendous speed exploding out of the left-side batter’s box after slapping, bunting or driving the ball into the gaps. In the field, Davis patrols centerfield.
Davis, newly arrived in New Zealand less than two weeks ago, plays for the Waitakere Bears. He knows playing in New Zealand was the right decision.
“The experience of playing ball here in New Zealand is amazing,” said Davis, who lives in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s helped me by seeing elite pitching like in the ISC or ISF (International Softball Federation) tournaments. It’s definitely helping me for the upcoming season.”
PLAYING WELL STATESIDE
Though they are young, both men have elevated their games to the highest levels in less than five years. Both have been selected All-World in the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) World Series for helping their respective ball clubs either win championships or place in the top four.
When the 2017 USA Men’s National Team selection camp was announced, Bouley’s name was on it
Bouley lives in Champlain, Minnesota and comes from a fastpitch family. His dad Ron Bouley, his younger brother Austin, and uncle Richard Quigley all play the sport. Bouley started at 17 when his uncle got back into the sport after a long layoff. He persuaded the Bouley’s to join him.
WE’RE PLAYING BALL BOYS
But actually, it was Valerie Quigley Bouley, the matriarch of the family, who decided her men would get out on the ballfield.
“My mom was really upset when my dad retired when I was 6 because she really loves the game,” Bouley said. “My uncle calls my mom and says, ‘get Ron and the boys out to play.’ Without telling us, my mom tells my uncle we will be there for a Wednesday game. That night she breaks the news to us that we are going to play fastpitch.”
And they’ve been playing ever since. That was four years ago. And now he finds himself in New Zealand facing some of the world’s top hurlers. As for standing in the batter’s box, his advice: you better be ready to swing.
“One thing really changes here,” he said. “The strike zone is much bigger than in the states, so pitchers really stay off the plate and you have to try to hit their pitch…”
LISTEN AND LEARN
As for Davis, his fastpitch initiation came when pitcher Lumar Goss and manager Paul Castillo of Those Guys, a Long Beach team, encouraged Davis to give the game a try. He made an impression from the get-go.
“He’s fast, has a good arm and he listens, he wants to learn,” said Castillo in an earlier story. “I want him to bunt and slap more. When he hits the gaps, it’s extra bases; a single is a double with his speed. He has all the tools; he just needs a chance.”
Looking back on the 2016 season, both men had solid ISC world tournaments. Davis burst out of the box, going 3-for-3 in his very first game for the New York Peligro Gremlins, and finished with a .375 batting average. Bright futures? Potential USA national team members? No doubt.
LEARNING FROM THE NUKUNUKU’S
When Davis returns to Long Beach, he will play for the New York Gremlins who finished third in last year’s ISC World Tournament. And that huge step up to the top of the fastpitch pyramid is the reason he’s in New Zealand.
“There are so many great players here that can teach you the game that have been in (ISF / WBSC) world championships,” he said. “I got to meet and get mental lessons from Nathan Nukunuku and Dion Nukunuku (former Black Sox national team members). Both have been awesome guys and are teaching me the game since I got here.”