Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Mike Lowe firstname.lastname@example.org
SCARBOROUGH - It was a fairly ordinary softball drill, performed almost daily. Ball is bunted by coach. Ball is fielded. Ball is thrown to first.
Scarborough Coach Tom Griffin shares his knowledge of softball during a break in practice as a team of Swedish players learn the finer points of the game.
Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
My Tornblom may not have as much softball experience as many Americans, but she’s learning in a hurry about the technical side of the game as well as taking a hefty swing.
On Thursday, however, each completion was punctuated with a cheer of joy.
These were not your typical softball players. A group of 11 players from the Enkoping Base and Softball Klubb in Sweden, plus their coach, have spent 11 days here, learning the fundamentals of the game from one of the state's best high school coaches, Tom Griffin of Scarborough.
They'll return Tuesday to Sweden, hoping to share some drills and experiences they've had here with other softball players.
"Softball is small in Sweden," said My (pronounced Me) Tornblom, an 18-year-old pitcher/shortstop who also plays for the national team. "We all want the teams to become better. We want softball to grow in Sweden."
And that's why they came to Scarborough, where they practice for two to three hours. Well, that and because Griffin has known the team's manager, Ingrid Tornberg, since 1984 when she was an exchange student attending Deering High in Portland and staying at his parent's house.
The two families remained close and Griffin's daughter, Kelsey, one of the state's best pitchers when she played for her dad, spent a summer playing for Tornberg two years ago.
"That was one of the best experiences I've ever had, beyond what I could have imagined," said Kelsey Griffin. "I was totally immersed in their culture."
Her parents joined her for 10 days, with Tom helping coach the team. That's when the families started talking about a trip to the United States. The Enkoping players raised funds over the last two years -- Tornberg said it cost about $25,000 to come here -- and are getting a crash course in fundamental softball. They are staying at Griffin's home, some in his camper, some in his basement apartment, some on the pull-out couch.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Griffin, who led the Red Storm to their fourth state title in seven years last spring. "We're making due. And they're learning. They've been great. They have so much less experience than we have."
But they're learning quickly. In Thursday's infield drill, Griffin talked about positioning, communicating and knowing when to make a play.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Michaela Pettersson, an 18-year-old center fielder who has been playing for three years. "It's so much better than I thought it would be. It's cool to just be here and experience the practice and games. It's been great fun."
So much that the players apparently nixed a trip to New York. Tornberg, who brought her 10-year-old daughter, Freja, said the players wanted to stay here and practice. "That's what we're here for," she said.
"I love it more than anything else," said Tornblom, whose mother, Karin, also plays and is here to learn the game. "We're learning new stuff all the time and Tom has a lot of new drills we can take home and use."
The ages of the Swedish players range from 18 to 49. But many don't start playing until about 15. Many players learned about softball by word of mouth. Tornblom was introduced by her mother, Amanda Wallen, and her older sister, Emilia, who was persuaded by a classmate to play when she was 16.
Now she can't imagine not playing.
"You get challenged all the time to get better and better and better," she said. "I like challenges."
Enkoping is playing several travel teams in various age groups. Griffin said players on an American under-14 team have probably played hundreds of more games than the older players from Sweden.
"I didn't start playing until I was 27," said Tornberg, who still plays when needed.
Tornblom said she learned a lot from Doug Williams, the pitching coach, and his daughter, Jenn, who pitched for Scarborough and actually pitched in Sweden in 2008. Tornblom started playing six years ago and said she forced some classmates to join her on the team. They're still playing.
Emilia (23) and Amanda (20) Wallen have been playing with Enkoping for seven years. Emilia sees obvious improvement in the short time the team has been here.
"We're so much better," she said. "Everyone learns so fast. I can see a lot of them running for fly balls. I'm so proud of them."
Pettersson said the daily practices have been beneficial. "We learn a lot in one practice," she said. "And we've practiced a lot."
And that's what the trip was all about. Tornberg, the coach, said she wanted her players to understand what it takes to play the sport.
"We need to see softball, to experience softball all the time," she said. "And we're helping Swedish softball by coming here."
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:
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Emilia Wallen makes a low toss to first base during a bunt drill as her teammate and sister, Amanda, also participates with the team of Swedish softball players.