It’s been a few years since the U.S. Virgin Islands Softball Federation has fielded any sort of team in an international tournament.
Now, not only is the USVISF playing in such an event — they’re hosting it as well.
The USVI National Team is one of six teams entered in the Eastern Caribbean Amateur Softball Confederation’s Women’s Fast-Pitch Tournament Qualifier, which begins today at the National Park Ball Field on St. John.
The U.S. Virgin Islands and the other five teams — from defending champion Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Jamaica and St. Maarten — are vying for a berth in the upcoming Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, set for June 23-July 8 in San Salvador, El Salvador.
But for the territory, not only is playing in the tournament — the first ECASC qualifier held since 2013 — considered a big step for the USVI Softball Federation, but organizing the event is a magnitude above that.
“It was only five months ago that [the ECASC] decided we needed to have a qualifier for the English-speaking countries,” USVISF president Elroy Hill said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “None of the other countries were really stepping up, so we decided that since we’ve been out of the loop for a long time, we stepped up and said we’d host it.”
“I am swamped here, man, so swamped. But it’s great for us — it’s a win-win situation. Not only is St. John getting a bunch of publicity, but the territory itself.”
It’s also the first major event for the newly-rebuilt National Park Ball Field, which sustained heavy damage to both its fencing and field surface more than 5½ years ago in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The high winds from Hurricane Irma bent the ball field’s fencing and light poles, while FEMA parking heavy construction equipment and National Guard cargo trucks there left the field a rutted mess.
Rebuilding the National Park Ball Field — which is operated and maintained by the V.I. Sports, Parks and Recreation Department — cost the National Park Service more than $1 million, according to Hill.
“Nigel Fields [Virgin Islands National Park superintendent] came in, and we let him know that we didn’t have nothing else for the kids,” Hill said. “He told us to put something together … and now we have what you see now. The National Park invested a lot of money in this.”
This week’s ECASC Qualifier is not only a big deal to the USVI Softball Federation, it’s a big deal to the USVI government as well.
Both the Tourism and Sports, Parks and Recreation departments are sponsoring the tournament; and SPRD will have personnel on site to handle the day-to-day field maintenance, according to Sports, Parks and Recreation commissioner Calvert White.
“It is a big deal,” White said. “We’re supporting it 100%.”
However, it’s the USVI National Team — and the other five teams — that have the most to gain from this week’s tournament.
Only one team — Curacao at No. 56 — is currently in the World Softball and Baseball Council’s international rankings.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has long been unranked, as have Aruba (which won the 2013 tournament), the BVI, Jamaica and St. Maarten.
“It’s real big because we’ve never done something on the magnitude of this,” USVI manager Lloyd Jackson said Tuesday. “We’ve done other Caribbean tournaments, but this is the first time we’re doing something as major as this.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands squad — comprised mainly of college-level players — came together after a series of tryouts in both Orlando, Fla., and St. Croix over the past five months, according to Jackson.
Jackson hopes that college experience — the NCAA and NAIA seasons began in mid-February, so most of the players have recent playing time — gives the USVI National Team an edge in tournament play.
“I think we have a real great chance,” Jackson said. “They’ve been playing regularly, so we have a chance.
“I was really happy we could finally do something at home. Normally, when we go away, it’s a different feeling. We wanted to see how the other countries feel playing in our home. It’s good to feel relaxed and at home.”