Very little will likely surprise Sara Groenewegen this weekend, when she hits the field at the Scotiabank Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship.
Not the crowds, not the level of talent in the dugout along the opposite foul line and certainly not the pressure.
After all, Groenewegen, who pitches and plays shortstop for the White Rock Renegades ’95, has seen it all before. Two years ago, when she was in Grade 8, she served as a bat girl for Team Canada at the Canada Cup, the precursor to the Canadian Open.
From her spot in the dugout, she was able to learn from the country’s best.
“It was very inspirational to be a part of that, and be around the team, because I’d like to play for Team Canada when I’m older,” said Groenewegen, who spent her Canada Day weekend trying out for the country’s junior national fastpitch squad.
“I just tried to watch it all, and soak it all in.”
Groenewegen said she was well-recieved by the Canadian squad, many of whom knew her older sister, Marina, who that year had tried out for the national team, making it into the top 24.
“They gave me a Team Canada jersey with my number 17 on it, and everyone signed it,” she said.
Had she wanted to, Groenewegen likely could’ve taught some of the older Team Canada players a thing or two – if not about how to play the game itself, at least a little about mental strength and perseverance. That’s because Groenewegen, like her older sister, has managed to play softball at a high level despite living with diabetes.
And while dealing with the condition has become second nature for Groenewegen – she’s dealt with it since she began playing with White Rock in Grade 5 – she admits its still a struggle on occasion.
“It’s certainly a lot harder to play a sport with diabetes. You have to be responsible and know to test yourself and keep track of how you’re feeling,” she said. “While I’m playing – especially when I’m pitching – I need to be at the perfect level or I won’t perform well.
If her blood-sugar levels get too high, she gets a headache and feels dizzy; too low, and she feels tired and groggy.
“It’s manageable, but it’s tough for a young person, for sure,” said Renegades ’95 coach Chuck Westgard, who also coached Marina on the four-time national champion Renegades ’91 team.
“It’s just one more thing for you to focus on and think about, but both her and her sister have handled it very well, and are very good players.”
Groenewegen and her Renegade ’95 mates played in last year’s inaugural Canadian Open, in the Showcase division, and will be among the favourites in the same division this year.
The team has lost only a few games so far this season, and is also coming off a tournament title in Seattle, which they won on the Memorial Day long weekend.
“I think we have a really good chance of winning this year,” Groenewegen said.
“But it’s great just to play. We’re all really proud of this tournament, and it’s cool to be able to play so many international teams in such a world (renowned) tournament.”
The Canadian Open begins July 9 at Softball City, Sunnyside Park and Cloverdale Athletic Park.
Groenewegen’s Renegades ’95 squad opens the Showcase Gold tournament at Softball City on July 11, 10:30 a.m. against the Arizona Cats.
They also have round-robin games against the Washington Diamond Dusters, Delta Heat ’95, Ridge Meadows Pride ’96, Fraser Valley Fusion ’95 and Richmond Islanders ’96.
For more information, including a full schedule and results as they happen, visit www.canadianopenfastpitch.com