The return of the Canada Cup this summer was made official Monday night – and organizers are promising one of the biggest tournaments in the event’s 26-year history.
Speaking at Surrey council, Canada Cup organizers, including longtime committee chair Greg Timm, not only reaffirmed the dates for the popular international softball tournament – June 17-26 at Softball City – but also announced that there has been “an unprecedented response” from top national teams across the globe, as teams look to increase participation in high-profile competitions again after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Timm, the top national teams from Canada, United States, Mexico, Australia, Netherlands, Chinese-Taipei and Czechia (formerly Czech Republic) are already confirmed for the Canada Cup’s women’s international division.
“The response to the return of the Canada Cup has been beyond what we could have expected,” said Timm.
“Without a doubt we will see the very best of the best at the 2022 event. From the top national teams to the elite club teams, we anticipate an incredibly strong tournament across all divisions.”
Though the cancellation of the 2020 tournament was not a surprise to Timm and his committee, given that it was mere months into a pandemic that has stretched for more than two years, the fact that the ’21 event also had to be cancelled came as a surprise, he’s previously told Peace Arch News.
“When we started to think about 2021 Canada Cup back in September of 2020, I couldn’t have imagined we were still going to be in this mess,” he told PAN in June 2021. “We thought by January 2021 we’d be in the clear and ready to go, so it was almost surreal to us that this was still happening.”
Not only will the 2022 field be a competitive one – and the largest of the past decade, organizers say – the week-long event will also feature two special events.
On Thursday, June 23, former Canadian national team outfielder Melanie Matthews – who grew up in South Surrey and is a former Earl Marriott Secondary student – will be inducted into the World Baseball Softball Confederation Hall of Fame; a ceremony will be held at Softball City’s Championship Diamond.
Matthews spent nearly a decade with the national team, playing in three world championships – in 2006, 2010 and ’12 – as well as the 2008 Summer Olympics, at which Canada finished fourth.
When she was inducted into Softball Canada’s hall of fame in 2019, the organization called her “one of the Canadian Women’s National Team’s best hitters of all-time.”
She was also inducted into the Softball BC hall of fame back in 2016.
Matthews will be one of just 17 Canadians in the WBSC Hall of Fame when she is inducted in June.
“With each of these (inductions) I’ve kind of been taken aback by it a little bit. It’s an honour, but it’s also about all those people – players and coaches – who helped you get to where you are,” Matthews told Peace Arch News in an interview last week.
“I wouldn’t have reached those (heights) without them.”
And though she’s loath to take credit for the success of the teams and players who have followed in her footsteps, Timm told PAN in 2019 that it was Matthews who “moved the needle for softball in this country.”
“She helped us set our sights higher, because for a fair amount of time we were ending up fifth through eighth (at international events), and that was considered a reasonable performance for Canada at the time,” he said.
“Melanie was one of the players who made us believe we could aim higher.”
Matthews said she counts the 2006 Canada Cup – her first as a member of Canada’s national team – as one of the best memories from her career.
And while a handful of Matthews’ old teammates from those 2006-through-2012 teams have, through the years, come out of retirement to return to the diamond – most notably Danielle Lawrie and Lauren Regula, who were members of last summer’s Olympic team – Matthews said she never seriously considered coming back, even if the thought crossed her mind from time to time.
“I’d be fibbing if I said it had never crossed my mind, and I’m not shy about saying that our fourth-place finish at the Olympics, it hurt quite a bit… but I’m happily settled into family life now,” said Matthews, who has two children, aged five and three.
Still, she hasn’t completely distanced herself from the game – she has returned to Softball City to watch a Canada Cup game or two, she said.
“I kind of sneak back now and then, quietly. When Lauren (Regula) came out of retirement a few years ago, I went back to watch her.”
It will be tougher to sneak around the park this summer, however – which she admits will be an adjustment after being out of the softball spotlight now for a decade.
“Being the centre of attention is never my favourite thing, but I really appreciate it,” she said.
A day later, on Friday, June 23, an Olympic recognition ceremony will be held at the same location for members of Canada’s national women’s fastpitch team, which won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
All Olympic medal-winners are entitled to a celebration event at home, and the team has chosen Surrey – and the Canada Cup specifically – for its event, said Laura Ballance, spokesperson for the tournament.
Softball City is where the team qualified for the Olympics, back in 2019.
A number of Canadian sport dignitaries, including retiring Softball Canada CEO Hugh Mitchener and new CEO Mike Branchaud, will be in attendance, along with members of the team.
Team Canada is now managed by Kaleigh Rafter, who was the team’s starting catcher on the bronze-medal winning team, but hung up the cleats after Tokyo. She replaced longtime head coach Mark Smith, who also retired after the Olympics.
For more information on the Canada Cup, visit www.canadacup.com