New Zealand next stop for softball standout

Bryan Abrey playing for Canada at upcoming World Championships then will suit up for New York based club team

Don't tell Bryan Abrey there are limited opportunities for elite men's softball players living in B.C.

On Saturday, the 25-year-old from Richmond leaves with his Canadian teammates for International Softball Federation (ISF) Men's World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand. He is one of just two B.C. natives on the 17-player national team roster.

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When Abrey isn't wearing Canadian colours, he suits up for the New York Gremlins - the number one ranked senior men's team in North America last year. The Gremlins typically play in seven to eight high-profile tournaments per season and pay for Abrey to fly out from Vancouver and join them at each one of them. He recently returned from a tournament in Florida and the Dominican Republic is up next after World Championships.

Softball Canada is covering all of his expenses for his near month long stay in New Zealand. The team returns home March 11.

Who says being one of the country's top softball players doesn't offer a pretty attractive career.

"It's all about being able to get the time off," said Abrey, who works as an operations coordinator for Seaspan Ferries. "There is nothing in B.C. to play softball at a high level. The New York team gives me an outline of their schedule and I make it work."

Growing up, Abrey was arguably the best all-round athlete in Richmond with a hectic year-round schedule he somehow managed. He thrived on the ball diamond - in both baseball and fastpitch - and also played top level rep hockey for Richmond Minor. If that wasn't enough, he was a key contributor to the McMath Wildcats senior boys basketball team which reached the provincial semi-finals in his Grade 12 year.

"I just liked to stay active," said Abrey. "Sitting still was never really my thing. A lot of the time I would have hockey and go straight to basketball or have basketball and go straight to hockey. In the summer, it was crazy with all the ball tournaments.

"My parents were great. They would drive me here and there."

Abrey developed into a dominant enough softball player to be part of the junior national team program in 2005. However, the opportunity also opened the door for him to continue his baseball career south of the border. Through the Canadian team coaching staff, he was invited to play at Merced College.

Abrey thrived at the California school, earning All-NorCal Team honours for two straight seasons and a scholarship to Lewis-Clark Stage College in Idaho.

He enjoyed a stellar career for the Bulldogs and graduated with degrees in kinesiology and coaching/ sports administration, earning Academic All-American honours in the process.

He briefly explored continuing his baseball career by trying out with independent pro teams before coming home and turning his attention back to softball. He was part of Canada's 40-man roster when he was recruited to play for New York last year, then made his senior team debut at last fall's Pan American Championships in Columbia where Canada won gold with a 4-1 victory over Venezuela in the final. The team's starting catcher produced a key hit in the sixth inning that helped erase a 1-0 deficit.

"I had never been to Columbia before and this will be my first time in New Zealand. The travel has been pretty good," smiled Abrey.

He added the adjustment from baseball to softball is not an easy one, especially for hitters. "It takes a while to get use to it. In softball, a rise ball moves just as much as a baseball but (the pitcher) is 20 feet closer. It's coming at you a lot quicker."

Canada was third at the previous World Championships in 2009. That tournament was won by Australia, with New Zealand earning silver.

"Clearly we want gold. That's our expectations," Abrey added. "Our pool is tough with teams like New Zealand and Japan but we feel like we can come out of it number one."

Abrey is one of the youngest players on the national team and should still be wearing Canadian colours for another future high-profile event - the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

mbooth@richmond-news.com

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