CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Heather Drake took a big first step towards her goal of playing for Team Canada last weekend in Hamilton, Ont.
The 23-year-old Annandale native helped the Nova Scotia-based Recoil squad win the D Division at the National Slo-Pitch Athletics Enterprise of Canada (NSA) Canadian World Series.
Playing well at big tournaments against the top players in the country is the way Drake could earn an invite to show her skills for the national team’s coaches.
“I wanted a chance to try out for Team Canada,” she said.
Drake played fastball growing up and was part of Team P.E.I. at the 2013 Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
She didn’t have many options to keep playing at a high level after that. She got involved with orthodox and slo-pitch and after becoming the executive director of Softball P.E.I. attended an annual general meeting and discovered the many avenues of competitive slo-pitch nationally and internationally.
“It did re-ignite (my competitiveness),” Drake said. “I was still playing competitively and still having fun. . . but I kind of stopped training because I didn't think there was any more (place to go). After I found out there was, I went right back into training mode to see if I can get there.”
Drake helped start the Island Sharks women’s slo-pitch team and after the squad played in a tournament in Halifax earlier this year, she was approached by a couple of teams to attend the World Series. She chose Recoil.
She quickly learned a new position. Traditionally a shortstop with the Sharks, Drake became Recoil’s rover. In most slo-pitch, teams play with 10 players, including the rover, who normally plays in the outfield. In high level slo-pitch, the rover plays on the infield.
Once in Hamilton, Drake made quite the first impression.
In the top of the first inning, the Recoil’s opponents had a runner at third with one out.
“I ran out to the outfield and caught a pop fly and threw it home for the double play,” Drake explained.
In the bottom of the inning, she crushed a 300-foot home run down the left field line.
If there were any anxiousness about joining a new team, they were gone quicker than the blast left the field.
“The first couple of plays really helped,” Drake said. “I had never met them before, maybe played two games against them with the Sharks, but when I got there, they were super friendly.”
Drake stayed hot the rest of the way.
It included smashing a home run and two doubles and turning two double plays in the semifinal.
“She put on a show up there,” Sharks coach John Younker said. “She had a hell of a tournament.”
It comes as no surprise to him.
“Not in the least,” he said. “Anyone who has ever watched her play, you see a drive and a passion that is second to none. She lives, eats, breathes the sport. And, as good as she is, she never stops striving to be better.”
The Sharks are relatively new, but they hope to attend tournaments like the World Series in the future.
Drake’s performance has given the team a boost as it fundraises and looks for sponsors to attend such events.
“It makes us realize, as a team, we can go away to these tournaments and compete,” Younker said.
He said Drake always wants to improve in every aspect of the game, which will serve her well as she chases the Team Canada invite.
“She has the tools to be the player she is, and she has the mindset and the drive to be a better player than she is and that’s scary,” Younker said. “I don't think the ceiling is even close.”
The Sharks will be hosting an eight-team tournament Sept. 1 with four squads coming from off-Island, including Recoil.