Bayfield teen plays fast-pitch in Austrialia

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018 12:52 PM
Bayfield High School junior Emma Candelaria (kneeling, center) and her America's Team 2018 Australia Tour teammates mug for the camera in New South Wales.
Photo courtesy Debbie Wilhelm

Emma Candelaria takes a swing Down Under, playing for America's Team in July during a tour of Australia.
Photo courtesy Debbie Wilhelm

Emma Candelaria of Bayfield plays softball for three travelling teams and Durango High School.

For Bayfield High Schooler Emma Candelaria, summer was progressing as she knew it would.

Again playing fast-pitch softball with one club from Durango, one from Grand Junction, and another from Farmington, the junior usually found herself away from home more often than inside it.

So one final game-related excursion before the 2018-19 CHSAA athletic year officially commenced on Monday, Aug. 6, wouldn't have been much out of the ordinary...had her destination not been the Land Down Under.

From July 20-30, Candelaria joined a select squad of prep players to play in the America's Team 2018 Australia Tour, a partnership between America's Team, headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., and the Boston-based American Council for International Studies. Their trip began with a 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane in Queensland state.

"We had girls from Pennsylvania, Missouri and New Hampshire, and then me," Candelaria recalled. "I believe we had four on my plane from Los Angeles, and we were all pretty close to our talent levels."

"Just one practice together, after we got to Australia," she continued. "It was a little weird, because every team has, like, their own way of warming up, doing drills, but we all came together, and it worked out really well."

The team was led by coach Dawn Decker, a former Brown Mackie College and Kansas Wesleyan University standout and coach of MO Dawgs Softball of Buffalo, Missouri.

Candelaria saw action at catcher, third base and left field during the tour, which concluded in New South Wales' capital, Sydney.

"She definitely had a lot more experience in coaching, and when it comes down to the basics I feel she had a lot more knowledge of the game," Candelaria said of Decker. "She's been doing it for so long and worked with so many different types of players, so that was really great working with her. One of the best experiences I've had so far."

"We played a lot of older teams; their age group down there is 26-and-under, so most of the girls we played were 20 or older," she noted. "And all the girls on our team were, like, 16 to 18; it was a big shock. Our first game, we played against a 32-year-old pitcher who was trying out for the national team! That was an experience. I did hit off of her...a couple girls did."

"I believe overall we played six or seven games, and one, after we played, we split the teams in half and we played with them. So catching for a 'different' team was an experience."

And in the end, experience - from fundraising to final pitch - was the operative word, and Candelaria said she hopes it will pay dividends this fall when she again suits up for Durango High School. Or as part of another roster fir America's Team, which has ventures to the Dominican Republic next year and Italy in 2020.

"This definitely made me want to go more places and play with more new people. Definitely the experience of a lifetime," she stated. "I definitely feel like this did change my game a little bit more; I did get a lot more experience with a lot of faster pitching and just different levels within the game. I'm excited for the season; I think it's going to be a good one."

NOT SO ALONE: As it turned out, making the trip was another Four Corners player, Tayla Topaha, a 2016 Montezuma-Cortez graduate and current Bacone College Warrior in Muskogee, Okla.

While playing with Topaha, Candelaria, who has college aspirations herself, took mental notes for future improvements.

"I caught for her," she said. "She definitely was a lot faster than I've seen, but I feel like it helped my catching ability. It was a great opportunity for me."