24 April, 2015 Alison Chin As hosts Singapore continues its countdown to the 28th SEA Games, national representatives in the 36 sports to be contested are stepping up their preparations to do well at home. The men’s softball team is no exception, training up to five times a week, as captain and seasoned catcher Ivan Ng reveals that the squad are motivated by what is a unique opportunity to perform well for the country and the sport. “This is quite a major highlight in everyone’s lives, even for our association (Singapore Baseball & Softball Association). I think the last time SEA Games happened in Singapore was 22 years (ago). But back then, softball wasn’t part of the series (of sports) as well, so this is actually the first time that softball is being held (here),” he pointed out. “Expectations are definitely high but we’re trying to maintain everyone’s composed mind-set to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do and just let the results take care of itself. We’re definitely hoping for a placing in the finals. Once we reach the finals, I think anything can happen.” Like many of his team-mates and fellow national athletes, Ivan juggles his softball commitment with a full-time job and still manages to carve out time to play roles in the softball association’s or Sport Singapore’s grassroots activities. He could be considered as something of an old hand to this balancing act, having been part of the national youth set-up for softball since secondary school. In fact, it was an under-19 matchup against powerhouse Japan that helped cement his belief in the Singapore team’s mettle to compete with the very best. “We were pretty much the underdogs going into that tournament, with Japan being the strongest. But in fact, we were leading Japan for a big part of the games. For more than half the game, we were up about 4-2, but eventually their experience and knowledge of the game really got the better of us, so it turned out 6-4,” Ivan recounted. “Usually it would be the silver or bronze medallist approaching the gold medallist for the photo taking, but they were the ones who were very excited to (do so).” With the Japanese often used as a yardstick for Southeast Asia’s teams, the Raffles alumnus came up against the giants of softball once again in the Asian Softball Championship qualifiers, held at the Kallang Softball Diamond last year. That campaign saw Singapore attain fourth position, behind eventual winners Japan as well as regional rivals Philippines and Indonesia. Ivan expressed his hopes that finishing behind their upcoming SEA Games opponents will be all the motivation required, as the Singapore team prepare to embark on an intensive three-month training period. “We’ll definitely need more game experience along the way, so that’s why we actually have a tournament coming up. It’s called the Merlion Cup, where we have Japanese or Australian teams coming in. That will be mid-April,” he shared. “Following that, two weeks later, we’ll be travelling to Japan, playing all the top teams there. That leaves us with another remaining two and a half weeks where we’ll be back in Singapore to prepare.” Ivan, a member of the squad that participated in the SEA Games the last time softball was included in 2011, acknowledges the importance of doing well in front of a crowd of cheering Singaporeans. “I really think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I want to enjoy myself as much as I can. At the same time, be a role model for our younger Singaporean softballers, to take on the role of inspiring our next generation,” the country’s number 11 shared. "I think it’s very important there is continuity in the sport, so I would like take this opportunity to tell all the budding softballers to step up to the plate.” Averaging at about 25 years of age, the bulk of the Singapore men’s softball squad are expected to stay together after the 28th SEA Games to fight for a place at the prestigious Men’s Softball World Championship in 2017. As such, the skipper is anticipating a good run of results from the team over the next few years. “In the shorter run, there is the 2017 softball world cup. That would be one of our immediate goals, moving on from 2015. Further than that, I’m not too sure of the plans, but we hope to build on the strengths of the 2015 SEA Games squad,” Ivan asserted. The Singapore men’s and women’s team will take on their regional rivals during the 28th SEA Games softball competition from 6th to 10th June 2015 at the Kallang Softball Field.