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Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku retires after 20-year international softball career

September 10, 2019

Wellington, NZ - - Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku retires after 20-year international softball career



Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku has retired after winning four world championship gold medals in a 20-year career.

 

ORIGINAL STORY by Tony Smith

 

Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku has retired after 20 years of international softball and has confirmed he will not apply for the head coach's job.

Nukunuku told Stuff he had decided to step down to spend more time with his family after winning four gold medals in a record seven world championship tournaments.

The 39-year-old – who earned 126 Black Sox caps  – gave considerable thought to his future after New Zealand's disappointing fourth place at the 2019 world series in Prague.

But, after he and wife Katrina - a former New Zealand White Sox softball captain - had a baby son, Kiwa, in August, he decided to retire at the top-level.

Nathan Nukunuku at bat for the Black Sox at his seventh and final world championships in Prague.
Grega Valancic Photography/World Baseball Softball Confederation
Nathan Nukunuku at bat for the Black Sox at his seventh and final world championships in Prague.

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"It's a decision that I've been coming to for few months, or, if I'm really honest the last couple of years. I've come to the realisation that my time with the Black Sox is up," Nukunuku said.

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"I had a good think through after the last world champs and once baby was born a few weeks ago, I thought the best thing do is make a decision to step down."

Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku rounds the bases after hitting one of two automatic home runs against the Philippines in 2019.
Grega Valancic Photography/World Baseball Softball Confederation
Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku rounds the bases after hitting one of two automatic home runs against the Philippines in 2019.

Nukunuku – an accomplished infielder in his prime and dangerous top order batter – made his Black Sox debut in 1999, but said it was now time to focus on "my family and my work".

"That's the ultimate decision. I want to be there for family and especially for my oldest son [seven-year-old Raika]. I've been selfish [in pursing a long international career] and now I want to spend more time with the family."

Softball New Zealand [SNZ} chief executive Tony Giles said Nukunuku "will leave a tremendous legacy ... as one of the world's most feared players".

"His record stands for itself over a career spanning 20 years in the Black Sox family, which has seen a record 126 caps for his country, seven world series appearances and four world titles."

Giles said SNZ wished Nukunuku and wife Katrina "the very best in international retirement and look forward to the next generation of Nukunuku champions on the diamond". 

The New Zealand Black Sox were part of Nathan Nukunuku's life for 20 years.
Debbie Barker Photography
The New Zealand Black Sox were part of Nathan Nukunuku's life for 20 years.

Nukunuku will continue as player-coach of the Mt Albert Ramblers club and the Auckland representative team - both domestic champions - but he confirmed he would not apply for the just-advertised Black Sox head coach's job.

"I understand that's a possible pathway for me, but I do think, however, it's too early to put my hand up for the role, he said.

If you'd asked me three months ago, I would have said 'yes, I could transition from being captain to coach',  but after some deep thinking and discussions with some of my mentors, a better solution for me is to get away from the side and get some perspective so it's not so much of an echo chamber.

"You need a little bit of time to freshen up.

"And I'll still be coaching [at domestic level], so if, in two years' time, I decided to put my name in the hat [as national coach], I would still be relevant. I would still know the opposition. I wouldn't want to be out of the game for 10 years and then try to come back."

Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku at bat.
DEBBIE BARKER PHOTOGRAPHY
Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku at bat.

Nukunuku said he had enjoyed his time in the Black Sox. "It's obviously been a long and fruitful journey for me. I've very blessed with the career I had.

"Obviously having [my brother] Dion  here for the start was a great thing for me, it meant I felt comfortable in the environment straight away."

The Nukunuku brothers won world titles in 2000 and 2004 together with Nathan establishing himself in the key infield role at shortstop.

After Dion retired, Nathan went on to earn another gold medal in 2013 and captained the Black Sox to the world title in 2017.

He said it was impossible to single out one special memory "Obviously, every win at the four world champs were all great highlights."

Nathan Nukunuku slides into base against Australia in 2014.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES
Nathan Nukunuku slides into base against Australia in 2014.

For most of his career, the Black Sox were "one of the most successful teams in New Zealand sport".

"I'm definitely proud to have been part of the Black Sox. Anything I have given to the team, I've received back 10 times over,."

Although Nukunuku would be approaching 41 when the next world series is held in 2021, he believed he would still be able to contribute.

"Softball-wise, I could definitely play [in 2021].

"But if I'm looking for the betterment of the Black Sox moving forward a world series at home is the best chance for the team to be in the best possible shape to win in front of our own people in our own season.

"I would like Softball New Zealand to use the tournament to introduce some new stars to the country.

"I think our sport needs some fresh blood. What better way than a world series in our country to introduce a new leader and a group of new stars and put my name to bed a little bit."

Nathan Nukunuku appeals for an out against Japan in 2013.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Nathan Nukunuku appeals for an out against Japan in 2013.

Nukunuku returned home in June bitterly disappointed at the Black Sox's failure to win a medal for the first world series since 1980 after he had played in the six previous grand finals.

He said the "three top teams (champions Argentina, runners-up Japan and bronze medallists Canada) had identical 9-1 win-loss records and deserved their medals.

"I was pretty gutted at the time, but now I've had a chance to reflect, we lost the semifinal [to Japan] by one run against the only unbeaten team in the tournament at that stage, and we lost the bronze medal game [to Canada] by one run.'

Nukunuku said the Black Sox had had "a knock to the nose, but I don't think we are far off" returning to the top.

"It's a chance to rebuild and look at a new generation of stars and see what other guys can bring."

Nukunuku said without him in the mix it was time for "the guys in the leadership group to step up and lead the team". He said "the likes of" Cole Evans, brothers Ben and Thomas Enoka and Jerome Raemaki now had sufficient experience to fill the void.

 

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