The Black Sox have departed New Zealand to defend their title at this year’s World Softball Championship in the Czech Republic, but have done so with some heavy hearts.
Coach and four-time world champion Mark Sorenson is still dealing with the death of his father, Dave, who died just under two weeks ago.
"It's been a pretty tough week, these last 10 days," Sorenson told 1 NEWS.
"But I think we gave him a great send-off."
The senior Sorenson was the first Black Sox captain to win the world title back in 1976 when it was held in his home region of Hutt Valley.
He also found success as a coach both before and after hanging up his cleats, coaching his local Cardinals club as well as the Hutt Valley men’s team to national titles.
He returned to the Black Sox as an assistant coach for the 1992 World Championship in Manila where the team won silver and his son was captain, making the Sorensons the first father-son combo to captain the Black Sox on the world stage.
Sorenson was inducted to the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame a year later and Softball New Zealand’s own Hall of Fame in 1995.
Young Black Sox shortstop Cole Evans said he never got to see Dave play, but his impact on the game and the team’s culture is still apparent today.
"All the stories I’ve heard from the Black Sox from back in the day are of Dave Sorenson, Dave Sorenson, Dave Sorenson," Evans told 1 NEWS.
"He’s one of the stalwarts of New Zealand Softball."
After a successful career of his own that saw him join his father in the ISF Hall of Fame in 2010, Sorenson took over coaching the Black Sox in 2013 and led the team to a silver two years later. He earned his first gold as a coach in 2017 to add to his four world titles as a player.
The Black Sox haven’t planned anything officially to acknowledge Dave's death while they look to claim their eighth world title in Prague, but current captain Nathan Nukunuku said he would be in their thoughts while they supported their coach.
"I go back to [the 2017 World Championship] and he was actually on his deathbed then," Nukunuku told 1 NEWS.
"But he fought his way back – he was an inspiration at that time."
The Black Sox pipped Australia 6-4 in the final of the 2017 championship thanks to a grand slam by Joel Evans but they expect tough competition from multiple nations this year.
Japan already showed their potential as a threat after winning the Challenge Cup – a tournament contested by two Black Sox sides, Australia and Japan – earlier this year in Auckland.
The team also expects hosts Czech Republic, Canada, USA and Venezuela to be tough opposition as well.
But coach Sorenson says the team has someone making sure they live up to their own expectations.
"I’m certainly taking [dad] with me. He’s been a big supporter of mine forever," Sorenson said.
"He’ll be looking for us to go and perform to the Black Sox’s standard at this event and I’m sure he’ll be with us watching all the way."