Diamond in the Outfield

Centre Spread Published in The Border Mail newspaper, Monday, August 2, 2004

PETA Edebone is one tough customer. She’s faced tragedy and injury and overcome them both on her way to the pinnacle of her sport – captaining the Australian team at the Athens Olympic Games, writes Leanne Ortiz

Ron Edebone was a fine baseballer, a respected coach and an Australian pitcher whose missing pointer finger on his left hand aided his awesome curve ball.

He was also the devoted father of an only child, Australian softball captain Peta Edebone; who is about to fulfil her goal of becoming a three-time Olympian.

At just nine years of age; and already talented with a softball bat, life threw Peta Edebone a curve ball she could not send sailing back into the outfield.

On what was otherwise a typical Melbourne afternoon, Peta came home from school to her family home in Yallambie and discovered her father’s lifeless body in the back yard. He had suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack.

Only two years later, Edebone’s mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Leonie Edebone was also a quality softballer who had introduced her daughter to a softball bat and ball from just 18 months of age.

Leonie died when Peta was 13.

“I often think about my parents, at different times on any given day,” Edebone, 35, said.

“I try to reflect back to my childhood and remember the great times we shared together; although all too few. I often wonder about the lifestyle we would have had if they were still alive today.”

Following her mother’s death, Edebone moved to Albury to live, where she was cared for by her relatives until she made the decision to return to Melbourne to further her softball career.

Irrespective of the tragedies in her formative years, Edebone’s achievements in softball bear the mark of a champion.

She has competed around the globe; and secured many awards and accolades for her efforts.

At the Blacktown International Softball Challenge in April, Edebone became just the third player in the history of Softball Australia to reach the milestone 300 matches for her country.

At home, a trophy cabinet proudly filled with memorabilia from her softball career includes the two Olympic bronze medals she earned in Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000), the latter in spectacular fashion.

Simon Roskvist, the head coach of the Australian women’s softball team for Athens 2004, recalls the two-run home run which Edebone smashed at the Sydney Olympics (in the bottom of the 13th innings) to steal the match from the formidable U.S. outfit.

“I had just got to experience first-hand one of those sporting feats that becomes legendary,” he said.

Edebone is noted for her tough, no-nonsense approach to the game and gives her opponents little evidence of the emotions she may be feeling when she steps onto the diamond.

On this occasion, however, she sobbed uncontrollably as she planted her foot on the home-plate and was swamped by her team-mates.

“Her guard was able to come down, the task was done,” Sydney Games softball team manager Faye Bourne said.

“Her emotions transferred to every member of the team, and to fans in the crowd. No-one could possibly hold back.”

The home run against the U.S. was not the only match winning effort displayed by Edebone at the Sydney Olympics; it was one of four home runs that would see her become equal Olympic record holder for the number of home runs hit in an Olympic campaign.

Feedback from participating countries post the 2000 Games indicated that softball was too pitcher dominated, and that there were too many home runs hit.

As a result, the playing field has been extended from 200 to 220 feet in Athens, and the pitching distance has been put back from 40 to 43 feet.

Roskvist says that while the task of breaking her Olympic record will be made more difficult with the moving of the outside fence, “no doubt should a pitcher make a mistake against Peta, they will pay the price.”

Both Edebone’s and Roskvist’s goals for Athens are clear: “our intentions are to medal,” the coach said.

“The shinier the better.”

Honoured to have been selected as captain, Edebone believes the Aussie Spirit team for Athens fields a good balance of youth and experience.

“If we play our absolute best throughout the rounds, then we can be playing off in the gold medal game,” she said.

The softball journey for Peta Edebone has been a difficult one; injuries have plagued her career, almost forcing her out of the team for Atlanta (she competed with a broken right foot), and coming perilously close to ending her three-time Olympic dream for Athens.

In a club softball match in February this year, Edebone sustained a grade two tear of the medial ligament in her left knee when a runner collided with her at first base.

Rehabilitation involved a 10-week program of strengthening exercises, massage, gym work, pilates, pool rehab, medical checks, cardio workouts and basic skills sessions.

Edebone’s approach to her injuries and pressures on her to reproduce previous form is a philosophical one.

“For many years now there has always been an expectation from people for me to perform. Thankfully, I too share that level of expectation. I do not like to let down the team, or myself, in those situations,” she said.

“Peta is one of the toughest athletes I’ve met,” coach Roskvist says.

“Both on a physical and mental level, she is a no nonsense, win-oriented leader.”

Helen Watson, Softball Australia’s former marketing manager says Edebone gives unflailing loyalty to her sport and team-mates.

“She leads by example, and quietly spoken advice. She never flaunts her position or achievements,” she said.

An asthmatic since birth, Edebone was the recipient of the Asthma Victoria Sporting Achiever’s Award in 2000.

Edebone says her experiences with the Asthma Foundation and the Variety Club of Australia have given her valuable perspective; and inspire her whenever injuries or setbacks occur.

Edebone was thrilled to be chosen as an Olympic torch bearer in Melbourne on June 5.

“It was a great honour, it was very exciting and it was particularly special as it is the last time the torch run will be held outside the host nation,” she said.

The Aussie Spirit team won the silver medal at the Canada Cup Olympic lead-up event held in Vancouver from July 3-11. Their impressive performance in the round-robin event included victories over world number four China and world number two Japan.

In the 5-1 victory against Japan, Edebone displayed ominous form, smashing a timely home run at a crucial stage of the match.

The tightly contested gold medal match saw Japan victorious over Australia 2-1.

Edebone’s tone is mellow when asked if her thoughts turned to her parents when she produced the emotional match winning home runs in Sydney 2000.

“Only after the U.S. game, when I was talking with my close friends, did I think about my parents and the excitement that I was unable to share with them. Those are the hardest times; when I really miss them, but hopefully they are proud of me and my achievements,” she said.

If Peta Edebone is to glance skywards at the opening ceremony in Athens 2004; her thoughts will not be for the Olympians, the Gods of Greek mythology.

They will be for the parents who instilled the passion in her.

Reference

Ortiz, L. (2004, August 2 ). DIAMOND IN THE OUTFIELD, The Border Mail [print].

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