Fargo – Aaron Knight, Jackson Prime and Zane Van Lieshout flew more than 10,000 miles to play fastpitch softball.
All three landed in Fargo a few weeks back, completing a journey that started in Auckland, N.Z., and had stops in Sydney, Australia; Los Angeles; and Denver along the way.
“I thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime to come over to the states and play softball,” said the 19-year-old Van Lieshout. “I’ve always wanted to travel overseas and play.”
Knight, Prime and Van Lieshout played their first games with the Bar 9 West Fargo Knights last week. They will be here until September.
“The guys on our team they are very excited to have them here,” said Matt Johnson, one of the players on the Knights.
This international player exchange of sorts started with Johnson. He played in New Zealand last October. Johnson was at a national tournament in Rockford, Ill., when he was approached by someone from New Zealand. That person gave Johnson contact information for a coach of a softball club in New Zealand.
“I was excited about it right away,” said Johnson, who is the head fastpitch softball coach at Fargo Shanley High School. “I didn’t think that it was actually going to work out, and they contacted me and said they wanted to bring me over.”
Johnson was teammates with Prime and Knight. Van Lieshout played on another team in the same league. That’s where the idea of having the three to come over and play for the Knights started.
Prime, a 17-year-old pitcher, is also a member on New Zealand’s 19-and-under national team that is scheduled to play in the Junior Men’s Fastpitch World Championship in Argentina in November.
Coming to North Dakota will give him a chance to prepare for that with this being the winter season in New Zealand.
“Winter is pretty miserable in New Zealand,” Prime said. “We just get real miserable rainy weather and heaps of dark clouds every day. … I came over here to get some pitching in before the World Series.”
All three New Zealand players are expected to play key roles for the Knights this summer.
Prime is projected to be the team’s No. 1 pitcher. Knight and Van Lieshout are expected to hit at the top of the batting order.
The three – who are all staying with host families – not only came here to hone their softball games, but also to experience a new culture.
They have already found themselves dining out more here than in New Zealand because it’s much more affordable here and there are more options.
“One thing that we were really shocked about is there is like free refills everywhere,” Knight said with a laugh. “Back home if you finish your drink you have to pay for another one.”
Knight was worried when the server kept refilling his soft drink glass the first time he went out for dinner here.
“But Matt told us that it was free so we were happy about that,” Knight said.