Representing New Zealand in sport with two siblings is an exceptionally rare achievement. An achievement Thomas Enoka and his two brothers can proudly claim as they slide into the history books as the first set of three siblings to represent the New Zealand Black Sox.
As you can imagine, in a world cup year, the national representatives invest heavily in their preparation. The Black Sox even more so, given the need to concentrate on defending their world title on top of work and club commitments. When Thomas agreed to meet, despite his demanding schedule, I was extremely grateful. We chatted about softball, his upbringing and future plans beyond the diamond.
At just 25, Thomas has shown the selectors he is worthy of the captaincy; a privileged position he hopes to retain for this year’s world championship in July. As the middle brother, Thomas is fortunate to share this historic achievement with his brothers, Ben, 27 and Campbell, 22. At home, to support the demands that representative sport places on families they have their parents – his dad, Duncan is Maori and his mum, Michelle is Samoan, and younger sister. The Enokas grew up in West Harbour, Auckland their whole lives and attended local schools, Marina View Primary and Massey High. Thomas was not interested in school but had a good bunch of friends and family around him “I sucked at school; I went to eat my lunch and hang out with my mates. I pretty much went to play softball and rugby”. Hobbies outside softball? He says “Fishing, swimming and beaches” His old man grew up in a small town called Tinopai, and his family usually go there for holidays.
When he was younger, Thomas also dabbled in rugby because of his union loving dad. “Mum is the softball player and instigated my love for the game”. Altogether, it is fair to say, softball is part of the family’s DNA; “Dad is the coach, my cousin is the assistant coach, mum scores and manages and most of my cousins have played”. As he rattles off the list of family involved, not only in softball, but also in other sporting codes at national level, I slowly get the feeling that the Enokas are to Auckland United what the Kohlhase family (another family almost synonymous with NZ softball) are to Marist softball, a loyal, one club serving family affair. “I’ve never played for anyone else and dad has only coached one club”. This sort of devotion and allegiance always intrigues me, especially nowadays and I have to admit, I was impressed.
Softball or rugby?
Thomas made his way up the softball grades. In the beginning, it was playing with his cousins that kept him engaged. “When you’re little, kids usually say I want to be an All Black, not a Black Sox, but eventually it became a goal as I got older and learnt more”. He started becoming serious about softball when he made the under 13 Auckland team, at the age of 10. From then on, Thomas says he was addicted; he quickly learned through playing and batboy duties just how amazing the people were and that he was rubbing shoulders with arguably some of the best softball players in the world. It was then when Thomas’s desire to become a Black Sox began. However, the only problem was that he was also juggling his rugby commitments. Once reaching a competitive level in both codes, there was a choice to be made, and fortunately, for NZ softball, here we are.
Thomas accomplished his Black Sox goal in 2009, at the tender age of 18. Although he was a pitcher throughout the grades, Thomas made his first Black Sox team as an outfielder. To make things even more interesting, Thomas currently plays as an infielder. Interesting because, I cannot recall too many athletes being able to switch between traditionally different positions at a representative level. To help me get a better understanding, I referred to a rugby analogy and eventually learnt that it is similar to being a utility back but now he is more a specialist. Given the rugby comparison, I then mention how talented Thomas would have to be, given the switch in on-field requirements. To which he responds almost shyly, “it is rare, but people have done it”. I am not satisfied with the professional response so I keep probing and eventually he admits with a smile, “Fine, it probably isn’t considered the norm”. He explains that it probably came from his enjoyment of being on the pitch, regardless of position. He would go wherever the coach put him, as long as he made it out there.
Travelling between seasons
For several years, Thomas has travelled overseas to play softball in the States (during the NZ off-season) from Pennsylvania to Chicago, New York and all in between. Most recently, he swapped the States for Canada; “the last 3 years I’ve been in Toronto; my brother Ben was there and I decided to join him because I hated losing to him”. The competition is the best in the world so it is standard for teams to recruit from all over the globe for the International Softball Congress (ISC). However, the travelling will stop this year; Thomas finally won the ISC championship with Ben and said that “it was the coolest thing”; and has decided to concentrate on another goal.
That goal is investing in his future. “I’ve travelled the world with softball and had amazing experiences but I have nothing behind me”. As he gets older, Thomas decided to think seriously about what he wants to do after softball “I decided to do a building apprenticeship. I started last October and it’s wicked”. The plan is to work for the next four to five years towards his qualification instead of travelling overseas in the off- season so he has something to commit to, once he is satisfied with what he’s achieved in his softball career.
“My friends would say I’m funny, cheeky and a good singer”. I am surprised at the mention of having good vocals but he laughs and says he is joking. I can tell he is a bit of a comedian throughout the chat as I make random comments and I can see his professional face leave, for a split second. As expected, Thomas is reluctant about describing himself but I notice a few traits as our chat nears the end. Thomas is hospitable, determined, competitive, modest and mature beyond his 25 years.
Once the world championship comes and goes, Thomas will be looking forward to relaxing before starting another NZ softball season and continuing his new journey towards becoming a qualified builder.
Photocredit: stuff.co.nz (From L-R, Ben, Thomas and Campbell Enoka)