By JACK AMI
THERE are only first, second and third bases before home base in the game but Gazelle Softball Club of Port Moresby has hit base 40.
The gazelles have virtually gone in leaps and bounds and 40 years later they are still one of the high achievers in any sport.
Gazelle Softball Club – the immortals of men’s softball in the capital – turned 40 yesterday (Aug 29).
An anniversary celebration will be held tomorrow at the PNG Institute of Public Administration, Waigani.
It will be a memorable occasion indeed to recall the humble beginnings of the club and recognise the efforts of individuals who engineered the foundation of Gazelle Softball Club.
The club has stood up to opponents in the tough Port Moresby men’s softball competition, national club championships and up to 1994, the Gazelle tournaments.
Gazelle has also survived challenges faced by the game nationally or at the association and club levels in recent years.
The club was formed on August 29, 1979 over a carton of beer at what was then the Palms Tavern at Badili, opposite the Badili Police Station.
Those involved in the birth of the club were John Milapapa, Dominic Valuta, and Nick Vaigoga (former Elcom players), George Madao, Rudolf Batia and Jack Pidik (ex-Hoover Eagles players) and Peni Tonga (formerly of TPMG Panthers).
They named the club Gazelle after considering possible names like Blanche Bay, Simpson Taibalanch and Yavaks. Gazelle was chosen to unite the people from the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain living in Port Moresby.
“Once we decided on Gazelle, we then started looking for money to establish it. We drove through the streets of Port Moresby every Saturday morning collecting and then selling beer and soft drink bottles.
“That was how we founded Gazelle, it was hard work but fun,” founder and club patron, the late Jack Pidik said a few years ago.
“The commitment then remained intact and made the club dominant when compared to other clubs that have disappeared due to management problems. Today people and softball clubs talk about Gazelle. They admire us for our style because we set some kind of standard that make them hate us in matches.
“We have survived because of good management, dedicated players and junior development. We will endeavour to remain the best club in the country because of our qualities,” said late Pidik.
First A grade team.
Gazelle was granted senior status straight away in first season (1979-80) by the Port Moresby Men’s Softball Association given the calibre of players who were recruited to start the new club.
It was no mistake when the team went on to win the premiership on its debut season. Gazelle’s first A grade team comprised of Jack Pidik (second base), Marika Tako and Robin Karigal (first base), George Madao (third base), Dominic Waluta (short stop), Rudolf Batia (left outfield), Peni Tonga (centre outfield), Oscar Burua (right outfield), Esau Tore (pitcher) and catcher John Milapapa.
The reserves include Outi Laho and Nicholas Walgoga.
Pidik who had mastered the games of baseball and softball quite well became the jack-of-trades for the newly formed Gazelle club as founder, coach, captain and president.
Tore and Laho who are from Gulf suddenly rose to fame in a game not too familiar to the Keremas as they were part of the club’s premiership side.
Gazelle’s past presidents were Stanis Bai, Aho Baliki, Kepas Watangia, late Sam Ulur and the late Panuel Uralia who was replaced by current interim president Mechtil Tonga.
The first patron of the club was Sir Henry ToRobert followed by Dale Kamara and then the late Jack Pidik. There’s no doubt that the club’s grand final victories over the years can be attributed to the leadership and direction of these people.
In recent years until today, Peni and late Mechtil Tonga have been the mainstay of the club’s existence.
25 grand final appearances
Gazelle has won 18 grand finals out of 25 in Port Moresby men’s softball, a record at club level in Port Moresby or the country.
This is the Gazelle record:
1979-80 – beat Malagan 11-4
1980-81 – beat Brown Eagles 11-5
1983-84 – beat Malagan 5-4
1984-85 – beat Elcom 5-3
1986-87 – beat Brown Eagles 6-2
1988-89 – beat Brown Eagles 3-2
1989-90 – beat Brown Eagles 13-0
1990-91 – beat Brown Eagles 4-1
1991-92 – beat Elcom 7-6
1992-93 – beat Brown Eagles 4-0
1994-95 – beat NGI 5-3
1995-96 – beat NGI 3-2
1996-97 – beat NGI 3-2
1997-98 – beat Bears 6-2
1999-2000 – beat Bears 8-1
2000-01 – beat brown Eagles 6-2
2001-02 – beat Brown Eagles 7-0
2002-03 – beat Karanas Kopex 12-3
Gazelle suffered seven grand final losses
The club’s talented players represented the country at international events. Jack Pidik and John Milapapa attended the 1980 World Series in Seattle (USA).
For the 1991 World Series in Manila, Philippines Peni Tonga, Francis Diap, Patrick Pilak, Wesley Peni, Tony Daple and Pedro Kinavai made the national team. Also in the 1991 Arafura Games, Peni, Pilak, Tonga and Peter Urari were selected and then were part of the gold medal winning team in the South Pacific Games that year in PNG along Francis Diap and Daple. Tonga was appointed the chief technical officer during the SP Games.
Then Pilak, Jerry Albert, Diap, Tonga, Daple and Urari represented PNG in the 1996 World Series in Michigan (USA), while in the 2001 SP Games in Guam Pilak, Urari, Albert, Daple and Paskalis Pinia represented in the gold winning team coached by Francis Diap.
In the 2015 South Pacific Games in Port Moresby five players from the club were selected to represent PNG; three men (Tony Karani, Melly Taragau and Gabriel Pamel Jnr) and two women (Jessica Tonga and Navasha Pilak).
These players keep representing Port Moresby and PNG to play in Brisbane and Canberra.
Sponsors have been an important part of Gazelle’s domination of the men’s competition in Port Moresby. At the club’s inception;
Talair PNG Airlines (A grade sponsor), Brian Bell (B grade sponsor) and Ansett Airways (C grade sponsor) were the founding sponsors.
For the 1979-80 season Talair, Brian Bell and Ansett sponsored the club.
Other sponsors in the club’s history were Negiso Club, SP Brewery, Boroko Motors Fairdeal Liquors and Lae Biscuit.
Moni Plus (Heduru Limited) a financial company in Port Moresby, is the current sponsor of the club coming on board in 2013. The club’s current uniform colours are those of Moni – red, white, grey and gold.
Sanamo Construction & Global Homes Ltd are the two minor sponsors for the cub.
Gazelle’s concern goes beyond the game of softball itself. The Port Moresby-based club have endeavoured to unite the people of the Gazelle Peninsula by initiating the annual Gazelle Tournament that brought together sister clubs from around the country.
The tournament ended abruptly by the twin volcanic eruptions of mounts Tavurvur and Vulcan in 1994. However,
Gazelle Softball Club of Port Moresby may revive this biannual event over the next few years. When that happens, it will be proof yet again of how good and organised a softball club Gazelle has been since its inception.