Daniel Chapman - the Black Sox's latest great pitching hope - seems to be nearing peak fitness as his first world men's softball championships loom.
New Zealand has had a storied pitching legacy, dating back to Bill Massey and Kevin Herlihy in the 1960s, through to Steve Jackson, Mike White, Chubb Tangaroa, Marty Grant and Jeremy Manley.
Many softball insiders see Chapman as the next longterm torch bearer, while mindful he is just beginning his international career.
The 22-year-old joins senior man Nik Hayes and Josh Pettett - both 2017 world title winners - on the Black Sox pitching staff for the 16th world championships, which start in Prague on Friday (NZ time).
Chapman set radar guns zinging when his pitches were clocked at 130kmh-plus at the Challenge Cup international tournament in Auckland last February.
Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson said at the time it had been a long while since a New Zealander had consistently thrown at that velocity.
But Chapman's domestic season stalled when he suffered an elbow injury.
The Aucklander told Stuff before a pre-world series tournament in Holland last weekend that he still had "a few niggles" and was "not 100 per cent", but his performances in Zeist showed he is on the right track.
He racked up 13 strikeouts in a 2-1 defeat to tournament winners Japan and bagged 16 in a high-scoring win over Denmark.
His encouraging displays are just reward for hard rehab work put in since he "pulled a few muscles" in his elbow after "pushing it too hard" at the National Fastpitch Championships in Christchurch in mid-February.
The injury restricted him to just five innings at the national interclub tournament in March, but by then his place in the world series squad was assured.
"I''ve been seeing the physio regularly to get it 100 per cent right by the time of the world champs," he said.
This will be Chapman's first world championships and he said it would be a "way more intense" than the junior world tournament in Michigan where he pitched New Zealand to the silver medal in 2016. The Kiwi enjoyed an absorbing pitching duel in Midland with gold medal winner Reo Koyama, who will lead Japan's title for their first senior men's world title in Prague.
Chapman began playing as a four-year-old, encouraged by his father, who played senior softball at the Auckland Metro and Onehunga-Mangere clubs.
"As soon as I found out about the Black Sox, it was always a dream to play for them one day," Chapman said.
That desire grew stronger after watching the Black Sox win the 2013 world championships in Auckland with Jeremy Manley and Hayes among the back-up staff.
After starting out at Howick, Chapman joined Auckland Marist, where he made his premier debut at 16, under former Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase.
His career has taken off after moving to national champions Ramblers two seasons ago, where his coach is his Black Sox captain Nathan Nukunuku, who is set to play in a record seventh world series.
"It's been an awesome experience playing for Ramblers, it's definitely helped me out through playing in the bigger games. We've made a lot of [tournament] finals, and you get seen a bit more."
Chapman made his Black Sox debut at the 2018 Intercontinental Cup tournament in Prague and excelled on the mound in the 2019 Challenge Cup final in Auckland, despite Japan winning the final, 3-1.
"There were plenty of opportunities for us to win that game before [Hikaru] Matsuda hit that two-run [home run] shot," said Chapman, who felt he learned a lot from the experience.
His pitches were clocked at 130kmh at the Auckland tournament, but Wana "had me on the radar gun [on the recent North American tour] and I was consistently around 127 to 128k.
"I'd like to build a bit more velocity and try and work up to throwing in the mid-130s."
AT A GLANCE
The 16th men's world softball championships will be held in Prague from June 13 to 23.
The NZ Black Sox start their title defence against the Czech Republic at 5.30am Friday (NZ time).