By Alison Strange, President, PFX Athletics
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT DRIVES PFX ATHLETICS, IT’S HELPFUL TO UNDERSTAND WHO WE ARE AND WHERE WE CAME FROM.
This is not a new theory: scientist Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos, is credited for the quote “you have to know the past to understand the present.” To understand our past, it would help you to read “Our Story” here. “Our Story” tells of a young Dottie Richardson who was inspired to live her dream and, after thirty years, was able to achieve that dream. Dr. Dot is our founder and continues to serve on our Board; it was also her vision to see a viable women’s level in our sport reincarnated from the ashes of a much-forgotten era of women’s majors fastpitch.
When I was asked to take on the role of President of PFX Athletics, I asked Dot what she was looking for from me. PFX Athletics is charged with managing Legends Way Ballfields at the National Training Center and also hosts THE Spring Games, but I felt there had to be more to justify a change in my previous circumstances and truly wanted to understand not only what our contractual commitments were, but what transformative goals would be asked of me. Her response was perfect: do something great with women’s fastpitch – bring it back to life!
I loved that.
As a former collegiate softball player (and an Orlando Rebel for one season), I was raised following the greats who played on teams like the Orlando Rebels, Raybestos Brakettes, California Commotion, Budweiser Belles, Sun City Saints, Redding Rebels, California Knights, Lansing Laurels, and others. When I was ten years old, I had the opportunity to take a road trip with my grandparents to the ASA National Championship and watch the Raybestos Brakettes compete against the California Knights. It was there, for the first time, that I saw the 6′ tall legendary Kathy Arendsen catch a line drive shot in the air four feet over her head, spin while still airborne, and throw out the lead runner at second base for a double play. Bang-bang! Inning over. It was awesome!
I saw the “30s Olympics” in 1996 when the USA National Team, a team who had essentially played together for decades and entered the competition with a 119-1 record, compete against the World for the first-ever Olympic gold medal. I get chills just thinking about it. As an older (still young) athlete, I had the opportunity to be a part of an organization that brought Kelly Kretschman to the World stage; watching her progress beyond college to the USA National Team and now the NPF as a pro is truly a remarkable experience and a rarity in today’s game.
These players – these women – taught me about working hard, following your dream, and being the best you can be. It is important to emphasize that it was women who had this impact on me. After playing the sport for more than two decades, these women were not only incredible athletes, but they brought a maturity to the game and to their fans that is simply unattainable for a young college player.
Don’t get me wrong – the college game is awesome and so fun to watch and I am thrilled for all the opportunities that exist for college athletes today (I took full advantage of those opportunities, after all). But retirement at 22 is not how our sport developed. The women who blazed the way for our collegiate athletes today were not girls; they were teachers and engineers; doctors and PhDs; mechanics and professors. They were real-life grown up women who had been through college (if the opportunities existed for them), married or partnered, had jobs, raised children, lost parents and loved ones, made mistakes, been in accidents, and missed opportunities and fought back from those losses. You know . . . they had lived. And they brought that life to the game. And the game was better for it.
Because these women shared their experiences with our youth. These 30-somethings had daughters and sons, nieces and nephews. They weren’t fighting for a scholarship, they were fighting for a National Championship (every one of them, every day) or they were fighting for their country. They shared their experiences, their stories, and their techniques with the younger generation and helped it get better. They set positive examples for young girls. They paved the way for the next generation. And heck, they were just plain fun to watch!
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the NPF pros and she shared with me that “the college game was getting soft.” When I asked her what she meant, she clarified that the colleges they sometimes scrimmage against don’t have pitchers like Cat Osterman or Monica Abbott. Well, of course they don’t! These ladies, once dominant college players, have been out of the college game for almost ten years – ten years they have used to grow in maturity physically and as a student of the game. Where these athletes once threw 70, now they are throwing 75-77 mph! And it’s more than just pitchers; the hitters and fielders progress to this same extraordinary elite level as well.
This sort of physical development can only occur with time. There is no substitute for time; you cannot make it pass faster and you cannot get it back once it is gone. We see an element, just a taste, of what women are capable of at the pro level today and if you haven’t seen a game, I encourage you to buy season passes and watch them all (you will be addicted after the first game anyway so go ahead and buy the season passes and your plane ticket to the final series).
But for those athletes who want to continue playing after college, they are hit with the stark realization that there are only six teams in the NPF and, let’s face it, we are not all going to be pros. But that does not mean that the other 2,500 college seniors who graduate each year should have to hang up their spikes. We do not play this game for twelve (plus) years just to quit in the middle of our prime. There are numerous articles on social media and online about graduating seniors lamenting at the overwhelming loss they feel when college sports are over; when softball is over. This loss results not from the fact that it the career is ended, but from the feeling that something we once held dear has been taken from us. Prematurely and against our consent.
The point of this blog and what inspires me to come to the office every day: it does not have to be over. It is not over. There are options. There are opportunities. There are resources. There are teams. There are teammates. There are coaches. There are tournaments. They are out there. You just have to find them.
This is my job and what drives us at PFX Athletics: to help you find these jewels. To identify the options and opportunities. To provide and search for resources. To help teams and teammates connect. To find coaches and tournaments. Because they are out there and I am beyond thrilled to be a part of rebuilding this incredible game for women to showcase their skills and talents. Not for a scholarship . . . but for the love of the game.