On the heels of last week’s announcement from the IOC regarding their recommendation to not include softball on the 2016 slate, the National Pro Fastpitch League suddenly becomes a more important focus for the fastpitch softball community. Fans, players, manufacturers, and media outlets are all asking the question “What will become of softball at the highest level?” and wondering if the National Pro Fastpitch League has the wherewithal to step into the void that will inevitably be left by no further Olympic competition.
“We are obviously all disappointed by the decision of the IOC to omit softball as a medal sport in Olympic competition. Knowing the enthusiasm that has been generated for this sport in the past 13 years on the coat-tails of Olympic softball, the disappointment is surely felt worldwide by athletes, fans, coaches, and organizations,” commented Cheri Kempf, NPF Commissioner and President.
Women’s fastpitch softball was first added as a full medal sport on the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, GA. Softball remained on the slate of summer sports through the next three Games set in Sydney Australia, Athens Greece, and Beijing China. The United States captured the Gold Medal in 1996, 2000 and 2004, but fell to Japan in 2008, taking silver instead of gold for the first time in history.
“We have seen the entire sport of fastpitch softball explode in this country especially once softball became an Olympic sport. There has been overwhelming support from colleges and Universities in not only adding the sport (for some) to their competition agendas, but also in the allocation of funding to support the programs, teams, and athletes. The Women’s College World Series is second in NCAA Championships only the Women’s Final Four in popularity,” stated Kempf. “That speaks volumes for our sport.”
Women’s Professional Fastpitch has existed in the United States on and off since the early 70’s. Professional competition has remained consistently for the last 12 years in some form and the NPF is currently on its 6th year of existence. The League currently has five teams that compete over a 40 game- 3 month regular season. The NPF Regular Season championship was just captured for the second year in a row by the Chicago Bandits. League play concludes in the coming week with the top 4 teams competing for the Championship Series Cowles Cup, which this year will be held in Akron Ohio at Firestone Stadium.
“I would like to see the support that was focused on the Olympic reinstatement be re-focused now that we know Olympic competition is no longer possible. There is absolutely no reason why women’s pro softball should not be an overwhelming success in the United States,” commented Kempf. “NPF proudly boasts the top athletes in the world. We have former Olympians that include Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman, and Crystl Bustos alongside NCAA superstars that include the likes of Angela Tincher, Megan Gibson and Caitlin Cochran. There’s no better fastpitch softball competition in the world than right here in the NPF.”
Former Gold and Silver Medalist, Crystl Bustos, retired from international competition following the 2008 Olympic Games to return to Akron Ohio to play for her former professional team. “Professional Fastpitch gave me my opportunity to be an Olympian. I was a pro before I was on the Olympic roster and it was important for me to return to Akron before retiring.” Bustos led the regular season in the top three offensive statistical categories of batting average, home runs, and RBI’s in 2009. “The competition in this League is much better than you will see with international teams and in international competition. The League has come a long way on that front,” said Bustos. “International play does not compete with what you are about to see in the NPF’s Championship Series.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and Silver Medalist in the most recent games, Cat Osterman, is a member of the Rockford Thunder. Osterman boasts a 11-1 record on the season helping to qualify her squad for the Series in Akron. “Obviously it's sad for our sport that we are no longer included in what's deemed the biggest sporting event internationally, but at the same time it gives us an opportunity to showcase other avenues to play post- college,” said Osterman. “The NPF allows all of the top athletes an opportunity to continue to compete at the highest level, so hopefully now we can turn the focus to our pro league in order to help the sport continue to rise.”
“The biggest sporting events in the nation are the NFL Super Bowl and the MLB World Series. There is absolutely no reason why professional fastpitch softball should not be the platform for the highest level of competition in our sport. I am confident that the NPF has the structure in place to accomplish this and I urge softball supporters to put their enthusiasm behind the efforts of the NPF and professional fastpitch.” said Kempf.
Wednesday, August 19th will serve as FanFest and open celebrations for the 2009 NPF Championship Series. Gates will open at 4:30 pm and will conclude upon completion of the Battle of the Bats competition. In addition to the Battle of the Bats finale, FanFest will serve as the NPF Award Ceremony.
Thursday, August 20th marks the opening of the Championship Series. Gates will open at 3:00 pm with “Playoff Game #1,” featuring the Chicago Bandits (#1seed) vs. USSSA Pride (#4 seed) taking place at 6:00 pm. Playoff Game #2” will showcase the host Akron Racers (#2 seed) vs. Rockford Thunder (#3 seed) and start at approximately 8:45 pm.
Competition resumes on Friday, August 21st with “Playoff game #3” pitting the #1 seed against the #4 seed at 6:00 pm. Gates at Firestone Stadium will open at 3:00 pm. “Playoff game #4” featuring #1 and #3 seeds will be played at approximately 8:45 pm. All games will be streamed live through a partnership with MLB.com with live stats available via Gametracker. Links for all games can be found on the Live Games page at www.profastpitch.com.
CONTACT: Cheri Kempf