Akron Racers Photo Courtesy National Pro Fastpitch
AKRON, OH (July 17, 2016) -- In 1999, Akron Racers General Manager Joey Arrietta assembled a group to compete in the then Women’s Professional Softball League (WPSL) and embarked on a journey with no clear outlook on what the future might hold. Saturday night, the Racers celebrated their 15th Season of Play.
Fifteen seasons later, the Akron Racers are the sole National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) team that has withstood the test of time since 1999. As Burn the Ships, a soon to be released documentary, captures, it hasn’t always been an easy road for the Racers and the NPF, but it was a journey that certainly touched the lives of many throughout its history.
“All 15 teams, there’s close to 170 players that have played for the Racers and each and every one of them is significant in some way, shape or form to putting professional softball on the sports landscape,” Arrietta said. “The thing that I think is the most important is the durability of this organization, year after year, we have found a way to stay here.
Gates opened an hour early at Firestone Stadium as fans were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and talk with Racers of the past and present. Fans of all ages flocked to the left field picnic area for photos, autographs and conversation with some of the all-time greats in the franchise’s history.
Ultimately, the Akron fans are the reason that the organization has stood the test of time. Every summer they have come out and shown their support for the Racers and have developed a connection with this team that can’t be matched in other professional sports.
“The team has really embraced me and I’ve embraced them and I’ve built strong friendships with quite a few of them,” season ticket holder Anthony Hartwig said. “I attribute that to just their acknowledgement of how important they know fans are to the game and if they didn’t take that first step to know that, then I wouldn’t have built as strong of friendships as I have with some of them. They make sure that they come and see me after each game... Some of my best friends are on this team.”
Hartwig has shown an unwavering support of the Racers over the past four seasons, sitting right next to the Racers dugout for each home game. He and the thousands of other fans who have supported the Racers through the ups and downs have allowed the players to continue playing the game they love on the highest level.
For some of those Racers players, it’s been awhile since they have stepped onto the field at Firestone, but one thing that was evident was that the family atmosphere has never left their minds or their hearts and for that, they look back at their time in Akron quite fondly.
“When I think of the memories, the first thing that comes to mind is the people.” former Racer Lisa Modglin said. “There are people from all different walks of life and we are still friends. We still keep in touch and we went through an experience together that not many people get to go through.”
Before the current Racers took the field to take on the Dallas Charge, the 30 IMPACT honorees, for which Modglin was one, were recognized for each of their contributions over the years. The list was composed of some of the best to ever play the game like Crystl Bustos and Carla Brookbank, including a quartet of current Racers — Taylor Schlopy, Kelley Montalvo, Ashley Thomas and Rachele Fico.
It was IMPACT honorees, Amy Kyler and fellow pitcher Brookbank who took to the circle, as they threw out the night’s ceremonial pitches and took a trip back to their playing careers at Firestone Stadium.
“It was amazing just to be out there with everybody again and feeling that adrenaline again even though I wasn’t playing,” Brookbank said. “Listening to the national anthem and just being in the presence of the stadium, the fans, family, players, it’s just amazing.”
Arrietta ensured that each of the honorees could keep a piece of the team’s history by handing them each a handful of dirt straight from the Firestone Stadium infield, accompanied with a poem that encapsulates the 15 seasons of Racers softball.
“On this dirt you’ve literally left it all – blood, sweat and tears. You’ve made friendships that will always be a part of you. You’ve fought side-by-side with girls who can relate to how bad you want to win,” the inscription read. “This dirt holds your laughter as tightly as it holds your frustration. Life goes on off this dirt, but nothing can compare to the feeling you get while standing on it.
“Each time you look at this jar of dirt, know in your heart what it stands for and remember these years and all of the wonderful memories it holds.”
And then it was Brookbank and Montalvo expressing their love for the woman, Arrietta, who took a chance on them and believed in them.
“The atmosphere was great and we really wanted it for Joey, because she’s the foundation of the Racers” Montalvo said. “Yeah it was emotional and we all were just in it and this team is special, and we wanted to show that we are playing every game for her and what she has done for us. She gave us a chance and I meant that. She gave us a chance to keep playing and we are so thankful for it.”
The Racers and the NPF hope to keep giving young women that chance and that dream to play professional softball. A trailer for the upcoming documentary on the team and the league was shown for the first time to the public postgame.
The trailer left all of those in attendance with a mindset of continuing to grow the sport as the years go on. And that is what much of the Racers family celebrated as they once again gathered in the picnic area following the game.
“We are so thankful,” Schlopy said. “Without the staff, the coaches, our owners and the fans, it would be nothing. That’s what keeps us here, because we are a family and we want to play for all of you guys. It’s not about us, we are lucky to be here.... Hopefully we are going to leave a tradition and a legacy to pass onto the future. That is really what it’s about, is building the Racers organization and softball as a whole, so we can continue to grow it as a sport.”
About the Akron Racers:
The Akron Racers, headquartered in Akron, OH, are the oldest existing team in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league, celebrating their 15th Season of Play in 2016. The Racers competed in the Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL) for two seasons in 1999 and 2000 and in the NPF since 2004. Historic Firestone Stadium is home to the Racers and numerous amateur events at all levels of play.
About National Pro Fastpitch (NPF):
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2002, provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in diamond sports beyond their collegiate success. The 2016 NPF season will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Coverage includes the NPF College Draft presented by Bownet on Thur., April 14, followed by 23 regular-season games, a Championship Series Preview Special and the 2016 NPF Championship Series. The NPF recently announced that the Scrap Yard Dawgs, located in The Woodlands, Texas, will join the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Dallas Charge, Pennsylvania Rebellion and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2016 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand, representing the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball.
Note to Media
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