by Reed Saunders
As we approach the stretch run of our little summer tour across the lower 48, our temperature gage has been steadily increasing.
From the calmer climates of Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Denver, we ventured into the muggy streets of Atlanta. The softball action was good, but the weather was like stepping into a Jheri-Curl or at least, what I imagine stepping into a Jheri-Curl to be.
Hot and wet make Reed a dull boy. Hot and wet weather is no good. As Robin Williams said in Good Morning Vietnam, Thats good if youre with a lady, but not so good when youre in the jungle!
That being said, I felt the dry heat of Phoenix and Tucson would be a welcome change from the rainforests of Atlanta.
What the desert lacks in humidity, it makes up for in good old fashioned staggering heat. As the fates would have it, our two NPF clinics in Phoenix at ASUs Farrington Stadium just happened to fall on the hottest days of the year. 116 degrees. Thats record-breaking heat. In PHOENIX. (OK ladies, finish up bunting, then its time for our next station, Heat Asphyxiation!)
But the mercury wasnt the only thing rising once we hit the ocean-less beaches of Arizona.
The interest and intensity for our league, our clinics, our appearances and our games reached record levels as well.
Over 50 participants showed up for our Phoenix clinics in that same 116-degree heat braving heat exhaustion and plain ol comfort for the betterment of their softball skills. Some might call it stupidity. I call it courage.
One thing you must know about Arizona: People here LOVE their softball. Much like Annie Savoys devotion to the game of baseball in Bull Durham, the passion for softball in this region reaches religious-like levels.
Teams of 14- and 16-and-under girls make the trails to tournaments far and wide like a pilgrimage of competition.
Fans head to the ballpark en masse, making their procession to their mecca of sporting entertainment.
It is a devotion. Sometimes crazy, but always cool.
671 people filed through the gates at Farrington Stadium for the NPF All Stars duel with the Arizona Majestic All-Stars more than what the Sun Devils usually draw in the springtime.
Even my usually mild mid-inning promotions took on an added flare in the desert night, as former ASU star Kara Brun was proposed to on the field in the seventh inning by longtime boyfriend Jason Garcia (She said yes).
A whopping 1,047 devotees found a seat at Hillenbrand stadium on the U of A campus in Tucson Friday night for an intense battle of former Wildcat stars.
The program said exhibition, but you better believe most everyone involved was treating this like a playoff game. The crowd in Tucson went wild for introductions and great defensive plays. NPF shortstop Allison Andrade, a former Wildcat, threw her arms in disgust when called out on a close play late in the game. This PR man even got scolded for accidentally blocking the view of the playing field. For five seconds. In the first inning.
Youd have thought I was trying to steal their Benz.
Like I said, they love their softball down here.
As Glenn Freys oddly appropriate The Heat is On blared on the sound system, it became so very clear to me that the game of softball, while only a game, can mean so much more to so many more people.
Its enough to bring young girls out to the ball field in 116-degree heat to get a couple tips from the pros.
Enough to make an underpaid athlete grind for a victory in an exhibition game where there really is no win-loss column.
Even enough to make even the most densely damp Jheri-Curl feel cool and dry.
OK, two out of three.
Reed Saunders is a 2003 graduate of Colorado State University. Hell be working public relations on the 2003 NPF All-Star tour this summer. Follow along with his travels with his weekly column on profastpitch.com.