National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the nation’s only women’s professional fastpitch softball league, launches its inaugural season today with three season openers in Upper Montclair, NJ, Stockton, CA and Houston, TX.
The six team league gives over 90 women the opportunity to play fastpitch at the professional level. With thousands of athletes playing fastpitch at the collegiate level, this is the first opportunity for them to play professionally since 2000 when the league operated under the name Women’s Professional Fastpitch League.
National Pro Fastpitch will kick off play with each team playing in a three game opening series: the Texas Thunder will host the Akron Racers, the California Sunbirds will host the Arizona Heat, and the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut will host the New England Riptide. The 60 game season runs from June 1 through August 18, with playoffs and the championship series running through the end of August.
Fans can watch some of the nation’s best fastpitch talent square off, as the league features top collegiate stars and past Olympic champions. Both The Akron Racers and NY/NJ Juggernaut claim former U.S. Olympic gold medal pitchers. Juggernaut Michele Smith is a two-time Olympic gold medal pitcher, playing in both the 1996 and 2000 Games, and is a five-time Japan Pro League MVP. Racer Danielle Henderson was a member of the 2000 gold medal winning Olympic team and is 5th on the NCAA’s All-Time Strikeout list. And the New England Riptide features Jocelyn Forest on the mound who led Cal Berkley to the NCAA National Championships in 2002.
One of the highlights of the 2004 season will be July 13, when the NPF All-Stars will play Team USA in Oklahoma City. Team USA will then head to Athens, Greece to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games. Oklahoma City will also host the NPF All-Star game on July 14, in which the league’s best players face off in an East vs. West competition.
National Pro Fastpitch launches its 2004 season following the success of the 2003 NPF All-Star Tour. The league is now in its second year as the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball in the category of women’s fastpitch softball.
Events hosted by 12 Major League Clubs last summer gave thousands of fans the chance to see women’s fastpitch in action through NPF exhibition games, youth clinics, and in-game promotions.
“With the help of Major League Baseball and the growing popularity of fastpitch as a high school, college and Olympic sport worldwide, we’ve reached our goal of launching league play with six teams for the 2004 season,” said Richard Levine, President and CEO of National Pro Fastpitch. “The response from the NPF All-Star Tour last summer was overwhelming, with more than 25 clinics reaching nearly 1,000 girls, and 2004 should continue this strong momentum with six teams in strong markets”
Softball is enjoying an unparalleled period of growth. The success of the U.S. Olympic women’s fastpitch team, coupled with the demand for more female sports opportunities, resulted in a 62% increase in the number of female fastpitch players at the high school varsity level from 1990-91 to 2001-02, according to SGMA’s 2003 U.S. Trends Team Sports Report. That ranks fastpitch softball the second fastest growing girl’s high school team sport after soccer. Growth of NCAA fastpitch teams during the same period grew 59%, making it the fourth most popular sport for women in NCAA colleges.
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) is headquartered in Denver, Colo. The league was created to give elite women fastpitch players the opportunity to pursue a professional career in their chosen sport.