Orlando: New Capital of Pro Softball

Tennessee Diamonds Move to Florida; Join USSSA Pride Near Disney World

By TSC Contributor KAYLA KNIGHT
 
KISSIMMEE  Following in the footsteps of the current National Pro Fastpitch champion USSSA Pride, the Tennessee Diamonds have pulled up stakes and moved to the sunbelt near Walt Disney World. That places two of the four current NPF teams squarely in the Orlando area. 
 
The other two remain in the Midwest: the Bandits in Rosemont, Illinois, and the Racers in Akron, Ohio. Once again, the East and West Coasts are not represented. 
 
The league left the Eastern US at the end of the 2009 season when the Washington Glory moved to Orlando to become the Pride. Strong fan support and a surplus of former Olympians on its roster helped propel the Pride to the NPF crown last year. 
 
The Diamonds hope to ride on the Pride’s coattails. 
 
The Florida business model makes sense. Fans visiting the ever-expanding number of theme parks and sports attractions in the area might also want to check out a pro softball game. And the favorable climate makes for a long outdoor sports season. 
 
The Diamonds still have a formidable challenge ahead of them. The nomadic team has made almost a complete circle around the US in the past five years trying to find a permanent home. 
 
In 2007 the Texas Thunder left its home in Houston, Texas for Rockford, Illinois, becoming the Rockford Thunder. The hope was it could build up a cross-state rivalry with the Chicago Bandits who were located only 90 miles away. 
 
The rivalry flourished with some outstanding games in its first season—including three classic matchups between superstar pitchers Jennie Finch (Bandits) and Cat Osterman (Thunder)—but the team did not, at least in terms of the bottom line. 
 
The destruction of its stadium by a freak flood in 2008 put the handwriting on the wall, although the franchise tried to resuscitate itself by building a new facility in Roscoe, Illinois for the 2009 season. 
 
In 2010 the team headed south to Knoxville,Tennessee for a fresh start, trading Cat Osterman for local hero Monica Abbott and changing its name to the Diamonds. But shortly before the start of the season funding fell through, and the team scrambled to relocate to Nashville in an attempt to salvage the season. 
 
That didn’t happen. The team finished with a dismal 16-33 record, worst in the league. 
 
With its new name, the NPF Diamonds, the team takes solace in the fact it won’t have to change its name should it move to yet another city in 2012. 
 
With two teams now within shouting distance of each other in the family fun capital of the world, the NPF has renewed hope of creating a sustainable pro fastpitch league formula in America. 
 
Walt Disney would be proud. Read more.

 

Has Pro Softball Found the Magic Formula?

Chicago Bandits Have a New Stadium & New Business Model

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN
 
ROSEMONT  This year, the Chicago Bandits will be bring a new type of game to their brand new $6 million dollar state-of-the-art stadium in Rosemont: youth softball tournaments. The "pro team plus youth tournaments" model was originally created by the NPF's most venerable franchise, the Akron Racers. 
 
The Racers have an elite stadium (built in 1925 by Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company) and the bulk of their business comes from hosting these youth tournaments. Part of the youth tournament package is a few free tickets to the game. Because of the huge crowds drawn to these tournaments, the Racers always play in front of a packed crowd. 
 
The Akron games are usually an end cap to the tournaments, and they are successful because the players and their families are already in-house and are in a mood for watching softball together after a long tournament. The Racers then use the money from the tournament fees and concession stands to finance the pro team. 


Now that the Bandits have a stadium of their own, rather than one they share with a local college, they can copy the Akron model and hopefully they will be just as successful as Akron. 
 
The Bandits are calling their inaugural youth softball event the "Rumble in Rosemont." The first annual Rumble will take place this summer. So far there are two tournaments planned; one in June and one in July. Each tournament will have a 12U, 14U, 16U, and 18U division. All teams are guaranteed five games and are guaranteed to play at the new stadium at least once (games will be played both at the Bandits stadium and at a nearby high school). 
 
The games are run like a Bandits home game, with all the surrounding pomp and circumstance; the starting lineups will be announced via overhead speakers, music will be played while batters walk up to the plate, and Bandits staff will write up a synopsis of the games and post it on the Bandits website. 
 
The games will also be streamed live over the internet and there will be DVDs of each game available for purchase. The players also have access to all the amenities of a pro stadium including world-class locker rooms, batting cages, bullpens, and dugouts. Lastly, each participating team will receive 12 free tickets to a Bandits game. (What a surprise, each team gets just enough tickets to give all the girls on the team free entrance and their families all have to pay!) 


Even with all the above included, the team entry fee is only $550 per team. This price sounds pretty reasonable to me. For the average 12-player roster, that is only $46 per player. That price is well worth the experience of feeling like a pro player for a weekend. 
 
Plenty of travel teams have already jumped on the opportunity and pre-registered. The 12U and 14U tournaments for both June and July are both booked solid and only waitlist spots are available. The 16U tournaments for both June and July have just been expanded and still there are only a few spots open. There are teams booked from all over the Midwest including Illinois (duh), Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and others. 
 
Great idea Bandits! I know this is going to be a success. If the Bandits can make it work like the Racers, this could provide the blueprint for other NPF teams and could eventually be the cornerstone of every NPF team in the future. Brilliant! Read more.

 

Pro Softball's Latest Game Plan: Fall Ball

A Team of NPF All-Stars Embarks on a National Autumn Tour

By TSC Contributor KAYLA KNIGHT
 
LOMBARD  Although softball continues to gain in popularity worldwide, getting fans into the seats to support professional softball in the United States has been an ongoing challenge. 
 
America’s premier pro organization, the National Pro Fastpitch league, has tried every trick in the book over the past few years to achieve its goal of economic viability. Two of its most recent ideas—pitting woman against male minor league baseball players and taking the show on the road to such softball-friendly bergs as Round Rock, Texas—have been solid hits, breaking attendance records. 
 
But with the league now down to only four teams, the NPF needs a home run. And it is hoping to have just that in its newest initiative, a national fall tour. 
 
Until now the NPF season has taken place in late spring and summer only, with each team’s opening day slated for early June and the playoffs taking place in late August. But with fall travel leagues gaining in popularity, the time seemed right to expand into the autumn months. 
 
Since not all of its players could be available for such an extended season, the league opted for a formula used by the US National Team prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics: travel around the country with a team of all-stars challenging local talent, in this case college teams from warm-weather locales. 
 
To assemble its all-star team, the NPF pulled 12 players from its two best franchises: 8 from this year’s champion USSSA Florida Pride, and 4 from this year’s runner-up, the Chicago Bandits. Headlining the group is former Olympic standout and TSC’s 2009 Pitcher of the Year, Cat Osterman
 
Similar to Team USA’s Bound 4 Beijing Tour, the first game earlier this month against the University of Memphis produced a 20-0 blowout for the all-stars. Nonetheless, the thrill of seeing its own hometown talent going against elite athletes is usually more than enough to lure large local crowds to the ball park. 
 
Next month, the NPF team will take on perennial powerhouse Arizona University in Arizona in a game that has all the markings of a classic. 
 
If the NPF’s fall tour proves successful, it could provide a lifeline for the league should its newest franchise, the Tennessee Diamonds, be unable to continue financially into 2011. The team finished in the league cellar this year and has undergone two changes in ownership since 2009 (see Heroic Effort to Save NPF’s Newest Franchise). 
 
Loss of the Diamonds would leave only three teams for the 2011 regular season, making continuation under the league’s current competitive format difficult. Read more.

 

Olympians Finally Commit to Pro League

Elite Players Support NPF over US National Team

By TSC Contributor KAYLA KNIGHT
 
LOMBARD  Anyone who has followed the National Pro Fastpitch league over the past few years knows the drill: fans excitedly greet each new season in early June only to see the best players head for the exits in July in favor of the US National Team.

That made for plenty of disappointed first-time fans who attended a summer pro game only to find beloved superstars like Jennie Finch weren’t on the field.

Well no more.

With softball out of the Olympics for the foreseeable future and the NPF struggling financially, former members of the 2008 Olympic team announced they will compete exclusively for the NPF over Team USA.

That wouldn’t mean much by itself, because many of these players have reached or are reaching the end of their competitive careers.
 
But younger members of the current US National Team have reached the same conclusion.

This monumental collective endorsement of the NPF gives a critical shot in the arm to professional women’s softball, which was desperate need of one. The league will now have a chance—finally—to truly showcase the sport’s best talent. Read more.

 

Osterman & Pride Win 2010 Pro Title!

Cat Osterman & USSSA Florida Pride Win 2010 NPF Title; Jennie Finch Ends Pitching Career With a Win

By TSC Contributor KAYLA KNIGHT
 
SULFUR  The two top names in the sport of softball today lived up to every bit of their superstar billing, giving plenty of thrills to the thousands of fans who attended the four-day 2010 National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series in Sulfur, Louisiana. 


In the end it was Cat Osterman guiding her USSSA Orlando ballclub over Jennie Finch and the Chicago Bandits for this year's NPF title. The "Cat Woman" pulled out every trick in the book, overcoming what was thought to be a season-ending injury to win the deciding game of the best-of-three final series. 


Osterman had tantalized the crowd by pitching the last three innings of game one last night, staving off a late Bandit rally to save the game in relief for the Pride. But nobody dreamed her injured throwing arm was up to starting in the circlelet alone pitching a complete gamein the deciding matchup. 


Jennie Finch, playing in the last tournament of her career, put forth a heroic effort do to capture the championship for her Bandits. Down by a game, the legendary pitcher got the nod to start game two in the circle, and she responded by shutting down the Pride in a brilliant complete game performance. 


But in the end there was just not enough of Jennie to go around. 


Softball's only true national softball celebrity was relegated to designated hitter status in game three, and the Pride took advantage by unleashing its arsenal of Olympic hitters. And with Osterman keeping the powerful Bandit bats at bay, the tone was quickly set for a lopsided Pride victory. 


Cat Osterman becomes the first pitcher to win back-to-back NPF crowns. In a way, the 2010 Championsip Series had become a passing of the baton from Jennie to Cat as softball's marquee player. She will have big shoes to fill. Read more.

 
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