Friday, November 21, 2014

White, Enquist to be Among Eight HOF Inductees in 2015

Following last week's induction of the seven-member class of 2014 into the National Softball Hall of Fame, the eight-member induction class of 2015 was announced.

A couple of the names will be very familiar to even just casual softball fans. Oregon head man Mike White and legendary former UCLA skipper Sue Enquist headline next year's inductees.

Though he has established himself over the last few years as one of the best in the biz as a coach, White will be inducted as a player, where he first came to prominence.

Enauist, she of 887 career victories and the highest winning percentage among any coach with at least 800 wins, is the winningest coach in Bruins history and was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2006; the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 2008; and the UCLA Hall of Fame in 1993.

The full class of 2015 inductees includes umpires Mark Ingrao and Bonnie Anderson; slow pitch player John Davide; fast pitch players White & Steve Padilla; commissioner Andy Dooley; as well as Enquist and Charles Moss, who will be inducted under the meritorious service heading. Anderson's induction is a posthumous one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Where Are They Now: Kristi Marquez

Who is she? Kristi Marquez, the former starting third baseman for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. 

What is she known for? Kristi started at 3rd for all four of her seasons at MTSU. Despite starting and playing in 169 games over four years, Kristi's first career home run didn't come until a few weeks into her senior season. She also played for the Puerto Rican national team.
Photo cred: Natalie Ysais
Here's something interesting... Kristi's career in athletics began in Little League Baseball, not softball. She played five years in Little League before beginning her softball career in middle school. She skipped a year of ball as she entered high school, but impressed over her final three years and earned a collegiate scholarship.

What's she up to now? Kristi is a personal trainer, certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. She owns her own personal training business and offers training that is individualized & designed specifically to meet client goals. Kristi helped coach at her alma mater after her career ended and before her graduation. She also worked in the strength and conditioning department during that time.

Quotable quotes: "I want to use personal training as a vehicle to show people how improving their health and fitness can impact their lives in a very positive way. I want to share with others the impact of my own personal experience, and transfer some of my passion into their own lives... my ultimate goal as a trainer is to help others build confidence and momentum."

Contact information: .Kristi's website is still in the works, but you can find her on all of the major social networks, including Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; LinkedIn; and Pinterest

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Whatever happened to the Dutch?

In February of 2013, the NPF made an exciting announcement - a long-awaited fifth team would join the league and begin competition immediately, but with a twist.

The uniqueness of the announcement came in the form of the fifth team being none other than the Dutch National Team. The Netherlanders would play a mostly-full schedule, even arranging around major international competitions, against the other four teams in the NPF and would, for all intents and purposes, be considered a part of the league. 

Whether it was a long-term bargain or simply a one-year pact, a legitimate query, was inconsequential for many fans - the league was finally growing and adding!

In the months between the early-spring announcement and the mid-summer start of the season, however, all of those plans disappeared and when the season rolled around, it was the same ole, same ole. No Dutch, no fifth team at all, and, most importantly, no mention of what had occurred or why the excitement of months earlier was all for naught.

The roster had been set, so getting agreements to play wasn't the issue. Neither was the NCAA's rules on amateurism - the two Dutch players with eligibility remaining were to sit out all games against NPF opponents.

In search of clarity and, as Regis Philbin might say, the final answer, I asked one person that I knew could fill in the blank: league commissioner Cheri Kempf.

As always, the commissioner was glad to respond to my queries and clarified why the plan to include the Dutch never came to pass. "The fact that the Dutch team was
considering coming into the league was a plan that never really came to fruition," she told me. "The reason for that was that there was no owner willing to come into the league and take on a new team at that time... it was financing. The reason we thought we were close was because a potential owner did exist and went down to the wire in making the decision."

This explanation makes sense, even more so when noting this paragraphical statement on an article covering the NPF's original announcement: 
                     "Accommodation and transport in the US during NPF will be covered by an American 
                     “owner” of the Dutch team. Otherwise expenses are covered by the players, which 
                     voted unanimously to start into this adventure."

I've been an unbiased critic of the NPF in the past, praising and critiquing when one or the other felt deserved. In this case, I believe a bit of both is warranted. 

On the praising hand, the league showed proactiveness and outside-the-box thinking in the Dutch even considering coming over to be part of the league. And while Kempf noted that no plans are in place for an international team to become part of the league in the near future, she said that "the NPF is always open to that". This is good.

On the other hand, a bit of constructive criticism is also due. Why make the announcement without a signed, sealed, and delivered contract in-hand from both parties? It's understandable that the league, like many fans, got caught up in the excitement of growth in the long-stagnant four-team league, but that is still no excuse for premature press releases. The lack of an announcement as to why the inclusion of the Dutch disappeared as quickly as it had appeared only served to exacerbate the problem.

If the league continues to be of a proactive mindset in the same way they showed to be here, it could be good for a league that is still trying to maintain four solid teams, and barely even able to consider expansion beyond that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pepper Gay Steps Into Justin's World

Yesterday, we caught up with Pepper Gay to find out what she's been up to in the year and a half since her playing career ended. Today, we're going to take you more in-depth with her, as she shares and answers questions about a variety of topic all surrounding her career.

Allowing the Where Are They Now article to serve as an introduction, we're going to get right to my conversation with Pepper where she talks about several different things, including

- What factors led to her becoming an Illini
- The accolade she's most proud of
- Her sister, also a former D1 player
- Three things she'd take to a deserted island (of course)
- and MORE

How did you get your start playing softball?
I was put on a tee-ball team when I was five. My parents always joked that they did not think I had a future in the sport because I would always lie down in the outfield and pick the dandelions while the game was going on!

Why Illinois? What were the biggest “culture shocks” and adjustments you had to make moving from Georgia to chilly Illinois?
I chose Illinois because I loved the campus, the tradition of the University, and also the coaches.  When I visited for the first time, I felt very welcomed and knew that this was what I was looking for in a college.  I could play in a top conference, and also receive a great education.  The weather was an adjustment and my academic counselor at the time always laughs recalling me showing up in winter boots and a coat in the beginning of October. 

The Illini website calls you one the school’s “greatest pitchers of all time”. With a moniker like that attached to your name, how do you hope your legacy is remembered, both at your alma mater and in the game of softball as a whole?
It really is such an honor to be recognized.  I want to be remembered as a hard worker and a competitor who always liked to face a challenge.

If you could go back in time and relive or redo a single moment from your career, what would it be?
If I could relive a single moment from my career, it would be the game where I broke the school’s all-time strikeout record.  I was not aware of it at the time and it is one of my proudest accomplishments.

With a number of accolades and school records under your name, is there a single award or record that you are most proud of for a particular reason?
The award that I am most proud of is the Illini Female Newcomer of the Year.  The University names a freshman female athlete to be the recipient of this award.  The transition to college ball is challenging because the level of competition is so high. It is very rewarding that my play was acknowledged out of all the freshmen athletes at the University.

Finish this sentence: If not for softball, I would have loved to have traveled to another country and studied abroad in college!

Was softball always your only sport, or did you play others while growing up?
I competed in triathlons until I was 13.  I really enjoyed them because, even though you might be competing against other people, it really is a competition within yourself.  During the long bike rides and runs, it becomes a mental game to keep going even if your body is tired and wants to quit. I also swam competitively until I went to high school.  I needed to focus on one sport and I did not have time to train for both swimming and softball.

Your sister also played collegiate softball, for Elon University. Did having a role model like that to look up to help you as you began and continued your own career?
Softball in Georgia was becoming more popular when my sister was in high school.  She did not play on a travel team until then, whereas I was playing travel ball at the age of ten.  I remember watching her practice every day and going to her games when I was younger, and I saw how much time and dedication she gave to the sport to get to the college level. 

Say you were stranded on a deserted island, and could take three things with you. No boats, no phones. What would you take?
I would bring a picture of my family, since family is the most important to me.  I would also bring chapstick and a bottle of ranch dressing!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Where Are They Now: Pepper Gay

Who is she? Pepper Gay, a former star hurler and team record holder for the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Pepper after her no-hitter against Northern Iowa
to begin her senior season
What is she known for? Gay finished her career as one of the finest to put on an Illini uniform, as she held four school records upon the completion of her senior season. She recorded seventy-one career wins and "retired" with a most-respectable 2.50 ERA and .213 opponent's batting average. She was a two-time all-conference selection and was a member of the NFCA all-region team following her junior season. 

Here's something interesting... From the ages of seven to thirteen, Pepper was a star triathlete! She is a five-time Ironkids National Triathlon Champion.

What's she up to now? After her career's completion & her graduation from Illinois, Pepper started nursing school where she is still. Thanks to the demands of her schooling, Pepper says she hasn't had any time to be involved with softball, but hopes to remedy that when she gets out of school.

Quotable quotes: On playing Michigan during her junior year... "Michigan was ranked at the time and was the top team in conference. It is always tough to play on the road in such an intense environment. We won the series with great team play and it was just an awesome feeling coming away with a series win!"

Contact information: .You can find Pepper on Facebook; Twitter; & Instagram.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wounded Warriors/WSNA GoFundMe

I was asked to share this on Facebook last week, but I felt it deserved more than a simple couple of clicks on my part.

The WNSA is hosting a doubleheader series against the Wounded Warriors Amputee softball team in May of next year. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help make the games happen.

I've been a fan of the Wounded Warriors team for a long while now. They've played with stars like Leah Amico and Jennie Finch, and several members of the team have appeared in the annual Major League Baseball Celebrity All-Star Game. Matt Kinsey, a member of the team, was actually named MVP of the 2012 Celeb ASG.

The WNSA-hosted games are scheduled for May 16, 2015, and are to be played in Camden, New Jersey, at the home of the city's independent minor league team, the Riversharks.

You can find more information on the Wounded Warriors team, including team member bios, here. Information on the WNSA is here, and the GoFundMe donation page is linked here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reader Poll: Who do YOU want to see?

It's the mantra of every magazine, website, and any other production that relies on reader or viewer support to make the gears keep turning, the people that take time out of their day to catch up on our latest article are honestly the greatest ever. We aim to please, and we are so appreciative of those who share your opinion, both the good and bad ones.

Now it's time for y'all to help us out a bit! Who do you want to see featured in a piece on Justin's World? Maybe it's a former fave from your team and you're wondering where she ended up. Maybe you'd just like to get to know more about a certain player or two, or would like to see a variety of different kinds of articles.

We'll take any suggestion, but we'd especially like you to throw out some names of athletes you'd like to see featured or give some ideas for articles you'd like to read.

Thanks to all in advance; no guarantees we'll be able to do something with every suggestion, but we're definitely going to give it our best shot to make the good ones happen.

You can chime in wherever you like - here, on our FB page, on Twitter, or even shoot me a regular ole' email.