Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kristen Butler Interview

Let's kick NPF Championship Day #2 off with another Bandits interview. (In case you're wondering, we will end up finishing out this series after the season ends).

This is likely Kristen Butler's final season in the NPF. Finishing up her seventh season in the league, Butler has been one of the finest players in the league year-in and year-out. In all honesty, she had the opportunity to become the marquee player w/o the Olympic background that the NPF needs, but content to do her part and contribute to the team, she quietly put together solid season after solid season and has been a huge part of the Bandits' success the last several seasons.

As her career winds down in Hoover, this may be one of the final interviews you see with Kristen Butler, the player. But as she embarks on a new position as head coach at Toledo, plenty of interviews with Kristen Butler, the head coach will soon be appearing on the interwebs!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NPF Award Winners Announced

The NPF announced their season-end award winners last night, including Player, Pitcher, and Rookie of the Year and the 2014 All-league squad. There were few surprises, although arguably the biggest award given out was probably the biggest "Um, what?" of the night.

Also, one note before I begin the rundown of the award winners... am I the only one that thinks they need more original names for these awards? Major League Baseball has the Cy Young award; the NPF has "Pitcher of the Year". MLB has the "MVP"; the NPF has "Player of the Year". Just a thought.

Unsurprisingly and more-than-deservingly, Cat Osterman took home Pitcher of the Year honors. After an absolutely *amazing* season that included a 16-0 undefeated record, there was no other player that came close to taking home the award over here. After her Brett Favre-esque return from an announced retirement, Osterman has enjoyed one of the best seasons of her career.

On the offensive side, Akron's Nerissa Myers was named Offensive Player of the Year. After being traded from Chicago this past off-season due to a lack of available playing time, Myers led the Racers to a surprising .500 record. Myers led the league in RBIs and slugging percentage, was among the leaders in batting average with a .365 mark herself, and clubbed nine home runs.

Rookie of the Year was without a doubt the tightest race of any of the awards, as both the Bandits' Emily Allard and the Pride's Madison Shipman put together incredibly impressive seasons. Both garnered all-league honors, but it was Shipman who took home the individual hardware. It was almost as if the tall shortstop didn't miss a beat moving from college to the pros, and performed so well that veteran Natasha Watley was forced to move to the outfield to make sure Shipman had a spot in the lineup each day. Shipman's stat line included a .344 batting average, 5 home runs, and 28 RBIs.

Coaching Staff of the Year was awarded to manager Brian Levin and his staff in Akron. Finishing the season at .500 was certainly an achievement for a team with thirteen first-year players and the Racers caught fire the last couple of weeks of the regular season and are certainly poised to make some noise and potentially play spoiler in the playoffs.

Defensive Player of the Year went to the young lady I call the Derek Jeter of the NPF, Tammy Williams of Chicago. The Northwestern product has made highlight-reel plays on many occasions this season, and even made it to #4 on ESPN's Top 10 for the triple play she started a couple of weeks back.

Rookie Breja'e Washington took home the Diamond Spike Award for leading the league in stolen bases, while Kelley Montalvo was named the recipient of the Jennie Finch Award.

The Player of the Year honor was awarded to USSSA third baseman Andrea Duran. Like I mentioned at the top, this was the only award that made me wonder. Nothing against Duran, as she has been an ambassador for the sport and one of the most longeved players in the sport and put together an excellent season in 2014, but had I a ballot, she would not have been in my top three. Duran led the league in OBP and walks and, the NPF release notes, was in the top 10 in offense throughout the season.

Finally, the all-NPF  team was announced. A tie at the outfield spot added an extra member to the team. Nine position-specific players, four pitchers, and six at-large selections make up the All-Star squad. Chicago had seven players on the team, while regular-season champions the Pride had five. Akron also had five players honored, while the Rebellion had two, Lauren Lappin and Sarah Pauly. Worth nothing is that four rookies (Allard, Shipman, Ashley Thomas, Jill Barrett) made the team, and the depth at shortstop in this league is evident as three of the four starting shortstops gathered all-star honors. The complete All-NPF roster is below.

2014 All-NPF  Roster:
C – Kristen Butler (Bandits)
1B – Brittany Cervantes (Bandits)
2B – Lauren Lappin (Rebellion)
3B – Andrea Duran (Pride)
SS – Tammy Williams (Bandits)
OF – Caitlin Lowe (Pride)
OF – Natasha Watley (Pride)
OF – (Tie) Megan Wiggins (Bandits)
OF – (Tie) Emily Allard (Bandits)
P – Cat Osterman (Pride)
P – Monica Abbott (Bandits)
P – Rachele Fico (Racers)
P – Michelle Gascoigne (Bandits)
At Large – Nerissa Myers (Racers)
At Large – Madison Shipman (Pride)
At Large – Sarah Pauly (Rebellion)
At Large – Kelley Montalvo (Racers)
At Large – Ashley Thomas (Racers)
At Large – Jill Barrett (Racers)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tammy Williams Interview

The NPF Championship Series kicks off in Hoover, Alabama this week and in honor of that, this entire week of articles and posts will be devoted to National Pro Fastpitch players and coaches. Tammy Williams, Gerry Glasco, Dallas Escobedo, and Cat Osterman are just a few of the names that will be featured in some form or fashion this week.

To kick things off, here's another interview that was conducted by John at the Ballpark at Rosemont, home of the Bandits. In this video, he talks to Bandits superstar infielder Tammy Williams. A Northwestern product, "TWill" is a fan-favorite and one of the best players in the entire league. Now finishing up her fifth NPF season, she's the center of the Bandits offense and a team leader. They will depend on her greatly in the championship series.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Insight Into Team USA Women’s Baseball

I'll readily admit that, before 2012, I knew absolutely nothing about a Team USA for women's baseball. I didn't know the team existed, much less who was on it or what kind of games they played. Thanks to a heavy contingent of current and former softballers on the 2012 roster, I took note of the squad and loosely followed their games during the summer.
Alexa at Irish Senior Day in 2012

In the time sense, I've gained an appreciation for the squad and for the hard work the women on the team not only do to be the best in the sport, but also to promote and get coverage for their team and games.

I happen to know one member of that 2012 squad, Alexa Maldonado, formerly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. So I approached her about putting together this article about the team - who and why they are, what they do, and other queries of the sort. She was gracious enough to answer all of my questions, and I knew I wanted to present them to you today so that perhaps you might gain the same appreciation for these young ladies as I did.

If you have questions that I didn't ask Alexa in the interview, feel free to tweet her @alexa13maldi.

How long has the Team USA Women's baseball team been around?
The USA Baseball sanctioned the Women's National Team in 2004, where it competed in the 2004 Women's World Series and in the 2004 Women's World Cup of Baseball.

 ​I know there were quite a number of active and former softball players on the 2012 team... is the team mostly comprised of softballers past and present?
The answer to this question is a bit complex.  While we have a fair share of girls that are active and former softball players, a lot of them have come from baseball backgrounds.  With the age range being so wide (age 16 to around age 40), each girl has a different “story.” Some currently play high school baseball while others were told they had to play softball.  Some girls have made the switch over to softball in college, while a few have had the opportunity to play baseball in college.  Some played baseball growing up, and even played on one of the few professional women’s teams!  Every story is different.

I played baseball all through little league, was devastated when I “had” to make the switch over to softball, played softball at the University of Notre Dame, and finally came full circle playing the first game I fell in love with.

 How did you first hear about the team?
Summer going into my senior year, the USA Baseball Women’s National Team manager at the time reached out to my assistant coach at school asking if I would be interested in participating in the 2011 USA Baseball Women’s National Team Friendship Series.  That was the first time I had heard anything about a Women’s National Team.  I jumped on the opportunity in a heartbeat.

What are some differences between men's and women's baseball? Are there any?
For USA Baseball, the only difference between men’s and women’s baseball is that women play 7 innings while men play 9 innings.  Other than that the game itself is the same!

Other than the well-known and obvious ones, what kind of differences are there between playing softball and playing on the baseball team, for you personally?
When I look back on my college softball experience and compare it to my current baseball experience, I’ve needed to learn how to slow my game down.  As an outfielder in softball, it’s a quick “field and throw” mentality because things happen so fast.  As an outfielder in baseball, a little more time can be taken to field and throw because the larger field leaves more time.  It’s less rushed, but the hustle doesn’t change.  The other adjustment that I had to make was at the plate.  A hitter in softball is taught to look at the pitcher’s hip for the release of the ball.  A hitter in baseball is taught to look at the logo on the pitcher’s hat.  I’ve also had to work on letting the ball get deeper in the zone

 Is women's baseball something that is beginning to have a presence on an international stage?
Women’s baseball seems to be becoming more widely known on the international stage.  This September the 2014 VI Women's Baseball World Cup will be held in Miyazaki, Japan. In Japan, women’s baseball is much bigger than it is in the U.S., so it would be very interesting to experience if I get the opportunity!  Women’s baseball is making strides.

 How many games will the team play this year? Against who?
With the regional tryouts recently finishing up, the top 40 players have been selected to participate in the USA Baseball Women’s National Team Trials.  The final 20 are then selected to compete in the 2014 VI Women's Baseball World Cup which will be held in Miyazaki, Japan.  The National Teams that will be competing are Japan, USA, Australia, Canada, Venezuela, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, and Hong Kong. Each team will be competing in a total of 6 contests.  With a modified double round-robin format, no National Teams will play each other twice until the finals on Sunday, September 7th. You can find the schedule at this link.

 The lack of media coverage over the team is evident. Why do you think that is the case, and why do you believe the team deserves more and better media coverage?
The lack of media coverage for women’s baseball in the U.S. is due to women’s baseball not being as widely known here.  However, I do believe the team deserved more coverage.  When it comes down to it, this is a group of talented women who are representing their country.  Why don’t they deserve for people to see how hard they work to get there?  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll be impressed with what they see!

 Even though you were on the 2012 team, I believe you will still have to try out for this year's squad... after two years away, what's bringing you back to tryout again?
There is no feeling in the world that matches wearing the USA across your chess.  Being able to represent something so much bigger than you could ever imagine is overwhelmingly exciting and is complete honor.  Such a small amount of people ever get to experience something like this.  It is also amazing being part of a team that is selfless, has the best coaching staff in the world, and has one common goal.  To bring back the gold!  Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Where Are They Now: Kailey Kassner

Who is she? Kailey Kassner Jenkins, a former slugging catcher and designated player who played four years for the University of Memphis softball team.

What is she known for?  Jenkins holds a spot in the top ten of both home runs and RBIs in the Tigers record books; she spent her career mostly as the starting designated player, while also logging time behind the plate.

You might not know... when I asked Kailey an interesting fact about herself, she provided something that I not only didn’t expect, but found pretty funny. She said, “the only interesting fact that I can think of is that my shoe size is 13 in girls. My husband steals my shoes all the time because most of my  gym shoes are men’s shoes”.

What's she up to now?  Kailey presently works as a paralegal for a family attorney in Memphis. Though originally from Illinois, she’s stuck around the Bluff City since her graduation. She gives softball lessons to girls around Memphis and coaches a 12u team in Bartlett, Tennessee (just outside of Memphis).

Contact information: You can find Kailey on Facebook here. Her Twitter @KaileyKassner hasn’t been updated in almost a year and a half.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Meredith Owen Steps Into Justin's World

Meredith Owen rose to National Prominence very quickly last season, her final year with the Stetson Hatters. For those who were privileged enough to see her play, even on television, you'd have seen that she deserved even more recognition than she actually got.

An incredibly talented dual-threat both in the circle and at the plate, Owen just ran over opponents all season long. On the offensive side, she led her team in home runs with fifteen and in slugging percentage (.711), and was second in batting average by just .009.

In the circle, she recorded a microscopic 1.26 ERA in more than 220 innings (putting her firmly in 8th in the NATION in that statistical category. A K/BB ratio of better than 6/1 certainly helped, too. She allowed just forty-one extra base hits all season long, averaging out to exactly one in every appearance. Opponents hit just .205 against her during the year.

Meredith was rewarded after the season by being named to the NFCA All-American third team. In thirty years of Stetson softball, Owen was the first to be named an All-American, further cementing her status as one of the program's all-time greats!

With her collegiate career now done, you can follow Meredith's future exploits by connecting with her on Twitter and Facebook.

How did you first get started playing softball? When did you realize or was it evident that this was something you were excelling at?
I started playing softball at the age of ten so I was a little behind. The coach of the team that I tried out for told me that I needed to do 10,000 throws and catches before March 1, which was the beginning of the season. My mom and I broke that down to 200 a day 5 days a week so she and I would go throw out in the street after school. I ended up being one of the best players on the team that summer, and I realized at that point that if I worked hard at this sport the sky was the limit. So I set my sights on a division 1 scholarship and have been working hard ever since. 

Now that your playing career is done, what will you miss the most?
What I will miss the most from playing is that feeling of accomplishment. When you have spent hours working towards something and you actually achieve it.. that feeling is one of the greatest in the world. You are able to prove to everyone as well as yourself that you can achieve anything you want.

Why was Stetson your choice of schools to attend & play for?
Stetson and LSU were my last two choices. LSU offered me the opportunity to hit, and Stetson offered me the opportunity to hit as well as pitch. At the time my pitching was not up to par, but from my previous experiences I knew if I worked hard I could get it to where it needed to be, and I couldn’t imagine not pitching anymore I loved it too much. Stetson offered me an amazing education for free on top of having the opportunity to compete for a conference championship every year. All of that on top of a classy Christian coaching staff. I knew it was the right choice.

What’s your favorite thing about playing in the South?
My favorite thing about playing in the south is the warm weather. I hate the cold and the feeling of hitting a ball with a cold bat and cold hands is just miserable. 

Other than Wilson Field, what was your favorite stadium/field/park to play in?
It is hard to beat Patricia Wilson Field. Coach Griffin does such an amazing job of not only making sure the facility looks great, but that all the players are safe no matter where they are in the vicinity. The only other place that was close to that was at the University of Florida's field. It was a great environment to play in with so many fans, and I am thankful that I got the opportunity to.

What about playing ball after college? Is that something you thought about or were/are interested in?
I was offered an opportunity to play in Holland for the rest of the summer, but I did not take it. I was ready to come home and be with my family after being twelve hours away for four years. Playing after college is something that I have not pursued, but I am not closed off to it either. My family is big into CrossFit and I have been doing it since high school to help make me a better softball player, so I have always considered that to be the next step for me in my athletic career. 

How do you plan to stay involved with the game of softball now that your collegiate playing days are done? Is coaching an area you would be interested in pursuing?
I actually have a job at a local high school coaching for this year. Coaching is something I have always done in the past, but I do not know yet if it is something I would like to pursue for the long run. It will all depend on how I like coaching this high school team. Mississippi is so behind in softball that I want to be available to help the girls here get to the next level without having to travel out of state like I did to get the information that will help to get them there. If I can help more Mississippi girls get to the division one level I would be ecstatic. 

Let’s say you were given the opportunity to go back in time and change one moment, one happening from your life and/or career. What would you want to change?
The one moment I would change from my career would be my last at bat. I had the opportunity to tie the game, and while I moved the runners I could have done a lot more. It is just as frustrating remembering it as it was at the time. 

Do you have any superstitions? Have to eat the same meal before a game, can’t step on the foul lines, same routine every time you step into the batter’s box, etc?
The only superstition that I really have is that my accessories have to be the same when we are winning. This year we always won when I wore this one bow of mine that is green and white and I cut the ends real long close to the length of my hair. I wore that bow with every uniform in the post season. 

Let's say you were given the opportunity to spend a full twenty-four hours in another person's shoes. Who would that person be and why would you want to trade places for a day?
If I could trade places with one person it would be any coach from one of the top five softball teams. I would just like to see what they do on a daily basis to keep them healthy as well as prepared during such a long season. Also, what do they work on to keep their mechanics as well as mental approaches sound through the ups and downs of the season.

If you were stranded on a deserted island (Robinson Crusoe-style), but were allowed to take three things with you, what would you take? No boats, no phones.

The three things I would take with me on a desert island: a knife for hunting and preparing food, a lighter to help me light a fire for preparing food and heat, and my dog to keep me company and help me through the tough times of being there.

Lacey Middlebrooks Joins Northeastern State Staff

After an excellent coaching debut in her first season with the Buffalo Bulls, former Tulsa dual-threat standout Lacey Middlebrooks has taken her talents to a new spot as she moves into the role of graduate assistant/pitching coach Northeastern State in Oklahoma. 

Leaving the defending MAC East division champs to go to a D2 school may seem like a step down to some, but Middlebrooks calls it a "great opportunity" and says she's excited about the upcoming season.

Middlebrooks was part of a staff at Buffalo that led the Bulls to the most wins ever in program history. The pitching staff under Middlebrooks' tutelage logged a more-than-respectable 2.92 ERA.

Now moving to Northeastern State, she will continue her coaching career while also advancing her education, as she pursues a Masters degree in health and kinesiology .

If the Middlebrooks name sounds familiar outside of Lacey, it may be because her brother is Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks.