When you think of the game of softball over the past decade or fifteen years, there’s a handful of names that come to mind that are practically synonymous with the sport. Most gained their notoriety thanks to the huge international stage that is the Olympic Games, such as Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman, and Jessica Mendoza. But among those who made their names great solely on their collegiate and professional merits, Kristina Thorson is arguably the greatest.
|Photo cred: Lori Thompson|
Known to fans and teammates alike by her nickname “Thor”, Thorson’s masterful pitching and fantastic, super-friendly personality rightly earned her many fans throughout her career as a Cal Bear, and in the years after, as she launched a successful professional career overseas and in the US.
A dominant force from the circle at Cal, Thorson earned Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year honors in her senior season, was named an NFCA All-American three times, and to the Easton All-American first team in ’06. Although her senior season’s on-field statistics were not readily available, it was arguably her finest season. And that’s seriously saying something, given her career 1.09 and nearly 7/1 SO/BB ratio in her first three seasons as a Bear.
Thor made an immediate impact as a professional player, earning rookie of the year honors in 2007 and setting a single-season NPF record for wins (14) that same year. She was traded from the Philadelphia Force to the Chicago Bandits prior to the 2008 campaign, and helped lead the Bandits to three regular-season championships and a league championship in 2008.
Thor battled injuries last season, as a member of the Akron Racers, but her veteran leadership and knowledge of the game was invaluable to the young Racers pitching staff.
Thor announced her retirement after last year, bringing to an end a career that started out great and ended even more so.
Now enjoying the life of a retired professional athlete, Thor was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her career, the factors that led to her retirement, her plans for the future, and much more. You can see some of her answers below, and check back tomorrow for the second half of the interview.
Justin’s World: Your college ball was played at Cal-Berkeley, one of the top teams in the country. How awesome was it for you to spend your collegiate years playing for such an elite team, and under such a great head coach like Diane Ninemire?
Kristina Thorson: Playing at Cal was the best experience of my life so far. I couldn't have asked for a better experience playing under Coach Ninemire for four years and making it to the WCWS 3 times. And all the while, I got a fantastic education at the #1 rated public university in the country. What else could one ever ask for? It was a dream come true for me.
Justin’s World: Part of your professional softball career was spent playing overseas, including time in Italy. To you, what was the biggest difference and change you had to make between the American & Italian leagues?
Thorson: At first, the hardest part is the language barrier. Even though most of the girls I played with spoke some English, it was weird getting used to hearing other languages on the field. That doesn't take too long to get used to though. Probably the most difficult part is the difference in philosophy of the game. Here the game has evolved to be much more like baseball, whereas playing in Europe it's much more like playing in the 90's and early 2000's where coaches wanted everyone to hit the ball into the ground. It was difficult trying to change my approach as a pitcher, but it definitely made me a more well-rounded player.
Justin’s World: Was becoming a professional athlete always your goal and career of choice?
Thorson: Absolutely not! My whole life I had planned on getting my bachelor's and going right into graduate school. I even turned down the option to get drafted my senior year because I didn't want to play professionally. But after I graduated and hadn't played in a while, I realized I wasn't ready to hang it up so I made some calls. The rest is history!
Justin’s World: You recently decided that the 2012 season was your last as a professional softball player. What factors led to that decision and what will you miss most about spending your summers in the pitching circle?
Thorson: I have been contemplating when to hang it up for the last couple years now. At first I was just waiting for me to get burnt out and just kind of know that it was time to retire, but I realized that I'm always going to want to play. But after 20 years of playing, I've made a lot of choices to put softball first above all else. This fall I just got to the point where I wanted other parts of my life to start being a priority, and that I don't want to put the rest of my life on hold anymore. Plus, I have had my share of injuries, and for the first time I had arm problems last year. So I took that as a sign that my body was ready to be done. I will miss playing, without a doubt. I'll miss my teammates, the camaraderie, the competition; really I'll miss everything about it. But it's time for me to move on.
Justin’s World: I’ve seen some photos of you doing private softball instruction, but is coaching on a high school- of collegiate-level something you might be open to in the future? Maybe even at your alma mater?
Thorson: I have been thinking a lot about coaching collegiate softball. Coaching at the high school level is a lot of fun and very rewarding, but I would love the challenge of coaching in college. It would just be a completely different atmosphere with different goals, and I think I would love it. If I ever got the opportunity to coach at Cal I would accept that position without hesitation!