Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sharon Palma Enters Justin's World

Sharon in college at Wright State
Fans of the NPF will likely recognize the name of today's featured player. She spent multiple summers playing professional softball, including for the Racers and Diamonds. After a record-setting career at Wright State, her playing career was thought to be done until an unexpected tryout earned her a contract and a spot on a professional roster. Sharon herself shares that story below.

Sharon is now leading the pitching staff at Florida International (FIU). She has had almost the full experience of the coaching carousel, as she's had several jobs within the coaching ranks over the last few years, and continues to climb the ladder. She is now part of a staff that includes head coach Jake Schumann (no stranger to the professional league himself) and former Team USA member Kelly Kretschman.

Social networking: You can find Sharon on Facebook; Instagram; and Twitter @CoachPalma_FIU. Keep up with the Panthers' season by following the team on Twitter &  Facebook

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing the game of softball?

Sharon Palma: Honestly I don't remember a time when I didn't play so I’m not sure. My parents were always very good at getting us involved in anything we showed interest in and tball happened to be one of them. I played tennis, soccer, basketball, volleyball, I swam, I did dance and gymnastics.  At one point I even tried to learn to skate for figure skating. Softball was just the one that stuck.

What is your favorite memory from your collegiate career?

It would have to be a tie between winning the conference championship in 2010 and taking the field against Michigan at the Ann Arbor regional. The conference championship was excited because we came out of the losers bracket to win it against Cleveland State (who had previously beaten us 4 times that season) and it was such a team effort. The regional because I got to go back to my home state and play in front of a huge crowd, including many family members and friends. 

JW: Your name is seen many times in the WSU record book. What’s it like to know you’ll go down as one of the Raiders’ all-time greats?

Palma: It is amazing to be in the Raider record books. I just love the team and the culture that I got to be a part of at Wright State. We were a small school that not many people had heard of, but we had a lot of heart and we played as a team. Our team had a blue collar attitude; we played hard, earned every out, and never gave up. At the time I didn't realize how rare that was but having been around a lot of teams since then, I have realized that what my class at Wright State had was really special. 

With the Akron Racers
JW: I know your introduction to the NPF and the events leading up to signing your first pro contract makes for a great story, so if you could, please recount it for us. :)

Palma: A very interesting story indeed :) I was still in Dayton working at a softball facility and waiting tables through the spring of 2011. My college roommate and good friend, Kristen Bradshaw, had recently gone to the Chicago Bandits try out and was going to go try out for the Akron Racers and asked me if wanted to go with her. I declined because it was on a Monday and I usually worked at the facility on Mondays, but my boss was quick to remind me that it was Memorial Day so the facility was closed and I didn't have to work. He also convinced me that if I was going to go with her, I should also try out for the team. I hadn't thrown in a game in a year, and the only practice I had done was throwing BP to the clients at work. I ended up going up there and getting invited to have an extended try out for the next week. By the end of the week my now-boss, Jake Schumann, asked me if I wanted to be a part of the team. I happily accepted and the rest is history :)

You elected the NPF over potential opportunities in Europe that would have paid you considerably more. What was it about the NPF that really appealed to you sand made you say “*That’s* where I want to play”?

To say I elected it over other opportunities would be a bit of a tall tale, because up until that impromptu try out in Akron, I had no plan to lace up the cleats competitively again. Since then the pro league has opened up countless opportunities for me, including offers to play over seas in small European leagues. I elected to play in the league a second year because it is an amazing experience. To be able to be shoulder to shoulder with the best softball players in the world is a dream come true. Being a part of the NPF has also accelerated my coaching career further than I could have imagined. I got my first volunteer opportunity at Michigan State because Jacquie Joseph wanted someone who could throw good BP so the turned to the pro league and it seemed to be a perfect fit. Jacquie and I have stayed good friends and she helped me find a paid position the next season at IUPUI in Indianapolis. I continued to learn from Amanda Rivera there and have since landed at Florida International under Jake Schumann (the coach who signed me in Akron). It’s hard to say what my life would have been like without spending two summers playing in the pro league, but it is safe to say it has given me extraordinary opportunities and introduced me to many wonderful people.

JW: What is the proudest moment of your career, both as a player and as a coach?

Palma: As a player, there were many proud moments. I was proud every time I put on my jersey. I am very lucky to be a part of the 2010 Raider softball class because our class did something that is very rare for a mid-major program. 3 out of 4 regional appearances is a huge accomplishment for a mid-major university because you have to win the conference championship to move on. To win a championship it takes an entire team, a group of 20 selfless athletes that truly put the team before themselves. During the conference championship we always played at our highest level. We had people come up off the bench and get timely hits, pitchers combine for great games, and incredible defensive plays. Being able to say that I am a Wright State Raider is what I am proud of. 

As a coach my proudest moment was the end of the 2013 season with IUPUI. We had a senior pitcher on our staff that only had one pitch, and if you know anything about softball, it’s hard to win with one pitch (the pitch was a drop ball). She had battled injuries and had multiple coaches in her career so we decided she would perfect that one pitch and be a role pitcher for us. By the end of the season she was our most effective pitcher. She started for us in a win against Purdue, she got ground balls relied on her defense, and she kept the ball in the park. She ended her career in the circle against IPFW and finished with 3 K's in the last inning. We knew we weren't going to the conference tournament which meant we knew it was her last game, and she gave absolutely 100%. I was so proud of her because she made the end of her career count; she overcame injury and improved her mental game and confidence to help her team. I was proud that I could help her do that and help her leave it all on the field. 

JW: How does your preparation for a game differ now as a coach from the way you prepared as a player?

Palma: As a player I feel like my focus was more internal before a game and I focused on myself and my pitches; now I have to prepare not only myself but also my pitchers and our team. I didn't realize how much planning went into each and every inning while I was playing. I just went out and threw the ball when they gave it to me and supported my teammates when they didn't. I have a lot of respect for all of the coaches that I played for because I have always had the benefit of playing on a team that has a winning record. A lot more goes into having a successful team than meets the eye. 

JW: Is becoming a head coach something you’d like to pursue at some point?

Palma: I am honestly not sure. A few years ago I would have told you absolutely not, but as I get older, I wouldn't say it’s out of the question. For now, I am very happy in the role I am in. I enjoy being an assistant; all of the coaches I have worked for have been great people and great bosses. With time comes knowledge, and given the right opportunity I would consider being a head coach as long as I have a great staff to support me. 

JW: Finish this sentence: If not for softball, I would be _________________.

Palma: Lost. [laughs] It’s honestly all I know. It has been a part of my everyday life for 15 years or more. I know that if I wasn't still involved with softball, I would be doing something active the helps people. One of my favorite summers (other than those spent in the NPF) was when I worked at a summer camp for the epilepsy foundation of Michigan. I got to horseback ride, rock climb, canoe, and do all kinds of camp activities with children with epilepsy and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I have stayed in contact with many of the kids and have watched them grow up. I just love being able to make children smile, so I think if I wasn't coaching I would find a job where I could do that :) 

JW: Who is your hero, and how has that person’s influence affected your performance on the field?

Palma: Cliche, but my parents are my heroes. They are wonderful people and they have always given me everything I needed and usually given me everything I wanted, too. I haven't lived in the same city as them since I was 18, but they have always supported me in every decision I have ever made. On the field, my parents haven't influenced me much at all, and I mean that in the best way possible. I see a lot of kids while I recruit and watch softball that are pushed so hard and their parents are so hard on them. My parents have always supported me, and my dad has always helped critique my game when I ask, but I was never pushed too hard. When I was younger they signed me up for all the sports I wanted to try and also give me opportunities to be involved in things outside of sports like church choir and odyssey of the mind. The only thing they always instilled in me was that if you start it, you finish it. If I signed up for a team, I had to finish out the season, but if I didn't want to play the next season, they were okay with that as long as I was happy. They carted me around, paid all the fees, and bought all the equipment. I was and still am very lucky to be able to call them Mom and Dad. 

JW: If you could sit down and have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be and why?

Palma: The first person I would want at dinner would be my Grandpa Palma. He passed away when I was in 3rd grade. I have some good memories with him, but I really wish I would have gotten to know him better as a more mature person. He was always so proud of everything we did and I know he would have loved watching my career throughout the years. My Grandma Palma made it to all of my middle school and high school games (we actually joke about how at one point she wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to throw a strike when I first started [laughs]) and she supported me enough for the both of them, but I really wish I could sit down and tell him all of the wonderful things I have gotten to see and do because of this game. 

I would also love to talk to Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. People who have the courage to go against the majority to change the world for the better have always facilitated me.


  1. Great article Sharon. Couldn't be a more Proud family member ...Aunt Darcy

  2. 1 of the best of many great interviews justin...remeber sharon & her unique lefty pitching style...real good player & certainly seems to be real good person.

  3. So glad to see NPF Mentioned. These players would not have a place to play professionally after college if it weren't for The National Profastpitch League, We all need to come together with a united effort and promote NPF to the corporate world that Women's Profastpitch is a good investment .