…with neatly arranged red sprinkles all over them…
Over the years, I have found more fun announcing Girl’s/Women’s Fast-Pitch Softball than, I think, any other sport. The athletes are absolutely as competitive as Boy’s/Men’s Baseball but, for me, they are more enjoyable to watch, primarily, because they are visibly having more fun out there. “Visibly” is the key word. Smiles on the field go hundreds of miles for me. For the announcer/broadcaster, many female names provide intriguing opportunities. The spellings can be funky and the names get pronounced in unexpected ways. Fast-Pitch is fantastic!!!
First of all, there’s Baseball. Oh, boy. How I LOVE Baseball: hurlers firing that ball 90 mph, batters launching it 400+ feet, cool baseball caps, hot dogs and beer, managers getting tossed out on their ear…I could go on and on. There’s nothing like goin’ to a ballgame, half paying attention, having a chat with a friend, eating a hot dog and occasionally taking notice to see where things are at. It’s the only spectator sporting event whereby a person can be just that casual yet, be amidst it all without hardly skipping a beat. What a magnificent game!
As an announcer or broadcaster, you gotta be a lot more engaged than that of course but, I think you get my point on the pleasures of watching baseball.
Now, on to the grapefruits. As an onlooker, you can kinda “kick back” like baseball but, you have to have an understanding about what’s going or you will be lost and attending the ballgame only to chat with your friend. The game has it’s own rules, field and lingo. Sure, there are quite a few similarities to baseball but, a fair share differences.
For starters, what the hell is that circle and where in the world did the mound go?! Yap, that’s right…no mound. Ok. Story is the game started indoors pushing 100 years ago. There were no mounds indoors and guys were hurting their arms pitching overhand from a flat surface so, they began pitching underhand. Things have been flat and underhand ever since. That’s the story anyhow (Those with countering stories can put it in the comments. I’m all fine and well to hear a better truth).
Fast-Pitch Softball pitchers step, as a rule, straight forward when they pitch and have to stay within a pitching lane which is chalked in like the circle. Typically, you see the pitcher’s arm spin in a windmill motion delivering the ball 60+ mph from 43′ away from the plate (Players at the top of the sport have tossed that grapefruit 75+ mph…whoa!).
For all the naysayers out there, a 90 mph baseball pitch takes .46 seconds to reach that plate while a 65 mph softball pitch takes .45 seconds. You bet. The softball pitcher’s plate is closer by 17 1/2 feet. However, this does not change the problem for the batter. This means the women batters of fast-pitch have to be just as quick or quicker off the mark than their male counterparts of baseball.
The base pads in softball are only 60′ apart as opposed to 90′ in baseball. The burden is on the defense, too. If you’ve seen the game played well, there’s not much to time for the defense to react, make a decision and throw. Base runners cannot leave the base until the pitch is thrown so, they have to be on their toes (no pun intended…ha!) as well if they are going to move. Trust me when I say fast-pitch catchers can fire that ball off to the shortstop out at second base so, a runner in route better be on her game.
What I am getting to is the plays can be extremely fast with a ton of moving parts. The acumen and adroitness of the highest performing players is no less than any other sport. These are athletes that are experienced, well-trained and very talented. Fast-pitch softball is an utterly exciting spectacle. …and we are not even to the really fun part of it all, yet.
The truly fun part of the game is the players. The team in the dugout sending batters to the plate is singing, chanting, beating on buckets like they were drums, cheering, yelling, supporting and, I mean NON STOP. I imagine if teams could have a “Great Big Electro-Who-Cardio-Shnoox” from The Grinch That Stole Christmas in the dugout, they would. In fact, I’m sure every Fast-Pitch club in Whoville DOES have one. The team on the field is clamoring away to the pitcher and each other, passing information and supportive statements back and forth. I mean the amount of communication of various kinds being passed about makes my head spin. You want to see about 60 humans simulating data traffic on the internet? Go to a Fast-Pitch Softball game. The only time things hush up occurs during the .45 seconds it takes for the ball to reach the plate. To boot, the players are constantly smiling.
Conversely in baseball, the players are as austere as they come. Soooo serious, they are. I think most boys by the time they’ve past the 2nd grade have quit smiling in sports. I’m not sure if it’s the machismo thing or trying to hide what they are thinking or what it is. Of course, some do smile out there. I do not want to over generalize. On the other hand, I could count the smiles in a baseball game and a softball game. The smiles would number 50 in the softball contest to every 1 in the baseball game. Don’t bet me on it. I will take that wager on any time with anybody.
I announced one particular fast-pitch game, recently. The pitcher in the circle was just getting peppered by the opposing bats. In spite, someone in her dugout yelled something out to her (I have no idea what it was) but, she burst into a huge smile then stepped back up to deliver her next pitch.
I need to make myself understood right here and now. No, they do NOT like to lose. No, they do NOT like to give up a walk, hit or run. No, they don’t like to strike out or get out for that matter. Please, do not get confused. These players are ruthlessly competitive. Do players get angry? Yes. Do players even cry? Yes. Do players express every darn emotion imaginable? Yes. But, do the players mean business on that field? Oh, you know it. However, there is something to be said for passion in your game that makes a participant frequently smile rather than sporting an ice cold sternness about them. Sure, fast-pitch players put on serious faces often but, the same players will smile five seconds later. It’s terrific and amazing!
Every home run causes an entire roster to pour out of a dugout. Even a struck-out player heading back to the bench gets a half-dozen fist pumps and supportive remarks then, joins right in with the singing and chanting for the next batter in the box. Very often, regardless of good or bad result, the defensive infield congregates in the circle after the play with the pitcher for strategy, tactics, support, high-fives, fist pumps, smiles and hugs. The camaraderie between teammates is near unmatched. Undeniably, they love their teammates and they love their game.
Sometimes that esprit de corps extends to the other team. I sat through a rain situation recently and the home squad invited the visiting school into the locker room for a dance off to pass the time. Wow! Can you imagine a baseball team doing that? Good heavens, no.
Oh, fine, naysayers. These things do happen with the men in different forms but, not with the same frequency and willingness.
Now, there is all the fun terms and lingo arising from the game. Drop balls and rise balls come to mind. When’s the last time you saw a baseball go UP? That rise ball is a peculiar pitch that has struck out more players than I can enumerate. Then the lingo gets bantered about the ballpark. At any given moment at any level of the game you can hear “good girls steal”, “frozen rope”, “horn”, “windmills”, “crow hops”, “look back” and “slapper”. The list gets as long as baseball’s. Look at me!!! I call the darn ball a grapefruit.
Slapping! How fun is this?! It’s not a standard swing at the ball. It’s, also, no bunt. The player chokes up and runs directly at the pitcher. If she gets a pitch she likes, she’ll take a whack at it and tears off to first. If she makes contact after her first foot touches that infield, she’s out. Here’s another thing. Slappers are typically only left-handed batters with the intent of slapping it down the 3rd base line to maximize the sprint to first and move base-runners. Her other challenge is that charging third baseman, who (oh by the way) can fire the ball even harder than the catcher. Talk about a frozen rope! Watch a really good third baseman make the throw from the foul line all the way to first. It will blow you away!
Let’s chat personas. There’s so much personality in fast-pitch softball I can barely breathe. This personality extends all the way down to Little League and other youth levels. Girls show up in ponytails wearing visors ready to go. At every level, I’ve seen players dance to the music during inning warm-ups as well as put on some swagger during their walk-up song.
Oh yeah, visors brings up player style and equipment. On the field, they wear visors, headbands, eye protection, face protection or nothing on their heads at all. Some have hair so long that, as an announcer, you can’t see the number. Some players have their hair crew-cut short. Others sport a ponytail or pigtails and even with this, I’ve learned there are a million ways of doing it. See the photo on the left. Ribbons are in hair everywhere. Some wear make-up while others do not. Quite frequently, you’ll see eye black. There will be diamond earrings rearing fastballs from the circle. Bats, cleats and other equipment extends the spectrum of design and color. There’s nothing straight-up about the style of a softball player. All this style ends up adding even more character to the game.
There’s just something especially human about fast-pitch softball. All the balls, strikes, homers, stolen bases, stiff competition, athleticism and fair ups come with the game itself. We all know that. You get these things in baseball, too. What sets fast-pitch softball apart lies in the human being factors. The supportive, smiling nature of the players makes me feel good inside. Nothing tangible truly explains it. Plus, it’s so loud and there’s so much chatter that one senses a party atmosphere. Believe me, they are playing only to win but, how the players go about it makes fast-pitch softball just a delightful experience. From the pregame warm-ups to the congratulatory hand slaps at the end, the whole softball affair is an athletic orchestration of color and sound.
The Lore. Just like other sports, all the players and coaches have stories. The folklore can be as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. I know of a college pitcher that goes out there working her butt off daily and has cancer. Others have come from halfway across the world to play and, their path to get to where they are demonstrates their commitment and perseverance. I don’t think I’ve met a softball player at any age that does not have a dog story. I, personally, think a team dog should be sitting in every dugout nationwide. Great stories are part of athletics and, I’m not talking about the sports ones.
On the announcing side, the action never ends. There are subs upon subs upon reentries upon reentries. There’s designated players and flexes. There’s ten players then nine player then ten players. There’s peculiar defensive shifts. There’s batters running directly at pitchers. There’s diving into second to beat the tag. There’s grapefruits going over 200 foot fences. Oh, there’s injuries, too. Eek! And then, there’s all those wonderful female names.
Names are everything. That’s a post I did some time ago. Women’s names these days often have complex spellings and pronunciations. Quite a few have four and five syllables and, that’s before you get to the last name. One name I announced not too long ago was Falepolima Aviu. A few fans of the team were so excited that someone got the name right that they sought me out and thanked me! Name checks on female names become a critical announcing duty. I find softball players to be generally, good-spirited folks but, they still want their names said correctly out of a PA system. For me, figuring out those names adds to the excitement of announcing any women’s sports. In softball, all those fun names adds to atmosphere of the game.
I’m a big fan of announcing off the beaten path. Fast-pitch softball is NOT Baseball, Basketball and Football. No it is not. However, if you want something a bit different which comprises athleticism, speed, strategy, excitement, music and high spirits, check out fast-pitch. The ambiance, folklore and fun will be overwhelming. If you get a chance to announce or broadcast it, do it. You will not be sorry. Trust me, grapefruits with neatly arranged red sprinkles are easy to love. It’s true!!!
I like to hear about others experiences so, tell me a fast-pitch anecdote or experience. I’m sure I’ll love it.
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