Great Players

Written By Bill Plummer

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Great Players

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One of the most overused word in sports is great. It seems these days that many athletes are great and people freely like to label these athletes as great. It happens in softball as in other sports. You hear fans talk and they mention that such and such is a great player. Not really. Maybe in their minds the player is great, but in reality there are very few great players.

Certain players may dominate an era or a period of years and they could be classified great for that period of time. In reality there are many players who are average, good and excellent. Not that many are great, but people forget that and unfortunately don't look at an athlete's career to determine if the athlete was dominate enough to be considered great.

In women's fastpitch softball, two athletes are generally considered the greatest or the greatest for their period of time. They are Joan Joyce, the current coach at Florida Atlantic University, and Lisa Fernandez, an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA.

Joyce and Fernandez each excelled as pitchers and playing a different position when not pitching. Joyce played first base and Fernandez third base. Besides playing another position, each was gifted on the mound. Joyce and Fernandez dominated inside the circle and certainly earned their distinction as the greatest players of their respective eras.

Unfortunately, as time passes people forget what each of these two athletes did in their career and their careers become only memories to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have watched either one of these two play–and this writer did–you didn't forget their dominance on the softball field.

Fernandez starred at UCLA and of course has the distinction of being the only player in the history of college softball to lead the nation in batting and ERA. In 1992, Fernandez batted .510 to lead all hitters and had an ERA of 0.25 against the nation's best collegiate players. She finished with a 93-7 pitching record and a .382 career batting average. She was a member of three USA Olympic teams and batted at a record of .545 in her last Olympics. Lisa is clearly the “total package” and could have excelled at whatever position she wanted to play instead of third base when she wasn't pitching. Her determination and work effort to be the best was unrivaled.

Who knows if an athlete in the future will duplicate this or surpass this feat, but I doubt it. It takes enough time, effort and preparation to be good at one phase of softball let alone another phase of the game.

Joyce, who excelled at other sports such as golf, basketball, and volleyball, was named an ASA All-American 18 times and shared or won outright the MVP award in the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch Championship eight times. She is a member of nine Halls of Fame and had an overall pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses, plus a .327 career batting average. In 1994, she was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic and has had only one losing record during that time. Joyce retired from ASA play after the 1975 season and then devoted her efforts to pro softball for the Connecticut Falcons.

So the next time someone says such and such is great, stop and think and remember that very few athletes are actually great in the overall history of their particular sport. For Joan Joyce and Lisa Fernandez, there wasn't any doubt. They were and still are the greatest.

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Social Media

Written By Bill Plummer

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Social Media

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Caution and care needed by players in responding to the Social Media.

Coaching Division One softball, or for that matter any college or professional sport, has never been a slam dunk. As softball has developed, with it has come better coaching techniques, better equipment to help in the coaching and of course better athletes. In addition as technology has developed, so has more ways for people to communicate with one another, thus allowing people to communicate or comment on what is happening in sports or any field for that matter.

Time has become of the essence for many people, especially softball coaches who have only so many hours to work with their teams to prepare them for the season. Years ago the coaches had a captive audience and didn't have to worry about interference and could get a lot of work accomplished in their practice sessions. That isn't the case anymore. With the advent of Social Media, coaches have to be more concerned than ever about what their athletes are doing off the field let alone on the field. Away from the field the athletes should be accountable to themselves as well as to the university or college they play for, their coaches and their families.

In many cases these athletes are accountable and do what is expected of them, on and off the field. Of course there are exceptions and some athletes unfortunately get caught up in the Social Media trap. What happens is some fan or student will tweet them a message about them or their team and it won't be flattering in the least. It hits a nerve with the athlete who fires back a message and they develop a dialogue that doesn't do anyone any good.

The first mistake was commenting and answering the tweet. Fans are going to comment on players and teams forever and it is the disciplined, sensible athlete who knows better than to answer a tweet from an overzealous fan who may not have played college athletics or participated in a sport of any kind. But of course they know what the athlete and coach should do to be successful. Many fans couldn't coach their way out of paper bag even if you showed them how to get out of the bag. They have no clue what it takes to coach a college team in any sport, let alone softball. But they don't think about that and will voice their opinion on what their local college softball or football team should be doing and who should be playing, etc.

Fans are needed and of course there are many loyal fans who understand their role in sports and will support their favorite college softball or football team. Fans unfortunately lose perspective and can voice their opinion on what their local college softball or football team should be doing. It may not be correct, however, because the coaches are the ones charged with the responsibility of developing the team to its full potential. Of course injuries can and often happen and players may leave school or transfer, thus effecting the overall outcome. No one said it was easy and it never has been easy, but Social Media hasn't made it easier by any means, and how a coach handles the Social Media will have an impact on what kind of year his or her team will have.

While Social Media and the internet can be helpful to disseminate much information quickly to a lot of people, it can also be an outlet for misuse and misconduct. This certainly doesn't reflect favorably and players embarrass themselves by commenting through Social Media on the internet. This is where the coaches have to have a policy regarding the use of the internet and the Social Media available on the internet. There is nothing wrong with posting appropriate and positive comments about your local college softball team, but extreme care should be utilized in choosing what and where to post. If you have a doubt about you are going to post, don't do it.

As Chamberlain goes so do the Oklahoma Sooners As Lauren Chamberlain goes, so does the University of Oklahoma softball team. Through the team's first 14 games Chamberlain wasn't going anywhere as he watched her batting average drop to .171 (6-35) with one homers and six runs batted in. In recent weeks, however, Chamberlain is back to her normal self, creating havoc for opposing pitchers and leading the Sooners to wins. In the past five weeks, or last nine games, the OU team captain is hitting .545 (12-22) with five homers, three doubles, a triple, 10 RBI, 18 runs scored and three stolen bases. She has drawn 16 walks to go with a .737 and 1.455 slugging percentage in those games.

In a recent 1-0 win over Tulsa, Chamberlain accounted for the game's only run with a homer into the bleachers in left field. It was her 66th career homer and her sixth of the season. She now is tied with two others for 17th all-time in NCAA Division I history.

In the win over Tulsa, it was a classic pitchers duel with Tulsa ace and two-time All-American Aime Creger facing Sooner sophomore transfer Kelsey Stevens.

The win was Oklahoma’s second over a ranked opponent that year and extended the team’s winning streak to four games. After starting the season 5-4, the Sooners had won 12 of their past 14 contests heading into a showdown at No. 23/24 Louisiana-Lafayette (15-5-1).

“I think this was one of the [Sooners’] best all-around games,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “[Kelsey Stevens] was in championship-form right there, phenomenal display of pitching out of this young woman, who has been working really hard to get to that point, against a really good Tulsa team that can swing.”

Stevens, who has gotten the start in six of OU’s seven matchups against ranked opponents this year, was at her best and improved to 11-3 on the season. She established a season high with 11 strikeouts, one off her career-best mark of 12, which she has done twice. The Albuquerque, N.M., native allowed just two walks and gave up two hits in 23 at-bats (.087) to limit a Golden Hurricane squad that came in with a .336 team batting average.

“We had a good game plan from the start,” Stevens said. “We knew their hitters and I was just really trying to get ahead of the batter and throw strikes.”

Oklahoma needed the lights-out performance from Stevens because Creger was nearly as good for Tulsa. Like Stevens, Creger struck out 11 and walked two, but she allowed four hits, one of which was a solo home run by Chamberlain, to drop to 8-1 on the year.

“They have one of the best pitchers in the country and we know that and she's going to strike you out quite a few times and we knew that, as well,” Gasso said. “Once we got through the lineup, you could see things start to change and some more tougher at-bats. You saw these guys battling with two strikes. That's the View From Here

The National Fastpitch Coaches Association

Written By Bill Plummer

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The National Fastpitch Coaches Association

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The NFCA probably represents many things to its thousands of members. At its basic level, however, the NFCA is softball's version of a melting pot where once a year coaches at all levels (amateur, travel ball/club, high school, junior college, NAIA, Division One, Division Two and Division Three) plus umpires and fans of softball come together to make recommendations, propose and vote on rules, develop and plan programs for the betterment of the sport. Today the NFCA membership is more than 4,300 people strong and is expected to get only bigger in the future.

Since the summer of 1994 Lacy Lee Baker has served as executive director of the NFCA which completed its annual convention in San Antonio, TX with a record number of attendees and vendors. Rayla Allison was hired as the organization's first executive director in 1991. In 1995, the organization's name was changed to NFCA and it was effective in September, 1996.

Baker took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions regarding the NFCA and the sport of softball.

Regarding NFCA future plans, she said: “It was apparent at the convention that there needs more communication between all groups of the NFCA, and the board is working to develop a plan to be more inclusive. In addition, we want our committees to be more active in growing the NFCA and the sport in general.”

The sport will only get stronger if there's opportunity for world competition on the biggest stage there is (Olympics). Here in the US television exposure has done wonders for the game and our sport has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. All the softball organizations need to work together to continue that momentum.”

The NFCA has played an important role in the development of the sport during those last 20 years and that is something Baker is proud of. “I believe that the NFCA has been an integral part of the growth of softball. We have wonderful members at all levels who care about the game, the student-athletes who play it and its future. They’re in the game for the right reasons, and their leadership has made the NFCA a strong organization. Their love of the game is the foundation for where we've been, where we are now and where we’re going. ”

The purposes of the NFCA are listed below:

1. To stimulate the development of quality leadership for fastpitch softball programs, and to recognize professional contributions to the sport by:

a. Keeping members informed of current coaching techniques and trends.

b. Providing national and international educational training for fastpitch softball coaches.

c. Encouraging, supporting, and providing guidance in the development and conduct of fastpitch softball programs whose purposes correlate with the general objectives of education.

d. Instilling within coaches a deep sense of responsibility for developing and conducting programs that will en rich the lives of the participants.

2. To encourage the playing of fastpitch softball in accordance with the highest traditions of competition.

3. To foster national and international amateur fastpitch softball competition.

4. To facilitate public and professional understanding and appreciation of the importance and value of the sport of fastpitch softball.

5. To identify and pursue issues relevant to fastpitch softball coaches and to the sport of fastpitch softball; and to provide a forum for the discussion of matters of interest to members of the Association.

6. To provide a channel of direct communication among fastpitch softball coaches at all educational levels.

7. To maintain a membership group representative of all sections of the United States, and all levels of fastpitch softball competition.

8. To organize the coaches as a group interested in formulating and promoting guiding principles, standards, and policies for conducting competitive fastpitch softball programs for girls and women; and to provide a united body for positive action relative to the sport of fastpitch softball.

9. To promote cooperative efforts with other professional organizations similarly interested in the ultimate development of fast pitch softball programs and opportunities for fastpitch softball players.

10. To promote cooperative efforts with other professional organizations interested in girls’ and women’s athletics (programs, coaches, and players).

There is no doubt that the NFCA has contributed and helped develop the sport, especially in the area of coaches and getting them together. It's a far cry from the early days of the organization which first developed from discussions at the National Collegiate Women’s Softball Championships in the early 1980's when the AIAW and the NCAA were vying for the control of college softball. Judy Martino of North Carolina is credited with forming the organization as collegiate coaches wanted an awards program, a forum to discuss issues affecting the sport, a means to better educate coaches and update them on softball-related issues, and representation in such organization as the NCAA and the ASA. At that time, dues were $35.00 per year and the 1984 budget showed income of $17,375 and expenses of $14,529.

It was determined that the purpose of the National Softball Coaches Association was “to educate softball coaches and the public in the game of softball, including coordinating the relationship between softball team membership and other educational endeavors through the development of softball in all its aspects as an amateur sport, including maintaining communication of new ideas and discussion of issues involving softball and education.” The NSCA planned to achieve these goals by initiating softball clinics, hosting national softball conventions, conducting regional meetings, and by providing official publications to all members. The major sources of income were expected to come from membership dues, corporate sponsors and clinics.

Since then, the organization's college coaches have welcomed assistant coaches, high school coaches, travel ball coaches and affiliate members, which consist of umpires, foreign coaches, professional coaches, former coaches and those persons generally interested in softball.

Other milestones in the Association's history are:

• Approval as an affiliate member of the NCAA in 1984.

• Approval as an allied member of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) in April, 1988.

Softball is only better because of the people who believed in forming the NFCA and the organization will only get better in the future because of the dedicated people like Lacy Lee Baker and her staff and the thousands of coaches and fans who care about amateur softball.

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Playing Fall Softball?

Written By Bill Plummer

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Playing Fall Softball

Numerous colleges and universities play fall softball. There are good reasons for doing this. In most cases the schedule is limited in the number of games played and doesn't involve a lot of travel. This is a good time for the coaches to look at incoming freshmen to determine if some of them will crack the starting lineup. It also is a good time for transfers to get to know their teammates. It also helps returning players to work on a phase of their game that needs additional work. It also allows the coaches to try different lineup combinations and put players at different positions, depending on what players were lost through graduation, and especially if the players who graduated were All-Americans.

For some schools and colleges not hit hard by graduation, the fall season is a good time for players to sharpen their skills for the upcoming season while those schools and colleges that lost veteran players through graduation the fall season can and often does play an important role in determining the starting lineup when the umpire yells “play ball” for the opening game of the season. What is done or not done can make or break a team's season and there is certainly less pressure during the fall season and is a learning experience for the players.

The fall season in some cases is the first for a new head coach while for others it could be their 10th, 20th or 30th fall season. For Dr. Dot Richardson this fall will be her first as the new head coach at Liberty University, while Patty Gasso, coach of the defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners, marked the start of her 20th season at OU this fall. Although Gasso and Richardson are each in their mid-50's, they are at different ends of their softball careers. There is a connection,however, between the two coaches.

During the 2013 Women's College World Series, this writer was discussing the Series with one of the OU grad students, who was keeping stats for the Sooners. A graduate of Liberty, the grad student mentioned that his school was going after Dr. Dot Richardson and had hoped to hire her as its new softball coach, replacing the retiring Paul Wetmore who coached for 20 years, winning more than 500 games.

I found that information interesting but didn't give it much thought until months later when it was announced that Richardson would indeed be the next Liberty head softball coach. I knew Dr. Dot had coached during her outstanding career, serving as an assistant at Adelphi, but never had been a Division One head coach. Obviously Dr. Dot had plans of being ta Division One head coach and obviously Liberty made the right pitch to get her and her husband (Bob Pinto) to come to Lynchburg, VA and become only the second softball coach in school history.

The Liberty softball program was reinstated in 1994 and in 2013 had a 30-37 record, leaving Richardson and her staff a lot of work to do to make the Flames a contender at the national college level. Having known Dr. Richardson for more than 30 years, I know she and her staff will put in the effort to turn around the Liberty softball program. Richardson has been a success everywhere she has been and there is no reason not to believe she won't be successful in Lynchburg.

Richardson said there were three reasons she took the Liberty coaching job and told them to Brian Davis, director of PR for the NFCA, in the September issue of Fast Pitch Delivery. Said Richardson, “No. 1 Liberty University is the largest Christian university in the world. It's Christ centered. For me being Christ-centered sparked my interest.

No. 2 the athletic director (Jeff Barber) said we want to put Liberty softball on the map to glorify the Lord. We want to take it to the next level.” I asked him what his definition of the next level was. I know what mine is and he said, “to be nationally ranked and, Lord winning, win a Women's College World Series.” Thirdly, he said that “financially they were prepared to put the resources behind the program to help us get there and that they were building a new softball stadium that we want you to design.”

In the last 30 plus years Richardson has made herself one of the most well know personalities in softball. Now, her and her staff will attempt to make Liberty University one of the most well known Division One college softball teams. Time will tell how long that will take to accomplish.That's the View From Here.

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They Lost Perspective On The Sport

Written By Bill Plummer

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They Lost Perspective On The Sport

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Lance Armstrong wanted it all and ended up failing miserably. Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez is still playing but has filed an appeal relating to his involvement in performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod has been given a 211-game ban. Armstrong and Rodriguez are guilty of wanting it all in sports at any cost. They lost perspective on the sport they were involved with and didn’t care what they did to get what they wanted. What they wanted was more money and fame. It’s a sad situation, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

No matter if it’s Armstrong, A-Rod or any other athlete, college or pro, keeping everything in perspective is paramount. Even if you get a Division one softball scholarship, understand that with it comes a responsibility to live up to the policies and procedures of the college or university that has awarded you the scholarship. There are policies and procedures in pro and amateur sports, but too often these policies and procedures are violated and you read about it in the morning newspaper. Getting a full ride to a major university or college is a privilege and should be treated that way. Too often athletes, especially in Division One football, don’t treat it as a privilege and take it lightly. When they lose sight of this, they end losing their scholarship or, even worse, kicked off the team because they are arrested or violated the policy or procedure often.

Even if you get a Division One softball scholarship remember that there is life after softball and playing college softball is only four years. Perhaps you’ll be drafted by the NPF and might want to give pro softball a try. That is fine, but remember you aren’t going to get rich playing pro softball. The salaries in the NPF are small in comparison to other pro leagues. For June, July and August, the NPF salary is approximately $5,000 to $6.000 per player. If you play overseas, and especially in Japan, the salaries are considerably better, usually in the $100,000 to $300,000 range. So be sure that if you want to play pro softball, either in the USA or aboard, understand that eventually in time you will retire from the NPF to have a career in something else maybe besides softball or you might want to coach.

Unfortunately, because of the amount of money that is being squandered by pro teams, athletes are taking risks and don’t care about the consequences. In the long run they lose and leave behind a legacy of infamy that will label them for the rest of their lives. A-Rod said “The last seven months has been a nightmare, has been probably the worst time of my life for sure.” He doesn’t say who was to blame for this period of time. Of course it was A-Rod. Don’t end up like A-Rod or Armstrong. Keep a level head about your softball career during the time you’re playing and after the playing career is over. There is too much to lose. Your good name and reputation are not worth throwing them away for money. Armstrong and A-Rod did. And they’ve got to live with what they did for the rest of their lives. Don’t end up like them. Keep softball in perspective, on and off the field of play.

That’s the View from Here

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A Series Of Their Own

Written By Bill Plummer

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A Series Of Their Own

Having worked on 13 softball books in the past, I took some time before deciding to do another softball book. Actually, I took six months, and then decided to do another softball book. The topic? The Women's College World Series, which actually started in 1969 and not 1982 as some people had indicated. The year 1982 was when the NCAA took over the sponsorship of the event and of course since then the event has grown to become the premier college softball event in the U.S. The 2013 event was expected to top 80,000 fans, a record for attendance.

Telling the real story behind the Women's College World Series and helping the sport were the main reasons for doing the book. The book needed to be done because softball unfortunately doesn't have enough books about the history of the game and it makes sense to have a book about college softball and tell future players and coaches how the college game evolved and who were the people who were the pioneers of the sport. Before doing the book, I contacted Larry Floyd, who I had worked with during my career at ASA, and asked him if he wanted to co-author the book with me. He said yes and has done an outstanding book, not only helping to write, edit and design the book but designing and setting up our website: www.seriesoftheirown.com

Larry and I contacted Connie Claussen, who was involved with the first WCWS in Omaha in 1969, and she graciously gave us her personal files including clippings and pictures to start the project. Without her assistance, we would never have done the book. We did a lot of research on our own, but her files of information were invaluable in getting the book done on time, which was to have it in time for the 2013 College World Series. We met our deadline and had copies available on Tuesday the week of the College World Series, which started May 30. Throughout the tournament either Larry or I was in the ASA gift shop telling people about the book, handing out book marks and enjoying talking to people about the best event in college softball. We printed 3,000 copies of “A Series of Their Own. The History of the Women's College World Series,” and have developed a marketing plan to sell the books in the year ahead. We were fortunate to have the cover along with a story in Oklahoma City Preview, which was distributed to the local hotels and motels. In fact, two ladies from California read the story in Preview and came out to the Hall of fame gift shop and purchased two books. We thank the staff of Preview for their help in promoting the book and especially Darl DeVault.

We did the book in about five months and could have taken a year or more to get it done, but we wanted to have the book done in time for the 2013 WCWS. We felt it was important to have it done in time for this year's WCWs and there were times when we wished we had more time, considering we were doing three chapters a week, but we made the deadline and were pleased with the printing of the book by the Transcript Press of Norman, Okla. We dedicated the book to Claussen and Marita Hynes, former co-director of the WVCWS, who in fact was in town for the 2013 WCWS. She directed 19 WCWS and could just as easily give up when the going got tough, but she didn't and certainly played a major role in developing this event. But foremost, the book was dedicated to the women college athletes who before the late 1970s laced up worn-out athlete shoes, wore mismatched uniforms and competed on less than adequate fields, and to the selfless coaches who nurtured these young players. These athletes and coaches pursued their chosen sport with little or no funding to speak of, not like today's big softball budgets, and without the support and recognition given freely to their male counterparts. And they did it for the purest of reasons-the childlike love of their sport and the joyous excitement of athlete competition. And if you were on hand for the Florida vs. Michigan 16-inning game on June 1, which took five hours and 20 minutes to play, you got a perfect example of the joyous excitement and love these athletes have for simply playing a game they love to play. It doesn't get any better than that and that's the view from here.

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