Up to Sunday, there was nary a glitch to the first-ever NPF Fastpitch Softball Championships at the Ballpark at Rosemont, aka, the "World Series of Softball."
The weather was hot, the skies were clear, the competition was fierce, and well-matched. The crowds looked to be around 900-plus for the Chicago Bandits games, and ESPN was going to be there on Sunday.
The conditions were challenging for the players. In 95+ degree heat, the women played at least two games apiece on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and were due to play two more on Sunday. Their attitude couldn't be better. After a grueling qualifying series with the Akron Racers to earn their way into the championships, Pride slugger Jessica Mendoza, who had just hit a grand slam and a two-run homer to put the Racers away in the final innings, carried her son back into the press tent, cooing "You want to go see the tent? Let's go into the tent!" Outside, Mendoza's patient husband was talking into his cellphone "Yeah, we're just waiting for Jess to finish up. "
Mommy time and professional workload. All in a day's work for these professional softball players, who are passionate about everything in their lives--commitment to work, family, and promoting the sport they love to gain recognition. All uncomplaining about everything that was thrown their way.
To the delight of the mostly hometown crowd, the Bandits swept their two game playoff series and looked to be well on their way to their third title, winning the first of the best of three Championship series , 2-1, against the USSSA (FL) Pride on Saturday night.
The Bandits were looking to repeat as NPF champions after defeating the Pride in Game 1 Saturday night by a score of 2-1.
With one more win on Sunday, as Graham Hays reported in his column:
"Pitcher Monica Abbott could have claimed a third NPF title, a feat neither Cat Osterman, her opponent that night, nor Jennie Finch, watching from the stands, managed from amongst the pantheon of pitching greats."
I spoke with Abbott after Saturday's game, her pitching arm encased in an ice pack, after being voted the NPF's Most Valuable Pitcher of the Year. I congratulated her for being such a great ambassador for her sport.
Abbott gave me one-armed hug, and thanked me. I asked her how her arm felt. She admitted, "The ice feels good." Not bad for a gal who came on in relief on Friday night and pitched a complete game on Saturday night with 70+ mph pitches throughout.
The Cubs should sign Abbott, I think. She could certainly handle a baseball better than Chris Volstad.
Also, what other player shakes hands with each media member and thanks them for coming?
Game 2 was set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday. ESPN was coming to cover the game. Great anticipation and excitement for this breakout event was swelling.
And then, the unthinkable happened....
Unfortunately, I had gotten a case of food poisoning (bad hotel food?) that kept me in bed and worshipping the porcelain god the entire day and night. Therefore, the reports of Sunday's game (or lack thereof) came to me via my great sources and those who were there to witness the longest, most frustrating day in recent NPF history. And one that ruined the season for fans, players and personnel alike.
As reported by the Daily Herald: Down came the pouring rain, at noon. The game was postponed to 3:30, then 6 p.m. Finally, the game started about 6:10 p.m. but was postponed again after just one batter, with plans to restart at 7 p.m.
More than three hours later, the entire series was canceled. And in the process, the decision not to name a champion. But let's let the NPF tell its own story:
The National Pro Fastpitch 2012 season ended without crowning a Champion. Championship Series Sunday was riddled with rain, causing delays that ultimately led to cancellation. Despite multiple efforts by Series field crew, the field eventually became too saturated for competition.
It came down to a decision by the League Commissioner, Cheri Kempf. She said in a statement:
"This is a heartbreaking decision to make and a terrible position to be in," she said. "Our players are competitors at their core and every single one of them are gravely disappointed in not being able to finish this."
When it became clear that there was to be no competition on Sunday, multiple sources, including examiner.com and espn.comconfirmed the fact that both teams were willing to field competion on Monday, despite the fact that Abbott, and many others in the starting lineup for the Bandits, were to go overseas to begin play for next week. That said, the Bandits coach had a heated discussion with Kempf, and told media outlets covering the game that they "could have put a team on the field," despite the loss of Abbott and others. Similarly, the USSSA Pride indicated that they were willing to change their plans for a Monday game.
Yet, Kempf persisted with the idea that the Bandits couldn't play, continuing on with her statement,
"However, one team would have suffered significant losses to their roster, due to travel plans, making the postponement and continuation unfair to say the least," said Kempf. Unfortunately, our policies do not provide for naming a winner in the event the Series is not completed."
Puh-leeze, Ms. Kempf! That is no excuse, particularly since the Bandits said they could field a competitive team on Monday. This is the ninth year of the NPF Championship Series. How could they have gone eight seasons without a rain contingent? To me, that just reeks of unprofessionalism, not to mention the incredible disappointment of fans, players, and young girls who idolize their teams.
Chris Hendrickson of the Chicago Bandits, another great local ambassador, summed up the feelings of a lot of those who attended this game on his Facebook Page. A former pro wrestler, Hendrickson was nice enough to allow me to wear the previous championship rings (I had to give them back, darn it)
"(I) join with all of you that this is not how a Championship should be determined, or that instead of celebrating the careers of Rachel Folden, Caitlin Lever, Katie Burkhart, Jami Lobpries and others that the last thoughts of 2012 are that of not having a Champion.
Many of you say you won't support the NPF anymore. I'm going to ask you to KEEP supporting your favorite team. Make your voice heard by showing up at games and celebrating the game. If you stop coming to games then your voice disappears. The dreams that these young athletes are living disappear and then so do the dreams your daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and friends.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Just, please, have a Plan B in place next year, when the Chicago Bandits once again host the NPF Championships at the Ballpark at Rosemont. Your very future will depend upon it, Ms. Kempf