By: Ryan Knoblauch, who you can follow on Twitter here: @RKnobsauce
This Memorial weekend will keep most families busy outdoors. Whether they’re grilling, swimming, or camping that’s a solid way to kick off the summer. But if bad weather or family gatherings cause you to find yourself stuck inside listening to your great aunt babble about her home-made jams, I implore you to check out the NCAA Softball tourney that is in full swing this weekend.
The full schedule can be found here on the NCAA’s website.
Reasons to watch:
1. Energy of Players and Fans
Baseball games are quiet and boring, like there is some unwritten rule that you have to respect the players ability to focus, or can’t show your emotion without invoking a fight from the opposing team. Softball is the exact opposite. Even if this was a local 8,9 year old coach pitch tournament in your hometown, the energy levels of the players and fans would keep you glued to the game. To some it may seem annoying that these girls never stop talking, chanting or cheering, but it brings an excitement to the casual spectator that keeps you engaged. They have scripted chants that you typically hear 400 times a game, or their rally outfits that make their appearance late in the games really show you how invested these players are with every pitch. Top rally caps to look for: backwards helmet, upside down visor, iron man and his horse (see cover photo…and the LSU Tigers are back in the field this year too). The fans get after it too. Softball fans are not your casual fans, they are fanatics, and that is because they are usually Moms, Dads, sisters and other family and friends that are so emotionally tied to the players that you can see their anguish and nervousness gushing out on every play.
2. Fast paced
Softball fields are much more compact than the wide-open lanes of a baseball diamond. The shorter fences give you lots of home runs and scoring, and the shorter bases keep the game moving at a quick pace. Decisions by both fielders and runners have to be made in a split second. Any hesitation or mishandled ball and the play can be lost, creating more base runners and more action. You would think that with a smaller outfield it would leave less chance for hitter to find the gaps, but softball has something that baseball doesn’t…slappers. These players stand on the left side of the plate and literally get a running start towards first base as the pitch is thrown. They can choose to lay down a soft hit to out-run the throw and move the runner over, or knock one over the infielder that tries to creep in and get a head start on the ball. It is an element to the game that fits perfectly with the compact design of the field and fast paced action, and one you will be unfamiliar with if you’ve only ever watched baseball.
3. Exciting Matchups – Somethings Gotta’ Give
It is the ultimate clash off offense vs defense. Most teams only use one, maybe two, pitchers. Their pitch speed can vary up to 20 mph (mid 40’s to mid 60’s) depending on which pitch they throw, which is pretty impossible to hit with a mound much closer than in baseball. Combine that with the fact that they are robots who can throw 150 pitches one night and go out the next afternoon and throw another complete game, you end up with some pitchers who put up pretty gaudy numbers including extremely low ERAs and lots of strikeouts. However, they don’t often face top competition all year and all of the teams left have legit hitters. Take a look at Oregon for example. FIVE players in their starting lineup are hitting over .340, which in baseball is practically unheard of for a full season, and their leadoff hitter is hitting .407! Most teams don’t have 1 or 2 hitters that will hit 20 or 30 HRs but a full lineup of players who can burn you at any time. Arizona this season hit 93 HRs and scored 429 runs this year (7.4 runs/game). Games may be a defensive battle, or offensive slugfest, but either way they will be fun and no one will ever be out of it.
4. Eye Candy
With apologies to all of the wives and girlfriends out there, especially to my beautiful fiancée, there may be some ogling and googling going on in your household this weekend that doesn’t involve your significant other staring at you (but in reality she will be doing the same thing when we go see Johnny Depp in the knew Pirates movie, so I count it as even). The past two seasons my softball crush was Christina Hamilton and her Rick Vaughn glasses but this years World Series darling may come from the pitching matchup in the Baylor vs Arizona super regional (Danielle O’Toole vs Heather Sterns). I’m also dying to know who is behind that Iron Man mask in the cover photo….I guess a hero never tell. Also, as a PSA to all the guys out there: Girls always gush over boys in their baseball pants, but the thing is, the girls look pretty good in softball pants too.