I began covering women’s college softball when I interviewed Dot Richardson and Lisa Fernandez with Team USA for CNN Sports back in the 1990s. Fernandez, while at UCLA, was as responsible as anyone for putting the sport on the mainstream map with her skill, personality and intelligence. She was an ambassador. Dot – who is a physician so we should now call her “Doc” – preceded Lisa by a decade at UCLA, and was the player of the decade for the 1980s. They were teammates on the first Olympic Gold Medal winner in 1996.
(NOTE: Below you can watch a TV feature about the softball Hall of Fame in OKC)
That historic Olympic title was claimed in Columbus, Georgia, just down the road from Auburn, Alabama, where this week the Auburn Tigers – coached by Clint Myers, a softball hall of famer in his own right – host the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in a battle of programs trying to make it to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. Auburn’s first-year coach won two national titles while at Arizona State and is trying to get his new program into the big show for the first time. UL-Lafayette is a perennial post-season participant, appearing in the tournament 25 times in the last 26 years, including six trips to the WCWS.
I have to say I enjoy covering women’s college softball as much as any sport. The reasons?
- Good, hard-nosed competition. There seems – and this is a generality based on mown experience – less nastiness and more camaraderie and love of the game.
- Team play: as a follow-up to the previous remark, players seem to care about the team, and that is not the case with sports where there is so much national attention that the hero-stroking of young athletes becomes absurd – and leads to absurdly inflated egos. (Not to mention absurd salaries for professionals and perks for major men’s sports stars.)
- The family environment. I love going to games where kids – boys and girls – and their parents run around the concourse and play. Play is what sport is about, isn’t it? The crowd is knowledgeable and – except for some colleges where student sections get a bit rowdy – there are very few drunks to ruin the fun for others.
- The players enjoy playing the game as a team more than as individuals. In pro sports, the fans are removed, for obvious reasons (not all good reasons). In major college sports like football the same can be said. This creates a disconnect from the realities of the people who want desperately to relate to them. College softball players in the US are extremely talented athletes and yet, they remain approachable.
Of course, all of these are observations based on my experience. With that said, I look forward to seeing which teams make it to OKC. The Tigers, playing in a super regional for the first time, or UL-Lafayette, a perennial title contender that has played in this round six of the last eight seasons.