For boys and girls who grow up playing sports, dreaming of the future is usually much different. The promotion and abundance of professional men's sports allow many boys to aspire to one day play on the pro level. Many fewer girls live with these dreams, because the reality is for most women athletes that their career will end after college simply by lack of additional opportunity beyond.
For many young softball players, softball is life. Even though baseball and softball are very similar in the rules of the games, they are very different when it comes to the building blocks of playing them. I’ve played baseball from age 4 all the way until my last college game at the age of 23. I tried out for the MLB, but didn’t make the cut. Even though I didn’t make the cut, the opportunity was there for me and several fellow athletes aspiring to go pro.
Think about this. The MLB has a 25 man active roster and the MLB has 30 teams. That’s 750 players right there. However, they also have the 40 man roster that consists of the extra 15 players that usually play at the AAA level waiting to get their call. So that 750 goes to 1,200 players that are in the Major Leagues. But wait, there’s more. Baseball also has the developmental level known as the Minor Leagues. There are 244 teams in the Minors that range from rookie ball to AAA and each team usually consists of about 22 players each which means that there are about 5,368 players in the Minors. Take that and add it to the MLB and you have a whopping 6,568 players playing professional baseball. Holy cow.
So where does softball tie into all of this? Well, there is such a thing called National Pro Fastpitch. The NPF consists of 6 teams that have rosters sizes of 22 players. That’s 132 women playing softball after college. That’s 132 compared to 6,568. Doesn’t seem balanced does it? What chance does a little girl have of dreaming of such a future when little boys have a much greater chance of playing professionally? Well, it doesn’t stop them from living the hectic life that is youth softball.
For youth baseball, there was tee-ball, coach pitch, and little league all before playing junior high and high school ball. Another avenue was playing travel ball before high school hit, because once high school baseball started, there wasn’t time for travel ball. On the flip side, for youth softball, there was the same leagues, however, travel ball was essentially a must if you wanted to play past high school. I spoke to a former college softball player, Kristen Uthe, who talked to me about growing up and playing travel ball in southern California.
She played for a team called SoCal Rage and reminisces on a normal softball week during the summers. “Since there was no school throughout the week, we had a busier schedule,” Uthe said. “It usually consisted of batting and pitching lessons twice a week. One on Monday or Tuesday and one on Thursday. We then had practice in Glendora on Wednesday and then we would leave on Fridays to head to whatever weekend tournament we were playing in and play a minimum of 3 games a day that weekend then repeat.”
Her team would play every weekend during the summer and travel all over California and even travel to other states to play. “The tournaments were always far too, so that made it more of a grind on a young girl who was gone every weekend of the summer, but that was my life.” The tournaments were never the same either. Some were regular tournaments and other were for recruiting. “I played for the Rage from when I was 12 all the way until I was 18, which means that this was my life throughout high school as well,” Uthe said. “But the recruiting tournaments were the only way that you’ll be seen by a recruiter and get an opportunity to play in college.”
Uthe would go on to play four years in college and hang them up after her final season in 2014. “When I look back at my playing career, I see it as being the best time of my life because I was playing the sport that I loved pretty much every day,” Uthe said. “Whether that was on the field or taking batting practice at my dad’s house, but the one thing that it did affect was my social life. For a young 8th grader going into high school, making friends was important. Playing softball sort of took that away. I had several teammates that I spend hours with but that is different than actually building a friendship and I missed out on having that opportunity.”
Even though she loved playing softball, she had to face the reality that college was going to be the end of the road for her softball career. “You get to that point where you realize that you’ve spent your entire childhood doing something and spending countless hours perfecting something just to see it end because the opportunities to keep doing it aren’t there,” Uthe said. “Knowing that I was most likely not going to be one of the 132 in professional softball, I never took any practice or game for granted.”
By Daulton Perry
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