AZ college softball players tour with USA Softball

Five college softball players from Arizona have been living the dream this summer.

Four players from the University of Arizona and one from Arizona State were selected last month to the 2010 USA Softball Women’s Futures National Team.  The prestigious team is made up of athletes who currently play, or have played, at 13 different schools in six D-I conferences.

That was an honor in itself.  But the opportunity to play for the Futures Team also gave the players a chance to compete with one of the legends of the game, Arizona’s own, Jennie Finch.

Finch plays for the USA National Team, which just got done playing a pair of exhibition doubleheaders against the Futures National Team.

The underlying mission for all of these players:  to get softball reinstated as an Olympic sport.

Finch, the UofA graduate that went on to win a gold medal and silver medal at the Olympics before the sport was dropped, has spent the last five years focused on getting softball  back into the Olympics.  Both softball and baseball will have a chance in two years to be voted back into the event, but wouldn’t be included until the 2016 games.  They were the first sports cut from the Olympics since polo got the axe in 1936.

It’s our mission,” said Finch in a recent interview.  “And we’ll do everything in our power, everything we can, to get back in.”

And now she has a new wave of supporters in that mission, 18 college players who will help take the message across the country.

Players from the University of Arizona include Kenzie Fowler (pitcher), Brittany Lastrapes (outfield), Jenae Leles (infield), and Lauren Schutzler (outfield).  The Sun Devil in the mix is infielder Katelyn Boyd.

Fowler is the amazing freshman pitcher that is already being compared to Finch, who has arguably become the most well-known softball player in the history of the game.  At UofA, she was a three-time All-American that also got off to a great start her freshman year, winning 24 games.  By her junior year, she set an NCAA record with a 32-0 record.

Fowler finished the season with an awe-inspiring record of 38-9, carrying the Wildcats on her back all the way to the NCAA Championship series, where the Cats lost to UCLA.  The graduate of Canyon del Oro HS in Tucson was selected to the All-Tournament Team.

Boyd is also still a youngster with a huge upside.  The sophomore from Horizon HS in Scottsdale led the Pac-10, and the nation as well, in just about every offensive category at some point in the season.  She was just named an NCFA First Team All-American.

The Sun Devils finished the year 44-17 and won their regional before being ousted in the Super Regional by Florida.

Now, the quintet from the desert have begun their travels as ambassadors of the game.  Their first assignment was to provide an opponent for the National Team in exhibition games played last week in Ohio, a doubleheader in Canton and another in Ashland.

The National Team took all four games from the Futures Team, without letting the newcomers score a single run.  Consider it a learning experience for the youngsters.

But Finch pitched some of the innings both nights, so the college kids got a chance to play against one of the game’s best ever.

That first night, at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton, 4,128 fans showed up.  Finch spent time before the game signing items and posing for photos with the locals.

That’s part of her job, as the ‘face of women’s softball’.  She’s happy to do it because it moves her mission forward.

But USA Softball will take the message on the road to other countries as well.  The National Team is currently playing at the June 23-July 2 World Championships in Caracas, Venezuela. And next month, the Futures Team will take on the National Teams of Canada and Japan, along with the USA team, at the 2010 World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City.

The idea is to increase the sport’s visibility throughout the world, and hopefully encourage other countries to pick up the game.

Finch and the rest are counting on that road to eventually lead back to the Olympics.