I must admit that I have been a traitor to the Yankees these past few days. No...I have not crossed over to the Dark Side and become a Red Sox fan. Even if the Red Sox signed Bernie Williams, I doubt I'd convert to being a citizen of the Nation. I've been a traitor to the Yankees because since Memorial Day weekend, I've been addicted to softball. Thanks to Missouri's outstanding upset of almighty UCLA (game three's score ending in favor of Mizzou 9-1) and eliminating them (UCLA is a winner of 11 championship titles) from World Series contention, I successfully missed that disaster of rubber game between the Yankees and Phillies. You may question my Yankees fan hood here. After all, the Phillies (defending World Champions) come to town and I choose instead to watch the college softball super regionals? You're damn right I did. The Yankees have months ahead of my devoted time and attention. Softball graces ESPN and ESPN2 but once a year like a brilliant spark...brief yet vibrant and memorable.
For those non-softball fans who don't know the teams, what Mizzou successfully managed to accomplish when they beat out UCLA for a spot in the World Series tournament is equivalent to what the Rays managed to accomplish last season when they overcame the odds and clinched the American League Championship. As the Rays couldn't defeat the Phillies for "The Title,"Mizzou was quickly eliminated from the World Series tournament, being defeated by the Arizona State Sun Devils (2008 champions) and Georgia Bull Dogs. Surprisingly enough, University of Arizona (former home of Olympic softball player, Jennie Finch, and winner of 8 championship titles) made a quick exit as well.
After a weekend of softball (and several missed Yankees games in Cleveland), the final two teams remaining were the Florida Gators and Washington Huskies. Neither program had ever won a championship. Florida gained entry with a walk off grand slam home run by Ali Gardiner off of Bama's practically unhitable Kelsy Dunn. Washington entered in a similar exciting fashion. Washington defeated Georgia by a whopping score of 9-3, but the game included a grand slam home run by Washington pitcher and softball player of the year, Danielle Lawrie. How many MLB pitchers do you see helping themselves by hitting a grand slam? Do you see why I ditched the Yankees for softball yet? Game 1 (in a best of 3 series) of the World Series was, admittedly, disappointing. Lawrie shut down the Gator offense allowing no runs while the Huskies battered Stacey Nelson and the Gators for 8! Last night, I prayed for the Gators to win Game 2 just to give me another softball game to watch. While Nelson and Lawrie battled each other in a pitchers' duel, AJ and the Yankees took on the hot Texas Rangers team at Yankees Stadium. While I did flip back and forth between games just to check in on the Yankees (they apparently did just fine without my babysitting), I was predominantly glued to ESPN 2 and softball. By the 6th inning, I was pretty confident that the Huskies had it. The score was only 3-2, but Lawrie was locked in. The look in her eyes said simply, "This is my championship. I'm going to win." After throwing over 600 pitches during the tournament, her fast ball suddenly picked up the pace and began hitting approximately 70 mph (the equivalent of a 95 mph pitch in baseball). The Gators, despite having one of the best offenses in the country, did not stand a chance.
Last night, while I may have missed the Yankees squash the Rangers, I watched Washington's softball program take home their first championship title. I always feel sad at the end of the World Series tournament. One team reaches the dream that every softball player has: a championship title. Seniors of that team can leave a program and go onto their future careers, satisfied in the knowledge that as a softball player, they've reached the pinnacle of their athletic careers. The losing team, however, leaves Oklahoma City as the runner up. A dream so close to being fulfilled, yet so far away. Seniors go home wondering what may have been (if only they hadn't struck out, if only they hadn't made an error, etc.). Unlike baseball players, softball players have no other level to achieve after the college world series (especially now that the Olympics have canceled softball), making this tournament even more precious to the players who are privileged and talented enough to make it this far. Maybe that's why these ladies are so much more fun to watch. Unlike the professionals who do not make it to the playoffs during a season, these ladies do not get a "maybe next year." They do not play softball for the money or potential endorsements. There are no such opportunities awaiting them after the season. They play for the pure love of the competition.
There was obviously no Game 3 tonight. I now wait for the Yankees to attempt to overcome a 4-2 score in the bottom of the 9th.