Every time I profess my love for the Women’s College World Series, all I receive are quizzical looks and sometimes even a sarcastic, “Are the girls that hot?” I try to explain to the naysayers why softball is a breath of fresh air in the oh-so-competitive sports world by reiterating these three common themes:
1. Throughout the game, passion manifests itself from the All-American senior to the third base coach throughout the game.
2. Unlike the MLB, small ball is not just encouraged but desired.
3. Yes, the girls are pretty, but it is their egoless personalities which keep me tuned in.
Still don’t believe me? Well, it’s obvious you didn’t watch the Alabama-Arizona State elimination game last night. Here’s the situation posed to Alabama manager Patrick Murphy:
Bases loaded. Two outs, fourth inning. Four-time All-American Brittany Rogers walks towards the batter’s box, but Murphy calls her back and makes an almost inconceivable decision. He removes the senior for a freshman, Jazlyn Lunceford, who was suffering through a 38-day hitless streak.
“I felt good about her. I just had, I guess, a gut feeling,” Murphy said. “I wasn't going to let anybody talk me out of it...I know (Rogers) is a four-time All-American, but I wanted to score more than one run.”
Rogers appeared surprised but not at all demoralized. Instead of sitting on the bench sulking or agitated, or tormenting a coach or cooler, she placed her foot on the top step of the dugout and cheered for the freshman throughout the at-bat. It was almost as if she wasn’t the one pinch hit for.
On one swing of the bat, Murphy’s gamble paid off. Lunceford blasted a 2-2 pitch over the outfield fence, giving the Crimson Tide a 4-2 lead and ultimately propelling the SEC-school to the next round.
“I was pretty surprised,” Lunceford said. “I just saw it off the bat. I knew I made good contact, but I really didn't think it was going over. It was awesome.”
When rounding the bases, Lunceford even received a chest-bump from the third base coach. Soon after, Rogers was the first of the Tide-mob to greet Lunceford at home plate and to celebrate the homer.
Was this a façade by Rogers? I doubt it.
“I would give up my at-bat any day to see that happen,” Rogers said. “I mean, I'm so proud of her. I think it is just awesome that she came through in the clutch. Murphy always says that somebody new is going to do something in a big, clutch situation. Who cares if they're a freshman?”
Watch any other team sport and you never see anything like this. Never. Do you really think a Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols would allow their manager to pinch hit for them with the bases loaded? Let alone with a rookie?
I’m not saying star players should be passive about such a situation. I know if they were, I’d be writing an article blasting the star. But it’s that very reason why college softball is so unique. Yes, there are stars, but none feel the need to demonstrate an ego to gain respect.
Just forget about the pretty faces. It is passion-filled moments like these, driven by doing whatever it takes to win, which makes the Women’s College World Series always worth watching.
Special thanks to Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register for the quotations.