Kelly Kretschman Wins Softball America Legacy Award, Announces Retirement
ROSEMONT, Ill. – If you look at the softball record books at both the collegiate and professional levels, Kelly Kretschman’s name is etched all over them. As one of the best pure hitters to ever play the sport, Kretschman has had the rare opportunity to impact two different generations of softball players and fans alike since debuting for the University of Alabama more than 20 years ago.
But Kretschman, who has consistently starred at softball’s highest levels throughout her playing career, will be remembered for more than just her hitting prowess once it is all said and done. She is someone who has dedicated almost her entire life to both playing and advocating for the sport she loves.
That’s why Kretschman, a 14-year National Pro Fastpitch veteran, is the inaugural winner of the Softball America Legacy Award. The award, which was granted to Kretschman on Wednesday at the annual NPF Awards Banquet, honors a person associated with the league who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, perseverance and excellence in the realm of professional softball, with the ultimate goal of advancing the sport for current and future generations of players.
Following her acceptance of the award on Wednesday, Kretschman announced her intentions to retire from softball at the end of the 2019 NPF Championship Series.
“I think the most valuable contribution Kelly has made to the league and to the concept of professional softball is the excellence she has built up to and sustained at the age at which she has done it,” NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf told Softball America. “She has proved to the world that we are not close to seeing the athletic potential in softball at the moment women graduate from college. And that if we truly want to see the extraordinary accomplishments that are possible, we must sustain the professional level of this sport.”
Kretschman, who has competed in 14 of the NPF’s 16 seasons, began her professional softball journey in 2005 with the Akron Racers. A two-time Olympic medalist with the United States women’s national softball team, Kretschman subsequently played with the Connecticut Brakettes and Washington Glory in the NPF before becoming a member of the USSSA Pride in 2009. She has been with the Pride ever since then, and during her tenure with the organization, became arguably the best player in league history.
“It's been amazing to still be able to play this sport for as long as I have,” Kretschman told Softball America. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for the NPF. It’s been 14 years of being able to be a professional athlete and just continuing to play softball. It’s been an amazing ride.”
For Kretschman, who turns 40 later this month, the most important aspect of her job as a softball player wasn't what she could accomplish on the field, but rather, how she could be utilized as a mechanism for the growth of the professional game.
“That’s why I’ve been playing for so long,” said Kretschman, who recently recorded the 500th hit of her illustrious NPF career. “I just wanted to continue to grow the NPF and help make it into something that could be dreamed about by girls who wanted to keep playing when they were done with college.”
Kretschman believes the growth of softball at the collegiate level can mean great things for the future of the professional game.
“Our goal is to figure out how to bridge the gap between the popularity of the sport when the college softball season ends and the NPF season starts,” Kretschman stated. “College softball has grown to a level that is just amazing with ESPN supporting it. That’s awesome to see, and I think there are more girls who want to play the sport now because of the way the college game has grown.”
But Kretschman understands that the path to prominence for the NPF will surpass the time she has left on the playing field. With her days in the NPF nearly over, Kretschman knows how she wants to be remembered by the people in the sport who mean the most to her.
“I hope my teammates will say that I was one of their favorite teammates to play with,” Kretschman said. “I hope they will say that I was a great teammate and that they learned a lot from me and that they really just had fun.”