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NPF Veterans Champion Mentoring Roles With USSSA Pride

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(Photo courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch)

When college baseball players hear their names called in the Major League Baseball draft, very seldom do they have to think about stepping onto the field to face the best players in the world just days after their collegiate careers end. In fact, the MLB farm systems that are in place often allow younger players to develop their skills over time and gradually adjust to the pace of life as professional athletes.

For rookies in the National Pro Fastpitch, however, such luxuries are not available. New players in the NPF typically go straight from life as collegiate student-athletes to that of professional players at softball's most elite level.

"It’s not like the MLB that has a farm system," USSSA Pride veteran outfielder Megan Wiggins told Softball America. "Our rookies go right from college to the highest level. That's why it’s really important in our league for them to have mentors."

Wiggins, who has played professional softball since 2011, remembers what it was like to go right from college at the University of Georgia to the NPF, almost immediately after her senior season ended. She recalls latching onto the examples set by former Chicago Bandits star infielders Tammy Williams and Amber Patton at the beginning of her professional career.

"It’s a lot to get used to," the 30-year-old Wiggins reflected. "It’s a big transition to go from being told everything you have to do in college 24/7, to the pro side, where no one tells you what to do. Because of that, it's important to have people on your team who you can go to and ask questions to."

Former University of Washington pitcher and current Pride rookie Taran Alvelo has experienced the difficult reality of such a transition over the past two weeks. Almost immediately after the Huskies' elimination from the Women's College World Series on June 2, Alvelo began her adjustment to life as a professional softball player.

"You’re kind of just thrown into the fire," said Alvelo, who is 2–0 so far this season for the 4–3 Pride. "This blanket of trust just comes over you very quickly at this level with your teammates."

And since the NPF does not have the same resources as other professional sports leagues, new players also have to quickly learn how to stay on top of day-to-day tasks that keep their team's engine running throughout the season. To expedite that process, Wiggins and fellow NPF veteran Kelly Kretschman took some time earlier this week to inform USSSA's six highly-touted rookies—Alvelo, Falepolima Aviu, Shay Knighten, Sydney Romero, Megan Good and Amanda Lorenz—about what to expect during the season.

"I think we have been able to help them with the little things," said Kretschman, a 39-year-old outfielder for the Pride. "[We let them know] when we need to do our laundry, what we’re supposed to eat and not eat in the dugout, things like that."

Wiggins added: "We went over the expectations of what we do as a team. We want them to make an immediate impact. We’re all here to help. We want our rookies to feel comfortable."

For Kretschman, the role of mentors in the NPF is paramount to not only the swift adjustment of younger players to life as professional athletes, but also to the league's future success. Kretschman, who has competed in 14 of the NPF's 16 seasons, knows the importance of grooming younger players for successful professional careers, with the hope that they will stay in the NPF for the long haul.

"I think our league is becoming younger and younger because so many women are getting out of the sport too soon due to financial reasons," Kretschman said. "It’s huge to have some of us who are older to continue to be in the league to show the path for other women to follow about how to develop a successful professional softball league."

As two of the best players to ever suit up in the NPF, both Wiggins and Kretschman hope the mark they leave on the NPF's younger players goes beyond what happens on the field.

"We want to elongate the life of the league we play in just by passing things down to its younger players," Wiggins said. "That shows how women supporting women can help others."

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Q&A With USSSA Executive Director And CEO Don DeDonatis III

USSSA Executive Director and CEO Don DeDonatis III answered questions about the Pride's future in professional softball.