WCWS Stars Experience Quick Transition To Professional Softball
Taran Alvelo barely had time to cry. The former University of Washington pitcher sat in the dugout at Husky Softball Stadium for as long as she could before it was time to quickly make a decision about where she would begin her professional softball career.
"I sat in the dugout for hours after everyone left and just cried. It was therapeutic to sit there and do that," Alvelo told Softball America about the end of her collegiate playing career. "But then it was time to go into the locker room, grab my stuff and leave. As soon as I got in my car, the next thing was happening. It was overwhelming. What was I going to do next?"
Following a run at the 2019 Women's College World Series (WCWS) that saw Alvelo help Washington to an appearance in the national semifinal, which resulted in her earning a spot on the WCWS All-Tournament team, the fiery righthander had to decide between three possible landing spots in the professional softball realm. Should she play for the Aussie Peppers of Minnesota, the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) team that selected her with the eighth overall pick in April's NPF draft, the NPF's USSSA Pride out of Florida, who was expressing an interest in acquiring her from the Peppers or Scrap Yard Fast Pitch, an independent professional team based in Texas?
Alvelo relied on the support and advice of both her family and the Washington coaching staff before making her decision and leaving Seattle.
"I threw everything out on the table, every pro and con, every option," said Alvelo, who will also compete with the Puerto Rican national team this summer. "There were 25 pros to playing with the Pride, and I could not think of a single con. At the end of the day, everything just fit so perfectly [with the Pride]."
With her decision made to play for the NPF's defending champions, Alvelo left Seattle on a flight headed for St. Louis just five days after the completion of her collegiate career. Upon her arrival in St. Louis, Alvelo took a shuttle to Illinois, where she joined her new team for a series against the Canadian Wild.
That weekend, Alvelo found her worlds colliding. After entering her first professional game in relief for the Pride, the first batter Alvelo faced was Jenn Salling, a fellow UW softball great and her former coach.
"Things kind of came full circle in that moment," Alvelo reflected. "It helped me to feel at home."
The feeling of home is something that can be difficult for a rookie in any sport to experience, especially on the heels of a history-making collegiate career.
"You go from being very confident, having a plan and being the one people come to with questions," Alvelo stated, "to being the one who is going to people with questions. I’m a bit more quiet and reserved and observant of things right now. I’m just kind of watching what happens and asking a lot of questions."
Former University of Florida ace Kelly Barnhill can relate to how Alvelo feels right now. Barnhill, who also finished her collegiate playing career at the 2019 WCWS, was similarly thrust into the chaotic transition from college star to professional player.
"It’s been crazy," Barnhill, who now plays for the NPF's Chicago Bandits, told Softball America. "We got back from the World Series on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday I packed up my apartment. Wednesday, I drove home to Georgia, unpacked and repacked. I flew out to Chicago on Saturday morning and then played that night."
Barnhill, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NPF draft, earned her first professional win in her debut appearance with the Bandits on Saturday night, after having not pitched since the WCWS.
"I hadn’t pitched in a week," Barnhill said. "I was asked if I wanted to pitch in the seventh inning [on Saturday] and then I had a quick bullpen [warmup] and went into the game. It felt different from college, but it was so fun."
Like Alvelo, Barnhill is just trying to figure out her role with her new team.
“It’s something new and refreshing, but I have no idea what’s going on,” Barnhill said with laughter. "I walked into the locker room and was like, 'What’s going on?' At the pro level, you’re in charge of getting what you need for yourself. There’s more self-ownership [than in college].”
With a full season of NPF games ahead—which will conclude in August at the NPF Championship Series in Rosemont, Ill.—there isn't much time for either former college star to reflect on her successes from the past four years.
"I kind of like it that way," Barnhill said. "I don’t want a lot of time to think too much on things because I’ve got more softball to play, and that's exciting."