With NPF On Hold, Abbey Cheek Looks Ahead
When it was announced in May that the 2020 National Pro Fastpitch season was canceled due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, Abbey Cheek saw her world come to a halt.
Before hearing the news that would change both her immediate and future plans, Cheek, a standout infielder for the Chicago Bandits, was living in Yokohama, Japan and playing professional softball for Hitachi, which is one of 12 teams in the Japanese Softball League. She had only been in Japan for 27 days before COVID-19 forced her to return home to the United States.
After an incredible rookie season with the Bandits in 2019, during which she was named the league's Rookie of the Year, Cheek jumped at the opportunity to play in Japan and signed a one-year contract with Hitachi. She was poised for another successful NPF season in 2020 as well.
But that was not to be. The cancellation of the 2020 NPF season seemed inevitable with the way things were progressing around the country this spring, but for some professional softball players like Cheek, that reality was still hard to accept.
“I found out on Instagram, but then they messaged us on GroupMe,” Cheek, an All-American at Kentucky, told Softball America. “I was obviously upset and sad because I wouldn’t be able to see all my friends and play for Bandit Nation.”
During the 2019 NPF season, the Inman, S.C. native led the league in batting average, slugging percentage and was second in on-base percentage. She credits her rookie success to her reformed mindset that came with her transition from the college game to the professional level.
“In the pro league, at first, it was kind of hard to get used to ace pitching all the time,” explained Cheek, who was the 14th overall selection in the 2019 NPF Draft. “I struggled a little bit and was frustrated, but had to realize that you’re playing with the best of the best.”
Cheek soon earned a seat at the table as one of the best in professional softball. Shortly after her stellar 2019 NPF season, which saw the Bandits finish as the Cowles Cup runners-up, she packed her bags and took her new softball mentality with her to Japan.
With no chance for her to play summer ball this year, however, Cheek still has her eyes set on Japan. She plans to move back there come July and join her Hitachi teammates for another five months.
“My team really wants to win,” Cheek said, “so I want to do whatever I can for them.”