Excitement is building on both sides of the Pacific as the Chicago Bandits — featuring seven Australian players on their roster — prepare to open their National Fastpitch Pro season next week.
The season marks the first time that so many Australians will have regular opportunities to train and play professionally with and against some of the best players in the world.
The Aussie Spirit players have settled into their new Chicago accommodation and are ready to make an impact for their new team.
- Chelsea Forkin (Qld)
- Rachel Lack (NSW)
- Stacey McManus (NSW)
- Kaia Parnaby (NSW)
- Samantha Poole (NSW)
- Ellen Roberts (NSW)
- Taylah Tsitsikronis (NSW)
While most of the opposition will be Americans, the league also includes a team made up mostly of Chinese players.
The Beijing Shougang Eagles, managed by the Chinese Softball Association, will be made up of players currently in the national team pool, along with a few US team members.
Such top-quality regular international competition is a key component of the Aussie Spirit’s preparation for the 2018 World Championship and qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Bandits, defending NFP champions, open the 2017 season on June 1 with a three-game series against the Akron Racers. In week two of the season, they will play Beijing Shougang, also in Chicago.
Beijing Shougang will play all “home” games in current home venues of the other five affiliate NPF teams. This move is an unprecedented and a ground breaking experiment for the Chinese softball team.
The 2017 schedule, which was announced earlier this year, has been adjusted and revised to accommodate even competition between the six teams. That schedule consists of 150 regular season games, 50 for each team, broken down to 25 home and 25 away games.
According to Softball Australia High Performance Manager Andrew Utting, the deal with the Bandits will improve Australia’s chances of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Qualifying for that huge event begins next year, and the Bandits players will have had a season of top-level competition under their belts by then.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for these players to be full-time professional athletes who can concentrate 100 per cent on softball,” Utting says.
“They’ll be exposed to a level of competition that will be a tremendous benefit to them as individuals and to the team as we look towards the 2018 World Championship and qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
“The experience of training and competing at that level against top-quality opposition is an environment we can’t create in Australia, and it will help us bridge the gap on the US and other countries whose players benefit from playing professionally.”
NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf said having so many Australian and Chinese players in the league this season was a landmark. “It continues to be a priority of the league, to include the world’s best players and to impact the growth, development and popularity of this incredible game on a global scale. This addition, on top of the involvement of Softball Australia, which was announced earlier this year, speaks loudly to our goals and commitment to doing that.”
The top four finishers in the regular season will qualify for the 2017 Championship Series held from August 17-20 at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The NPF affiliate teams consist of the Akron Racers, Beijing Shougang Eagles, Chicago Bandits, Scrap Yard Dawgs, Texas Charge and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2017 season.