Nicholson NPF Blog #1: There's a New Kid in Town
June 2, 2008
AKRON, Ohio - Hey all you Redbird/AkronRacer fans. Thanks for stopping by to check out my rookie life as a professional softball player for the Akron Racers, and keep checking in, as I will try to have updates throughout the summer.
First off, I thought I would cover the basics of the National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) league. The NPF is to softball what Major League Baseball is to baseball. MLB actually helped start the league a few years ago, and now there are six teams throughout the country (Chicago, Rockford,Ill., Philadelphia, New England, Washington, D.C. and Akron, Ohio). We play four-game series throughout the summer for a total of 48 games. Eight of the games are against the Canadian Olympic Team and the Netherlands National Team. In the end, the top-four teams go to Wisconsin to play in the NPF Championship Series for the league title. That covers the fundamentals of how the NPF works.
Two weeks ago, I arrived here in Ohio. The first week was what I called "Rookie Camp." We had seven rookies here and only two returnees for a week of unofficial practice led by our assistant coach. With the college season still going on, a few of our players were still not in town, and there were a few of the older girls who did not arrive until later. The week was great because it gave me a chance to get accustomed to the professional life and figure out my way around Ohio. The first couple practices we had to go inside because of rain. This is nothing I wasn't used to as we spent the winters inside Horton Field House at ISU. However, we had a girl from Hawai'i and one from Georgia that got to experience the life of indoor facilities for the first time. During the first practice, I did some pitching on the side and I got acquainted with our pitching coach. We also just tried to get a lot of reps in with hitting and fielding in order to get ready for the next week.
After being inside for a couple of days, we were all dying to get out on the dirt. Our first day outside was a thrill. We play in Firestone Stadium, which is a first-class facility. The stadium itself is huge; there's a clubhouse under the stadium filled with spacious lockers, bathrooms, showers, laundry and an athletic-training room. Everything you could ever want is right there, and our owner, Joey Arrietta, takes good care of us, making sure we have everything we need.
The team also takes care of our living while we're here. We all have apartments about ten minutes away from the field, and the best part is they come fully furnished I have two roommates, (former Tennessee catcher) Shannon Doepking and (former Illinois shortstop) Angelena Mexicano. Let me tell you, if it's not confusing enough to have a teammate with the same name, it is even worse when you live with each other. We are all rookies, which is nice because we are all usually on the same page. Doepking is from Tennessee, and Mexicano is from a little university down I-74 somewhere in Champaign. Despite being rivals with Mex in college, we are having fun now that we don't have to play against each other. We also have a pool that opened the other day, and I'm pretty sure Mex and I get the bragging rights of being the first and only ones to go in the water on opening day of the pool in the 60-degree weather.
And now back to softball. Monday was "Welcome to the NPF Day," as we started official practice. We only have ten days to practice before opening day in Chicago June 6. I wouldn't say I was nervous going into practice, I just had absolutely no idea what to expect. Our coach, Shonda Stanton, is a fireball and I like her intensity. The first practice, she got us started right away with conditioning. We did some drills, and then I got to pitch live to the team. Pitching to these girls is comparable to taking the best players off of the top teams I played against throughout college. I love the challenge of playing at that level, but it was definitely an adjustment. In college, each team usually has a couple of good hitters that you go over before the game. Here, those good hitters are one through nine, and practically everyone was an All-American in college. On the bright side, I also get an awesome defense behind me, too. When I'm not pitching, I spend my time at first base and working on hitting. Our practices have been lasting around three-to-three-and-one-half hours, so walking to the locker room after practice, I usually feel like I just got done playing a football game.
Honestly, we don't mind spending time at practice. It turns out when you play softball for a living, there isn't anything else that you have to do besides practice. The first day, we made the mistake of working out before practice. When practice was over, we had nothing to do for the rest of the day, and since we didn't have cable installed, yet, we spent the day watching videos on You Tube to pass the time. In college, I was used to being on such a hectic schedule with workouts, class, practice and study-hall hours. Here, it's just softball. The other day, we spent around three hours at the field, and then had to stop practice to go into meetings. Since we didn't get around to hitting that day, we all went to the batting cages that evening to get some cuts in. It's great to be able to have the time and facilities to be able to get in all of the extra work you need.
Since there are still hours plenty of hours in the day where we're not practicing, we've found quite a few ways of staying busy. We quickly got our cable hooked up, and we also made a top-ten list of things to do that I'm pretty sure is now up to over 20 things, so I'm not sure exactly what the top-ten is. I got to make my first trip to Cleveland, which is right up the road, and see Kenny Chesney in concert, and we've also been out to Lake Erie. I felt like I spent the first week saying, "Hi, my name is Shannon Nicholson. I'm with the Akron Racers". Basically, that was my whole name whether I was at the gym, the batting cages, or even bowling. We also do appearances. The other day, we went to the Children's Hospital. It was my first experience being out in public as a "professional athlete," and it really blew my mind how much the little kids looked up to us.
Our first game is June 6 in Elgin, Ill., versus the Chicago Bandits. I'm pumped to play my first pro game in my home state. The Bandits play in Elgin, so all of you ISU fans feel free to come out and watch! We play four games up there, and then we play our first home game June 11 in Akron, Ohio. I can't wait to get out on the field again, since the last game I played was about a year ago. Next time, I'll be sure to fill you in on all the excitement of opening day. Yeah Racers (or Redbirds)!
- Shannon Nicholson #19