EVANSVILLE — “A League of Their Own” played a role in changing how society views women’s sports.
The movie was filmed 30 summers ago at Bosse Field, before the WNBA and before U.S. women became international powers in soccer, basketball and softball. Because it’s based on a true story, it showed that women have played sports for a long time and people have enjoyed watching them.
That’s the same messaging the USSSA Pride is bringing to Bosse Field this week.
“We can bring light to girls around the country that there is something for you to do after college, so work hard to get there,” infielder Shay Knighten said. “Growing up, you didn’t hear much about softball — it was all baseball or women playing baseball. To show the next generation what softball is about and share the passion and love we have for the game is really cool.”
USSSA Pride is an independent professional fastpitch softball team with some of the best players in the country. It’s organized by the United States Specialty Sports Association and has existed since 2009, originally part of the National Pro Fastpitch league but now only plays exhibitions.
They’re in town for a pair of games at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday against Team Florida. The series is being held in conjunction with the USSSA Youth Great Lakes Nationals, which about 170 teams are participating in this week throughout the area.Story from USA-ITIllegal trade has hit Main Street hardThis private-public initiative aims to recoup millions lost to illegal trading.See More →
They believe exposure is crucial to growing the sport, as well as connecting with young players.
“It’s really cool to give a little piece of hope to somebody, because you never know if someone in the stands is watching for the very first time,” said Knighten, who was the 2017 Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player.
Roughly 4,000 people are expected to be in attendance per game. For the most part, crowds will be comprised of the youth teams in town, but that’s the target audience anyway.
The USSSA Pride held a youth clinic and a skills competition on Monday at Deaconess Sports Park, working hands-on with girls who idolize them.
“I saw so many kids out there who were just so excited to be there and excited to learn,” catcher Chelsea Goodacre said. “It takes us back to who we were when we were 9 and 10 years old. I love seeing where the sport is going.”
The Pride’s roster is full of stars, after all.
Outfielder Haley Cruse has over a million followers across social media platforms, including 751,000 on TikTok. Pitcher Odicci Alexander traveled to Evansville without her teammates because over the weekend she was at the ESPYs in New York, before heading to Denver for the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Infielder Sierra Romero also has over 100,000 Instagram followers.
They were all standout college athletes, but they’re good at marketing themselves and the sport, too.
“It’s a fun job and not a normal one, so I appreciate every year I get to be a professional athlete and play the game I love,” Romero said. “There will be no room for growth unless we can connect with the next generation at a deeper level. That’s really important for us.”
Those on the Pride believe professional softball players put in the same amount of work as pro baseball players. They want to be respected for that. They also hope TV ratings at the college level continue to grow so softball players can have household names like in other American sports.
Bosse Field underwent a temporary transformation to accommodate the Pride. There’s a portable fence in the middle of the outfield, a piece of turf covering the dirt on the pitcher’s mound, and the bases have been moved up to the grass.
The Pride is used to playing in unorthodox stadiums.
“Once you get the hang for it, it’s pretty simple,” Goodacre said.
And fittingly, they were singing songs from “A League of Their Own” during their practice Monday night. There’s a reason the movie was preserved by the Library of Congress in 2012 for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
Members of the USSSA Pride are proof.