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|| News Item: Posted 2000-06-28

It's Not a Dream, It's Softball
By Rod Mar, Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times
Tell me how many times this has happened to you while covering sports:

You shoot dejection pictures in the dugout after the number-one ranked team fails to make it to the championship game. The players are crying, and you're feeling shitty being a "parasite" by recording their grief.

Then, the next morning in the hotel, those same players stop you and actually smile and THANK YOU for covering their games this season. You mention that you're sorry that you had to shoot the tough pictures the night before, and they say, "Don't worry -- we understand. If we'd played better, you'd have shot us celebrating."

WHAT?! I know what you're thinking -- "wake up from the dream, dude".

But it ain't a dream. It's covering college women's softball.

I did it, and I loved it.

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times
As a sports photographer for The Seattle Times, I requested, and was assigned to cover the University of Washington women's softball team in their quest for their first national title. After being ranked number-one in the country for the entire season, the Huskies reached the College Women's World Series in Oklahoma City for the sixth year in a row. They fell one game short last season, losing to champion UCLA.

This figured to be their year. They didn't play their best when it counted, but that's not what I want to share. It's the fun of covering athletes who are still pure athletes -- athletes at the top of their games who are only playing for the love of the game and the thrill of competing.

As women softball players, they have no million-dollar contracts awaiting successful college careers, like their male counterparts. And even unlike female hoopsters, what pro softball leagues there are pay nowhere close to the WNBA.

So they play their asses off on the field, and they're great people off of it. No attitude, no canned comments to the media, no "big-timing". Ah, so refreshing after covering the NBA for months.

Photo by
Where else would you hear this? A reporter asked Jenny Topping, Washington's First-Team All-America catcher, what kind of pitch she hit for a game-winning homer.

Her answer, "A fat one." Laughs from all around the media tent -- but can you imagine a major leaguer with that kind of candor?

One night in Oklahoma City, UCLA and Washington faced each other in a repeat of last year's championship game. UCLA held a three-run lead, but Washington loaded the bases with their best hitters due up and only one out. But this being Oklahoma, tornado warnings halted the game --right there. With the game on the line, officials called a halt to play, killing momentum and sending the fans home and the teams racing for cover.

Six softball teams, various members of the media, and tournament officials all gathered in a protected basement room to ride out any tornado that might touch down. The players? They relaxed, chatted with each other, as if this was just another spring tournament and not the World Series.

Couldn't imagine that scene with teams of men.

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar/Seattle Times
Women's softball gets a bad rap. The dugout chants, all the high-fives, distract from the difficulty of the sport. The pitcher stands only 45 feet from the plate, and fastballs are the equivalent of 90 + mph heaters in baseball. The players wear spikes and eye-black, and they'll wipe each other out and second base without a second's hesitation.

But in the end, the game is left on the diamond. Homers are not greeted with bean balls to the next batters and no one talks trash. And, win or lose at the World Series, each team heads to a mandatory autograph session with fans.

It's competitive, it's fun, and it's human. The way sports should be. I love it, and I'll be back to shoot it.

Oh, and two weeks after the season ended, each member of the Seattle media that covered the Huskies received an autographed poster and softball, and a thank you letter from the coach.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my Paul Westphal, Mike Holmgren, and Lou Piniella thank yous.

Now that IS dreaming....
(Rod Mar is a staff photographer with the Seattle Times.)

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