Calgary will host some of the fastest, strongest and most elite women softball players in the world for a three game series this August. The NPF Diamonds will face off against the USSSA Pride in a showcase of skill the league hopes will reach out to a broad audience.
The women's National Pro Fastpitch league consists of four teams, one of which has no home base. The Diamonds is a travelling team that plays games across America and, for the first time, will be sliding into Canada. The other three teams are based in Illinois, Ohio and Florida.
"We decided to play on the road all the time," said NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf. "We play mostly at minor league venues across the country."
Kempf said she thinks the stop in Calgary is essential for the expansion of the sport.
"We are thrilled," she said. "Expansion is a priority for us and we are continually looking for future markets."
The games will feature many star players from the American and Canadian Olympic teams.
"There are several Canadian players on the teams and this is a real chance to introduce National Pro Fastpitch to an educated audience. You are going to see a lot of talent in these three days," said Kempf.
Canadian Danielle Lawrie was named the U.S.A. Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year for two consecutive years in '09 and '10. She joined the Pride this season and will be with her team in Calgary.
Along with the three game series, which is part of the regular season, the Calgary Vipers are taking the opportunity to run a skills clinic and lunch banquet for up-and-comers in the sport.
"This is going to be a bit of an experiment for us," said Vipers President John Conrad in a May 24 press conference.
The goal of the NPF is to "entertain and provide positive role models for young people," but lack of funds, high travel costs and inadequate facilities have proved a tough obstacle for the league in the past. Kempf said that despite these challenges, the league has pulled through multiple setbacks and continues to be prestigious.
"It is a popular and captivating sport," said Kempf. "Softball will be all over the place and there is only one reason: it reads well."
She said the three-day event will be exciting for anyone who even remotely understands softball.
"I have a lot of confidence in Canada because fastpitch softball is popular here. It's a great place for this event to take place," said Kempf.
Stephanie Shellenberg, who has played softball her whole life, said there is a large community of players in Calgary.
"It's a very popular sport, so it's a shame there are not more opportunities out there, especially for women."
Shellenberg said the NPF coming to Calgary is an opportunity for players to realize the magnitude of opportunities in the sport and hopes it encourages more young people to get out and play ball.