- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

It was another powerful performance.

Desiree Serrano used her vast array of pitches — risers, screwballs, change-ups and off-speed drops — to record the dominant shutout. The windmill-style hurler with a quick smile, pony tail and lethal right arm offered batters little chance.

The ace for the first-year Washington Glory professional softball team was just as busy immediately after the contest as a swarm of giddy young girls approached her on the field to seek autographs and pose next to their hero for pictures.

“To see all the little girls here and what they have dreams to do and then seeing us and getting excited, it”s just amazing,” Serrano said. “It gives them hope.”

Serrano is a pioneer in professional women”s softball. The former Arizona State star is playing professionally in the National Pro Fastpitch league. She moved across the country to pursue a professional career and hopes one day that women can make a living playing the sport full time.

The Glory, which plays at George Mason University, are part of the six-team NPF, the latest incarnation of the sport, which has folded and reinvented itself numerous times in the past 15 years. NPF teams play 40 games from Memorial Day to mid-August. Salaries range from $15,000 for top players — usually pitchers — to less than $5,000 for the season. Free housing also is part of the package.

“I always loved softball and wanted to continue to play,” said outfielder Catalina Morris, a Stanford graduate who spends the rest of the year teaching elementary school in Arizona. “It”s a perfect opportunity.”

The Glory have tapped into a niche crowd of softball enthusiasts and drawn them to the tree-lined park at George Mason. However, the question remains: Will there be enough interest from sports fans who know little about fastpitch softball — other than perhaps Olympic bombshell/ace Jennie Finch — to sustain the league?

The Glory drew about 200 fans to a fast-paced contest last Friday, completing seven innings in a brisk 1 hour, 40 minutes. Washington won the game 4-0 over the Michigan Ice, a semipro team, as part of a four-game sweep that kept the team in first place of the NPF with a 19-5 record.

The team”s marketing plan is similar to minor league baseball’s: quality entertainment in an intimate, family-oriented environment at a reasonable price. Tickets start at $8 for children and top out at $15 for adults. Season tickets range from $25 to $55.

Attendance has varied, with as many as 900 fans showing for weekend games to fewer than 200 during the week, said owner Paul Wilson. The numbers have been inconsistent as the team struggles to establish an identity and educate the area on a sport that keeps a low profile outside of the Olympics.

“As long as we get players that are fun to watch and owners who want to push us in right direction, we are going to get there,” said catcher Sara Larquier, a second-year player from Virginia whose eight homers lead the NPF. “It is going to be a process. It is just keeping the league intact as we grow.”

The Glory also had to battle a shorter than expected startup time. They were supposed to start play next season, but joined the league early after Connecticut dropped out.

“[Attendance] is probably slightly under what I expected, but I am never happy,” said Wilson, who owns Paul“s Sports, an Internet-based sporting goods store specializing in softball equipment. “I am ecstatic with the environment we created. To me, the first year was much more about getting the word out and getting into the community. Once they come out and see how fast that game is, I think they”ll like it.”

Top pitchers can throw close to 70 mph. Considering that the pitching area is only 43 feet away from home plate, while baseball is 60 feet, 6 inches, the reaction time is roughly comparable to facing a 100-mph fastball in baseball.

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