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USA Softball Stars Head To Salem

Dallas Escobedo helped Arizona State win a College World Series.

by Bill Turner

There are no longer Olympic competitions for softball, but the USA Softball national team hasn’t let that slow them down. In fact, the women’s national team for the United States has not lost a Pan American Games event or the World Cup of Softball – any international competition  – since losing the final (for now) Olympic championship  to Japan in 2008.

The USA National team, which came together only last week after tryouts in California, is in Salem next week (Wed. June 29, 6pm) at Lewis Gale Field, home of the Red Sox baseball team, for a doubleheader exhibition against its own junior squad of under-19 players.  Ronnie Isham, director of the USA National Team, said the games should be very competitive, since the senior squad will feature many new players this time around.

The junior national team has been together for about a year said Isham, and may not be much younger than the national squad. “I think it will as competitive as any tour we’ve ever been on,” said Isham of the exhibition series. He calls the junior squad “softball mature.”  Some members of the national team still have college eligibility left, others have graduated. “There are no requirements about that,” said Isham.

The junior team will go to a championship event in December; by that time every member of the squad except for one will be in college. A pitcher for the junior squad, Dallas Escobedo, plays for Arizona State, which recently won the NCAA Division One College World Series. Junior teammate Destiny Martinez was the starting centerfielder for Oklahoma and the list goes on and on.

“Normally there’s a core group that comes back, but there’s never a guaranteed spot on the national team,” said Isham, “you have to try out every year and earn that spot – even an Olympian [must try out]. It’s very competitive.” Players come from all levels, not just Division One – they can be D2 or D3, from junior college or even from high school. “We’ve had Olympians that were just high school players,” noted Isham.

The newly assembled team will be coming to Salem from an exhibition game in Florida and will head to Bowie, Maryland for another contest against the juniors on July 1. An international fastpitch tournament in Canada is up next, then the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City (July 21-25) and the Pan American Games (October 17-23).

Normally the USA Softball team plays in parks where the infields have been skinned (no turf) but that will not be the case in Salem. “It’s not ideal but it’s not a problem,” said Isham. On a previous visit to Salem the USA National team played at Kiwanis Field, where the grass was removed from the baseball infield. The infielders will make any adjustment necessary. “That’s never been a factor,” noted Isham.

The World Cup of Softball next month and the Pan American Games (between North and South American teams) are the big events on this year’s calendar of USA Softball. Every other year the World Championships take place. That is “the equivalent of the Olympics,” said Isham.

ESPN will televise this year’s World Cup of Softball, an event hosted by the USA National Team at the stadium where the College World Series took place. One hundred fifty four countries try to qualify for the World Cup. “Our national team hasn’t been beat [more than] three times in the last few years,” said Isham, who talked of a similar turnover about ten years ago. “It’s an exciting time [with] fresh new faces.” Ken Erickson, head coach at South Florida and an assistant Olympic coach in the past, is this year’s head coach.

That makes the Salem exhibition games meaningful as the newly assembled National team tunes up. Tickets are $15 in advance; contact the Salem Civic Center for more information.  An autograph session follows the doubleheader in Salem.

 

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