Slowpitch softball is making its debut as a fully-sanctioned high school sport by the WIAA this fall, and there’s just one thing you need to know about it.
“It’s not nearly as competitive” as fastpitch softball, Fort Vancouver junior Mackenzie Welch-Sandford said. “It’s just a lot of fun, and it’s a good way to get into fastpitch.”
Welch is one of a handful of experienced fastpitch players that Fort coach Erick Johnson recruited to slowpitch.
“Some teams have assistant coaches, but here (at Fort), it’s just me,” Johnson said. “So being able to have experience players is huge. I can take an experience player and put her with new players at practice. … And that’s what I like about slowpitch. You can have a player who has never played a sport before on the field right next to an all-league player or even a future Division I softball player.”
At Fort, that’s exemplified by Welch-Sandford, an all-league fastpitch player last spring at Fort, and senior Natalia Villanueva, an exchange student from Mexico.
“It’s a sport I always wanted to try,” said Villanueva, who arrived at Fort this fall from Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. “When I heard they had slowpitch softball here at Fort I was really excited.
“I love the team. The girls are super friendly. They treat you like you’re a family, and I love the feeling that you get when you’re on the field.”
Slowpitch softball has been a club-level sport the past four years in Southwest Washington. This fall, the first with a WIAA-sanctioned state tournament, there are 14 teams from all classes of the Greater St. Helens League divided into two divisions, north and south.
The top four teams from each division will advance to the league tournament on Fort’s turf field in late October. From there, teams will advance to the state tournament in Yakima on Nov. 1-2.
Johnson said the makeup of Fort’s team is similar to other teams in the area — one-third fastpitch players, one-third returning slowpitch players and one-third first-time slowpitch players.
“We’d love to get more fastpitch players out for slowpitch,” Johnson said. “But a lot players get told by their club coaches that (slowpitch) will kill their swing. It won’t, if you’re disciplined.”
Welch-Sandford says slowpitch helps make her a better fastpitch player.
“It’s like fastpitch softball, but just kind of with a spin,” said Welch-Sandford, who plays shortstop in slowpitch. “In fastpitch, I pitch, so I don’t get a lot of action in the field. So it’s a different environment, really.”
There are rule differences between fastpitch and slowpitch, besides the pitching. In slowpitch, an inning ends when three outs have been recorded by the defense or five runs have been scored by the offense. There are 10 defenders in the field for slowpitch, but the batting lineup can have 11 players.
And as Welch-Sandford pointed out, once the ball is put in play, the game is exactly the same.
But what the junior loves the most about slowpitch is helping new players.
What’s her best piece of advice?
“Don’t give up after your first couple of mistakes because it’s going to get better,” Welch-Sandford said. “Nobody ever starts out great. Being the best player on the team is not the most important thing. It’s getting along with everybody, getting the experience you want and having fun. It’s a fun game, not necessarily win everything.”
On the flip side, what’s the most difficult thing for a first-time player?
“Catching the ball,” Villanueva said. “It’s hard. It’s really hard. Especially (you want to) avoid being hit by them because if not, you get a huge bruise. You don’t want that.”
And the most fun thing about slowpitch softball?
“Hitting,” Villanueva said with a big smile. “Hitting is the most fun thing in softball.”
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.