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Former Eastern softball star enjoying her time playing in NAWBL

By Lindsay Shafer
Sports Information Office staff                

When Kelly Rodman finished up her four years of eligibility playing softball at Eastern Connecticut State University in 2001, she figured that she would continue to play the game that she loved while also balancing a job at ESPN.

 The Wallingford native was all set. It was a perfect plan She would work in the ESPN library doing research and programming for a living, and play fastpitch softball for the Connecticut Classics in her spare time.  Little did she know that a television advertisement would throw her plans for a loop and open doors to a new and challenging opportunity.

Despite growing up playing softball all of her life, when Rodman saw a commercial for women’s baseball tryouts, she jumped at the opportunity to broaden her horizons and gave it a go. Now, seven years later, Rodman has continuously dedicated all of her free time to playing this new game that she loves so much.  The league that Rodman is currently playing in -- the New England Division of the North American Women’s Baseball League (NAWBL) -- was formed in 2003. With four teams and more than 50 players, the league plays a 12-game regular season in addition to post-season play (Rodman’s team, the Saints, reached the 2005 playoff finals before losing to the defending playoff champion Seahawks, 7-5, in extra innings August 7).

The makeup of team rosters in the league vary  and include recent college graduates, high school players, and national team members from Australia, the United States, and Canada, as well. Lately, there has also been a surge of younger girls, many who are not even in high school yet.  There is also a traveling all-star team, the North Shore Lady Spirit. The speedy, left-handed-hitting Rodman has been an all-star outfielder since she stepped into the league, making the team every year.

The Lady Spirit travel to tournaments and because of their newly renovated facility, Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass., they also host a majority of tournaments. Just last fall, the Lady Spirit got the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic to compete against that country’s national team. . It was an eye-opening experience for most of the players who made the trip, including Rodman.

About 3,000 fans poured in to see the two teams play. The unique part of the experience was that the fans were not only cheering for their own team, but also for the Lady Spirit. Playing internationally in a country like the Dominican Republic, where athletes would love to have just an opportunity to play professional baseball in the United States, was a unique parallel to the struggles of the NAWBL. According to Rodman, the hardest struggle for women’s baseball is in trying to create a solid fan base. The majority of state residents aren’t aware that there is a league so close to Connecticut. And despite the best fundraising efforts of the team and league, there remains little interest from outsiders. Those associated with the league contend that if people would just get out to see one women’s baseball game, they would be impressed by the level of play. At the same time, it is important to point out that, as Rodman mentions that  “we are not trying to be like men. We just want to play the game of baseball.” For one, the women’s game uses aluminum bats, as opposed to wooden bats that most men’s leagues not employ.  In NAWBL, the women play seven-inning games, with pitchers only allowed to pitch a maximum of four innings (this rule was instituted primarily because of some of the dominant national team pitchers).  It is important, however, that fans not expect the women to consistently blast the ball out of the park. Instead, women’s baseball is focused around hustle, hard work, and teamwork.  

When the subject of the future of women’s baseball comes up, the players and fans can only be optimistic. Since Rodman first began playing the sport seven years ago, she says it has definitely grown in popularity. At the age of 29, she realizes that the next generation will be responsible for the future of the league. Younger girls are realizing that they, too, can play the game. For so long, the stereotype was that men play baseball and women play softball. As society changes and women begin to take on new endeavors every day, many are starting to stand up for their love of the game of baseball.

For any of these young ladie, it is a huge time commitment that they must be willing to make. Rodman faces over five hours of travel time each time she goes to play a game. With games being staged two-to-three-times a week in the summer, she has been forced to put her outside career plans virtually on hold.

 As for the future of Kelly Rodman, she is optimistic that she will have the chance to travel overseas this October to play for the Australian Baseball Federation and their women’s baseball league.  

In college, Rodman was a leftfielder and a four-year member of the Eastern softball program, playing from 1996 through 1998, then returning in 2001 to finish out her eligibility and resume her studies. She is currently three classes shy of earning a  Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education.

 In recent years, Rodman has  served as an assistant softball coach under Eastern softball alumnus Mandy Roczniak at Central Connecticut State University. And although she left her position at ESPN due to her coaching and playing commitments, the Bristol-based company has indicated that the door remains open when, and if, she decides to return. 

According to Rodman, her softball experiences as a young girl made possible the opportunity today to play baseball. Moreover, her experiences with the Eastern softball program  taught her to follow her dreams and gave her the drive to turn women’s baseball from a dream into a reality.  For that reason, among others, she will never stop supporting either sport. As for the rest of the women trying to keep this sport alive, they will continue to try and leave their mark as the “girls of summer.” Money and long term major league contracts don’t keep these women in the game but the love for the game is what makes them want to continue to ‘play ball’.  

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