The Golden Age of Washington Sports
Look around, people. This here's the golden age of sports in Washington. We're a sports blogging mecca, we have the most bloggable team in professional sports, and we have a perhaps unprecedented stream of lesser-known professional sports teams pouring into our midst. The ABA's Nighthawks might not be new, but their 7-foot-9 superstar sure is. The Chesapeake Tide indoor football club is readying for its first season and readying for a group visit to Love. The Baltimore Bayhawks are now the Washington Bayhawks. And I'm here to tell you that Washington is gonna be home to a pro fastpitch softball team this spring: the Washington Glory of National Pro Fastpitch.
Of course, this was actually announced more than two weeks ago, and the news was apparently shopped around to various parts of The Post's sports department, until finally it landed in my inbox, whereupon I immediately declared that the Golden Age of Washington Sports had arrived, what with three new pro franchises arriving in the last four months. Next week: World Team Tennis. Please? If St. Louis can have the Aces, surely there must be a WTT franchise for the heart of the federal government. The Overhead, maybe?
Anyhow, there have been a bunch of recent developments with the Glory, so I'll try to cover some highlights.
1) Owner Paul Wilson is a lifelong softball and baseball fan who was born in Tehran (his parents were State Department), spent much of his youth in Frederick (where he played in several Babe Ruth World Series), finished high school in New Delhi (where he played in a competitive fastpitch softball league against other embassy teams) and then went to college at George Washington. (What's the deal with that? Nationals owner Ted Lerner is also a GW guy. Who knew that Foggy Bottom would produce so many stick-and-ball local ownership groups?) Wilson told me he left GW early to start a landscaping company ("A Cut Above the Rest") and has owned several other businesses; he's also the owner of softball retailer Paul's Sports in Ashburn. He's discussed owning an expansion team for well over a year, and finally bought a franchise in January, taking over the roster of the Connecticut Brakettes, which left the pro softball biz.
2) The "Glory" nickname was chosen from a list that originally included about 220 possibilities. The three finalists were the Glory, the Shock and the Quake. I feel sure that, given the competition, Wilson did well to choose Glory.
3) The Glory's mascot, who has yet to be named, will be a golden retriever. Not a live one, mind you; a furry costumed one. The mascot will embody the team's friendly, generous spirit.
"The golden retriever is known as being about as friendly an animal as you can get," Wilson told me. "We also have one. I was heavily lobbied by my wife and daughter that if we were going for an animal, it be a golden."
4) The team's three-member coaching staff has yet to be named; expect that to happen in the next few weeks. Wilson is handling player personnel, with some advice from friends in the coaching profession.
Because I hadn't known about the existence of the Glory last week, I was unable to provide extensive draft-day coverage, but last week's draft turned out to be pretty dramatic. The Glory didn't have a first-round pick, but traded up in the second to land a steal with Tennessee left-hander Monica Abbott, who is closing in on the NCAA Division I career mark for victories. Wilson thinks she was available because of concerns that she'll miss extensive time for her U.S. National Team duties this summer, and for the Olympics next summer.
The Glory also grabbed Maryland shortstop Amber Jackson and three players from Baylor. The draft braintrust had hoped to get at least two of the three Baylor products; to get all three was apparently great news. I asked how the braintrust celebrated after the draft.
"We grabbed a hamburger from Five Guys," Wilson told me. "We just sat and talked about our dreams for the season. We're really gonna give everybody something to talk about. It might be our inaugural season, but we've got a whale of a lineup."
5) The team will play 28 home games and 16 road games, part of an unbalanced scheduling strategy that cuts down on travel costs. The extra home games will come against international competition. The team is targeting several potential home fields, including locations in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William Counties, and Wilson hopes to draw 2,000-3,000 fans, possibly more when superstars like Cat Osterman (Rockford Thunder) and Jennie Finch (Chicago Bandits) come to town.
6) I asked Wilson who were his role models as pro sports owners. I swear, his two answers were Daniel Snyder and George Steinbrenner. Wouldn't have guessed that. He said Snyder has set the standard for how to drive revenues and produce profits. He said Steinbrenner presides over a great organization that yields a great on-field product.
"I'm talking about the best attributes of those two gentlemen," Wilson said. "All in all, they've had a much more positive influence on their sports than negative."
Really, every town needs an owner who models himself after Snyder and Steinbrenner. The Glory just got a lot more interesting.
7) I landed an interview today with newly signed infielder Sara Larquier, a former star at Virginia who was the ACC player of the year in 2005 and spent her first NPF season with the Akron Racers. Like most NPF players, Sara has a real job, coaching the softball team at St. Anne's-Belfield in Charlottesville. Today is actually her 23rd birthday, and when we chatted she was in an airport waiting area, and then boarding the plane, and then sitting on the plane that would take her to Palm Springs for a brief vacation. Before she was drafted by the Racers, she had been to one pro fastpitch game in her life, featuring the now-defunct Carolina Diamonds. But when she heard she'd have a chance to keep playing the sport, she didn't hesitate.
"Whether you're a professional softball player or a professional football player, you're still a pro, and to be put on that level is an amazing, awesome honor," she told me. "You get to play every day. I know that's what I live for. I love this game inside and out, good days and bad. Obviously we don't have Bentleys sitting in the parking lot and servants, but we don't play for the money."
And honestly, you can't make fun of the Glory for playing in an obscure league, because they're well aware of what the score is. At least Sara was. That's why she kept talking to me even as the flight attendants made important announcements on her plane, which was taking her on her vacation, on her 23rd birthday.
"Did you know there was a pro softball league before it came to D.C.?" she asked me. "You're a sportswriter, and the fact that a sportswriter doesn't know, that's the kind of stuff that we're trying to come at a little bit....Just getting it out there, giving people the opportunity. And when people do come to games they enjoy it. The D.C. area will love having a team."
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