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The Ichiro of Women's Softball

Ichiro Suzuki, the excellent leadoff hitter of the Seattle Mariners, is known as a slap-hitting singles specialist, with a swing that seemingly takes him halfway to first base before bat ever meets ball, allowing him to take advantage of his speed. However, it is an open secret around the Mariners, and all around baseball, that Ichiro possesses exceptional home run power. In fact, when he decides to put on a show during batting practice, a huge crowd gathers around the cage, gazing on in awe as he jacks blast after blast into the stands.

I was reminded of Ichiro when I saw Natasha Watley, the speedy leadoff hitter of the U.S. women's softball team, as the Americans played their 2008 Olympics debut Tuesday--crushing Venezuela, 11-0. Like Ichiro, she is a slap-hitting specialist, although her technique is even more extreme than Ichiro's, as are her results. In 184 career at-bats in international play entering Tuesday, she had hit only two homers. Of her 12 hits during the 2004 Athens Games, 10 were singles and none were homers.

In her first at-bat Tuesday, leading off the game, Watley showed off her slap-swing technique, slicing a couple of balls foul, and wound up drawing a walk. But her next time up, she swung from her heels and crushed a ball over the fence in left-center--not just a homer, but a towering drive that never had a doubt.

Watley had a huge grin on her face when she touched home plate, greeted there by laughing teammates. It seemed almost as if she was letting everyone in on a little secret. It made me wonder if, like Ichiro, she's hiding some serious power behind that well-honed slap-swing of hers.

Full softball results here.

By Dave Sheinin  |  August 12, 2008; 10:07 AM ET
Categories:  Softball  
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