Women's Pro Softball Team Could Land in Suburbs
Date, Shruti, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Shruti Date Daily Herald Staff Writer
A fast-pitch women's softball expansion team might settle down in your neighborhood soon.
The Women's Professional Softball League has been quietly scouting the suburbs of Chicago for the last two months hoping to find a home for a new team.
The expansion team would be part of a restructured, 6- to 12- team league housed in cities across the nation. League officials say they are talking with as many as a dozen cities, but would not identify them.
The Chicago club would be owned by the Chicago Bulls/White Sox Training Academy, as long as the league secures a suitable ballpark. The academy is owned and funded by Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the board of directors of both teams.
"The biggest issue is finding a place to play," said Tim Rappe, president of the Bulls/White Sox academy, based in Lisle.
Still, officials from both organizations said a deal could be sealed as early as the end of July.
"We've been secretly traveling around the area," said Hildred Deese, director of game operations for the Denver-based Women's Professional Softball League. "We're looking for land to build a stadium."
The search for 20 acres has been focused on the Northwest, Southwest and South suburbs, rather than the city, because that's where land is available, Deese said. The league anticipates building a $2.5 million open air stadium with about 2,400 seats.
The league has met with the Greater Woodfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, based in Schaumburg, which does promotional activity for a large group of Northwest suburbs.
Lou Mengsol, director of sports marketing for Greater Woodfield, said the bureau is enthusiastic about wooing women's professional softball to this area.
"It would be a great attraction," Mengsol said.
He said a fast-pitch softball team would cater to an untapped market.
"Boys in Little League can go to a Cubs game. Where do (girls) go to watch their stars?" he asked.
Training academy and league officials say they decided against the idea of housing the team in an existing stadium because they want an arena built specifically for professional softball.
They visited Alexian Field, home to the minor league Schaumburg Flyers, but rejected it because the physical characteristics of a professional fast-pitch softball field are different than minor league baseball. There is a flat pitching rubber in softball instead of a raised pitcher's mound, and the infield is "skinned," which means the women play on dirt rather than grass.
Deese said Chicago is a natural choice for an expansion team because it is a huge softball town, from which a significant number of collegiate players are recruited.
Rappe added that the suburbs of Chicago surfaced to the top because they are a "hotbed" of softball activity. Suburbs such as Downers Grove, Naperville, Orland Park and Schaumburg nurture a slew of softball leagues sponsored by park districts, athletic associations and schools. Thousands of girls play on these teams.
"Young women are yearning to see their sport played at the highest level," Rappe said.
The women's professional league was founded in 1997 but about a year ago disbanded the four teams it had owned and operated - the Akron Racers, Florida Wahoos, Ohio Pride and Tampa Bay FireStix - to concentrate on expansion. …