Thursday, August 7, 2008

SHE'S STILL NO EDDIE FEIGNER: As part of our blog's mission to bring you a constant variety of sport, regular commenter KarenNM brings us up to speed on the Olympic softball competition:
The USA Softball team has pretty much crushed every opponent over the last 15 years, and are the favorites for their fourth straight gold medal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that another dominating run may be a death sentence for the sport. In 2005 the IOC voted softball out of the Olympics, starting in 2012, saying it doesn’t have a true global following. Many suspect that some IOC members confused the sport with baseball, who was also voted out because major league players don’t participate in the games (the steroid thing didn’t help either). Others think that both baseball and softball were voted out because of anti-American feelings on the part of individual IOC members. Regardless, this may be the last time around for the sport on the international stage.

Now, you may be asking, can the US really lose? It’s a possibility – other countries are catching up, and the most likely cases for an upset are Canada and Japan, and they are feeling the pressure to take advantage of a last chance for a gold. Japan has two silvers, and they won the 2005 World Cup, beating the US 3-1 in that gold medal game. Canada has also taken down the US a couple times, though the US beat them 9-5 in their only preview game this summer. (Canadian trivia - their #1 pitcher, Lauren Bay Regula is the sister of new Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay.) If you’re looking for lots of home runs, watch the US play Venezuela, The Netherlands, or Chinese Taipei. Those three teams were the last qualifiers into the Olympics, and probably won’t put up much of a fight for the US offense.

Softball is all about the pitching, so the one person you won’t be able to avoid over the next two weeks is Jennie Finch. She’s tall! She’s blond! She was ESPNs “hottest female athlete” in 2003! She turned down Playboy! She is the face of USA Softball, but luckily she’s also a pretty good athlete. She consistency throws in the high 60s-low 70s (miles per hour), which roughly equates to a 90 mph fastball, and her ball moves. Watch for her rise ball – it really does go UP.

The voice of conscience on the team belongs to Jessica Mendoza. She’s the starting left-fielder, has the prettiest swing in softball, two degrees from Stanford, is president-elect of the Women’s Sports Foundation and an outspoken member of Team Darfur. She’s one of those people that makes me feel like a total slacker for not doing more with my life. But instead of going out and improving the world over the next two weeks, I will probably be plunked down in front of my couch, watching softball. The US will be on each night on CNBC (prime-time on the west coast!), so you can always flip over during breaks in gymnastics or beach volleyball to catch a little of the game.

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