Alexis Gary was with her boyfriend’s family in early December when she received an unexpected phone call. Temple softball coach Rocky Pignoli had called to inform Gary that she had just been drafted into the National Pro Fastpitch League by the New York/New Jersey Juggernauts.
With a myriad of emotions running through her, Gary only had one question: What was the National Pro Fastpitch League and who were the New York/ New Jersey Juggernauts?
“I actually thought he was kidding,” Gary said when Pignoli first told her of the news.
The truth is that Gary, a senior majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice, never knew scouts had their eyes on her. And as for the NPF, this summer will be its inaugural season.
Reconstructed from two previous softball leagues (the Women’s Pro Fastpitch and the Women’s Professional Softball League), the NPF was officially born Nov. 21, 2002, and until now has been on a promotional tour. With eight teams set to play 56 regular-season games with added support from Major League Baseball, excitement has been building for the league.
“Most of the other owners are excited about this,” Juggernauts president/general manager Richard Perrotty said.
Prior to restructuring, only four teams existed and were run out of a central office. Now, teams are individually owned and operated.
“We’re all business people from different walks of life,” Perrotty said. “Most of us are entrepreneurs, so it’s a challenge to put this thing together and make it successful.”
MLB is helping to provide sponsorship opportunities and possible coverage on ESPN. There is talk of having two games televised weekly as a lead into Wednesday Night and Thursday Night Baseball, according to Perrotty.
Future plans to expand the league are already in motion and would bring more attention to college teams, in terms of the draft pool.
This year’s draft took place Dec. 6 in Houston. There were 48 college seniors selected along with 32 elite players (those involved in the previous fastpitch leagues). Gary, the first and only Owl to be drafted, was the 27th college pick.
In her junior year, Gary batted .366 with 45 hits and 22 RBIs. Her performance behind the plate as catcher was solid, and off the field she earned a 3.6 grade point average.
Gary’s coaches think her mental prowess impressed the Juggernauts.
“She’s always had the physical tools, but [it was] her mental maturity [in] handling situations,” assistant coach Terri Adams said. “It’s a game where you fail more times than you’re successful, and you have to take the right mental approach and I think that’s been the key to her success.”
“She bought into a system,” Pignoli said. “She was willing to sacrifice things to make it better. To take it to the next level, you [have to] make changes and adjustments. She was willing to do these things.”
Temple’s coaches were responsible for bringing Gary to the attention of Juggernaut’s manager, Linda Derk. Derk has a significant connection to Temple, where she received her master’s degree in Sports Administration and also coached with Pignoli from 1992-94.
“It was really important for me,” Dirk explained, “[being the] coach of a northeast pro team to get some northeast talent involved from some of the good northeast softball programs. Temple’s always up there in the A-10’s and…her name [Alexis Gary] came around and it was a good fit for us to be able to draft someone like her.”
Communication between the team and Gary is limited due to NCAA rules that restrict formal contract talks with eligible players.
The decision on whether or not to sign Gary to a contract won’t be made until after spring training. The team holds the rights to all of its college draftees through July 14, and can use them in a trade or as a reserve.
“We’ll evaluate her all of spring and then we’ll decide how, and in what capacity we’d like to use her,” Derk said.
Gary expects to play come June 1, when the season officially starts. But she is not immune to the anxiety of taking such a big step forward in her athletic career.
“I’m scared that I’m going to get out there and just not do well,” Gary said. “It’s going to be a totally different realm of players.”
Keeping it in the Nest
The only other A-10 player drafted into the NPF was UMass’s Aisha Franke, daughter of Nikki Franke, who is the coach of Temple’s women’s fencing team.
Steve Papurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.