Though many Chicagoans are unaware, the Blackhawks were not the only Chicago professional sports team to be crowned champions last year. Chicago’s professional fastpitch softball team, the Chicago Bandits, were champions this past season, as well. They defeated the USSSA Pride to win the Cowles Cup for the first time since 2011. The Bandits finished the regular season with a 31-17 record which was the second best record in the NPF (National Pro Fastpitch) behind the USSSA Pride. In their final Championship Series victory, the Bandits defeated one of the NPF’s legendary pitchers, Cat Osterman, in her final game as a pro. Osterman had a phenomenal eight year career and holds the league record for the most career wins with a 74-17 overall record. In addition, she was a two time Olympian, earning gold and silver medals. Despite her dominance, the Bandits were too much for Osterman and the USSSA Pride. They won each of the first two games of the best of three series 1-0.
The Bandits were lead by the command of their ace pitcher, Monica Abbott, who posted a 13-1 season record with a nearly unheard of .31 ERA. In 90 ⅓ innings Abbott let by a mere 32 hits and only 4 earned runs, making her the most dominant pitcher in the NPF. Abbott pitched the Bandits final shutout and allowed only two hits. She would go on to be named the Championship Series MVP, as well as the NPF pitcher of the year.
I was lucky enough to talk with the Bandits’ second baseman, Danielle Zymkowitz, about the team's success and her experience as a professional softball player. When I asked her about how her team was able to play at such a high level, she attributed their success to their team chemistry by saying, “It was easy because we were all on the same page.” Zymkowitz also referenced the team’s mindset of “we are going to win the last game of the season,” which enabled them to keep in touch with the bigger picture. With all of the success the Bandits had this past year, it is only instinctive for one to ask, why is there such a lack of publicity? The disappointing truth lies in the discrepancy between men’s and women’s sports.
Baseball and softball are often thought to be similar games. Although they share many of the same rules, they are quite different in form. Softball is played on a much smaller field, making it a quicker and a more contained game than baseball. In fact, softball pitchers reach speeds of 70 mph, giving batters only .418 seconds to react, which is .013 seconds less than the reaction time for a 95 mph baseball pitch. And while a softball may be physically larger than a baseball, softball pitchers are also able to move their pitches in all four directions: up, down, left, and right, while baseball pitchers can only move their pitcher left, right, and down. These differences make the two games challenging and interesting in distinct ways.
On top of their physical differences, these sports also differ in the lifestyle of their athletes. Zymkowitz, like most other NPF players, works another job when not in season, as an assistant coach for the University of Toledo Rockets. In men’s professional sports it is practically unheard of to need to work a second job. When I asked her about being in the NPF Zymkowitz said, “it’s so different than the MLB because we all have other jobs that we have to focus on too.” She added, “but it’s fun that when we all come together we all have that same one common goal and will do anything to achieve it.” Nine months of the year the Bandits are in the off season not only training for the season ahead, but working another job. Like all professional athletes, these women are at the top level of their sport, yet due to the popularity and funding of their sports, they are forced to live a much different lifestyle than those of male athletes. Despite this challenge, they are able to come together and succeed at the highest level.
Along with their on field success, the Bandits are very in touch with their fan base and make tremendous efforts to be part of the Chicago community. After every home game, the Bandits sign autographs for all of their fans. In addition, Zymkowitz added they host “tons of camps and clinics.” All of the Bandits’ efforts to interact with their fanbase is remarkable, and shows their genuine care for their fans. As for the season to come, the Bandits have high hopes. They hope to build off of their Championship season, and with the hard work and dedication they display, the sky’s the limit.
Interview and analysis - Jenny Godlsher