Last night, with a single out left at the bottom of the last inning and his team leading 10-2, Jocelyn Alo has bid farewell to the NCAA Softball Championship Series. He came to play on the left field, made a few catches and then ended his softball career. He may have moved just a few feet toward the dugout before coming to hug another teammate. She stopped to hug each of them, tears streaming down her face until she reached the dugout. The camera went over him. As he cheered on the Oklahoma team, he clapped with his teammates, but he was still crying.
Announcers did not run through his ridiculous statistics. They’ve been doing it all in series. Aloe had the most career home runs in NCAA softball history (120). He hit 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons. He has hit a full .509 hits this season, including 32 home runs and 82 RBIs. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all time in the sport.
“It’s the end of his college career,” the announcer said as he stood behind his teammate, rolling his eyes. Inside my stomach I felt the shape of a hole, which if given a little more space could probably become a cry.
The game was not over when the lights went out. With two outs, Oklahoma walked two batsmen and gave up a three-run homer. They walked one more batter, and then advanced to the finals they needed to win the title. This is the fifth time in nine years and the second year in a row that Oklahoma has won the national championship. The trophy is immediately given in the light.
Alo holds the trophy in one hand and hugs the other. College career was the hell of his career. He is one of the best hitters seen in the game. At the end of the game he is awarded the most valuable player. “I love this game,” he said. Her cries stopped. “Sorry. I’m sorry to walk away from it, but I’m glad I ended up on top.” Tears welled up in his face.
Because that’s it. There is nothing more for him. Forcing a 23-year-old player to mourn towards the end of his career, at a moment when he is the best of what he does. He has no future in softball. This he could go as far as possible.
Even a few years ago, things were less dark than they are now. The first softball league in the United States, the International Women’s Professional Softball Association (IWPSA), was founded in 1976. It lasted for four seasons. Then there was the Women’s Pro Softball League, which ran from 1997 to 2001. It was then rebranded in 2002 and became the National Pro Fastpitch League. The league survived until last year. It had four to seven teams per year, but the teams regularly change names and cities. One party will die and the other will pop up somewhere else. When I reported to the NPF in 2016, all the players I spoke to had full-time jobs. In summer they played softball. They had to because every NPF team had to push their entire roster with a salary cap of $ 150,000. After two miss seasons due to the COVID-19 epidemic, however, the NPF announced last August that they would suspend operations.
Now two leagues are trying to take the place left by the NPF: Athletes Unlimited, a three-year-old league, and the newly launched Women’s Professional Fastpitch League, which has two teams. Both leagues have picked the first light in their draft. Both leagues play in the short summer season. A player does not even have enough salary to get a full time job. Alo says he will probably join one of the two.
Another option, in the past, could be the Olympics for lighting. He will play in a few Team USA tournaments later this summer, but has opted to drop softball at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. So, if the game is re-added, the Prothom-alo could play in the 2028 Olympic Games.
This college softball world series was full of beautiful moments. I played last night’s game alone Incredible catch in the outfieldInnocent double drama, robbed run homeAnd Lots And Lots of homers. There are rising balls and slaps hits and infields so fast that if you can blink you can miss the whole game. But below all the celebration and talent and fun there is a hidden sadness: the knowledge that it is. This is the end of a college career for players in the early 20’s.
It’s not that girls don’t know it. I knew when I was playing. Everyone who plays softball knows. The reality that revolves around everything is that to continue playing softball after college, you have to fight for it. Throughout my life, I have seen the rapid growth of the WNBA, the early roots of the NWSL, and professional female hockey players fighting for their future. But that hasn’t happened yet for softball. I’m not interested in trying to argue with people who want to debate whether a stable, well-funded professional softball league can be profitable. Many things are not super profitable but still worth living. Many teams are deeply beloved and less invested. By failing to invest in this game outside of the college game, we are robbing our entire generation of talent.
Jocelyn Alo is 23 years old. Imagine for a second if Bryce Harper or Vlad Guerrero Jr. had no definite future. Twenty-three years is not the maximum age for an athlete. We know that people are stronger and faster and smarter and better. We know that a player out of college can’t be their best. But perhaps, this is the light security of his softball career. Because the existing ways for its improvement are still struggling to expand. Of course, there is hope that with its bright stars these leagues can get more attention and funding and stability. But that should already be there.
She deserves a lot more. We all do. We deserve to see him for next year. I wish we had a different future. I wish it could be better.