The NCAA notes in their TV ads that almost all college athletes go on to a career in something other than sports. But when a college athlete actually goes pro - even for a short time - it’s an impressive accomplishment. That’s why we’ve spent some time this summer reviewing former Ducks who have gone on to have professional careers in sport. They are a relative rarity, and doubly so if they are women. The lack of opportunities for women in professional sports is well known and has led to problems such as players having to pursue their career in what may be dangerous foreign lands.
The good news is that women’s professional sports is growing and while hardly a constant “up and to the right” proposition, the future does appear increasingly bright. In some sports - basketball and soccer being the obvious ones - people with real money - women with real money - and a passion for women’s professional sports are getting involved. Getting these sports on a paying basis, both for players and owners, is still a challenge but one on which progress continues to be made at a slow and steady pace.
Running a bit behind the NWSL or the WNBA is Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF). The league only began play last month with four teams after almost 2 years of promotion. Both of these decisions seem prudent. While there are plenty of excellent softball players, enough to fill dozens of teams, starting small is the right move from an expense standpoint. In the same way, waiting until the last breath of disruption from Covid had faded and people began to feel comfortable being in crowds again was also a good idea. Wait until you’re ready, start small and grow from there.
The four teams which began the inaugural season in June are the Smash it Sports Vipers (Oxford, AL), USSSA Pride (Shawnee, KS), Oklahoma City Spark (Edmond, OK) and Texas Smoke (Austin, TX). The teams play home-and-home 3-game series for a total of 36 games between mid-June and the first week in August. This will be followed by a Semifinal Series and a Championship Series between the Semifinal winners.
Two of these squads feature former Ducks. Jordan Dail pitches for the Smoke and Allee Bunker plays infield for the Pride. Unfortunately, the League’s statistics are not very available on the WPF’s website, but luckily the Pride does provide them so Bunker’s play thus far can be evaluated.
Bunker worked her way into the Pride’s starting lineup in short order. Her first plate appearance came in a June 25 game against Oklahoma City, which the Pride won 3 - 1, and Bunker has appeared in every game since. Her best series was an early July set on the road against the Vipers. She went 5 - 11 at the plate in the series, had 2 RBI and scored twice. Just this week in a home game against the Smoke, Bunker was 2 - 2 with 2 RBI in a 7 - 4 win.
Bunker has played all over the field for the Pride, featuring at second and third base and playing shortstop as well as pinch hitting. The Pride’s next action is July 16 when they open a home series against the Vipers.
As a pitcher, Dail has necessarily seen less action than Bunker so far this season. In the two games she’s pitched for which statistics are available, Dail has thrown 3.0 innings, given up 2 hits, 2 runs, struck out 1 and walked 3. This article will be updated if the Smoke organization response to an ATQ request for information. The Smoke begin a 3-game series with the Spark this evening.
Across professional sports leagues, former Ducks continue to fulfill their dreams of playing at the top level and we look forward to their continued success.