The National Pro Fastpitch softball league season is heading into its final month so it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the positives and negatives to the Pennsylvania Rebellion and the league.
Thumbs Up – Talent level
It might seem odd to begin with this but despite a 5-23 record heading into tonight’s game, the Rebellion field a talented roster. The ability to hit, run, catch and throw is beyond anything Western Pennsylvania has seen over a continuing basis.
That the Rebellion are 18 games below .500 is a tribute to the ability and experience of the other three teams in the NPF league.
Thumbs Up – The 90-second clock
You might not have noticed, but a clock mounted to the outside wall of the press box might just be the greatest idea from the league. The clock keeps track of the time it takes for the between inning changeover of the teams. If the defensive team is not ready to play within the 90 seconds, a ball-one count is awarded to the first batter.
Wouldn’t it be great to see this clock used in some baseball leagues?
Thumbs Down – Re-entry
Not sure who made this rule, but it might be the most befuddling one in the NPF. A player can be pinch-hit or pinch-run for in a game, then re-enter an inning later. It obviously gets more players involved in the game, but this isn’t high school softball anymore.
In a July 6 game against the Rebellion, USSSA Pride coach Gerry Glasco used 15 position players. Most of the seven pinch-hitters or pinch-runners were only in the game for that one appearance, then replaced through re-entry. It confuses the fans and, at times, the scorekeepers and announcers.
Thumbs Up – Game times
On most nights, first pitch is at 7:05 p.m. and fans are heading to their cars around 9:30 p.m., many times earlier than that. Anyone who has squirmed in their seats through a 3 ½-hour Pirates game can appreciate the speed in which an NPF game is played.
Unlike their baseball counterparts, softball pitchers don’t stare in for the sign for 10 seconds, seemingly going into a catatonic state, until the batter steps out. A batting glove is not rewrapped after every pitch, even the ones not swung at. And conferences on the mound between pitcher and catcher are at a minimum.
The average length of a Major League Baseball game is three hours, but it’s not unusual for a 4-hour affair in a high-scoring game. To be fair, the NPF plays seven-inning games compared to the nine of MLB, so it should be quicker.
The last two home games of the Rebellion ended in just under two hours and a 1-0 shutout of the Pride by Sara Pauly two weeks ago lasted 1:44.
Thumbs Down – Scheduling
The weirdest aspect of the NPF is the odd scheduling. The Rebellion had eight consecutive days off in June and a three-game layoff occurs three times on the season. No professional league should schedule teams off for eight days in a row. It’s a poor marketing decision, keeps the brand name out of the minds of fans and causes confusion about when games are scheduled.
Many off days are on the weekend, which makes sense. Because much of the fan base is made up of softball players, weekend games are poor draws. Many youth players are on travel teams that compete on the weekend.
If possible, the league should compress the schedule with either a later start or a shorter finish date, and eliminate more than three days off in a row.
Thumbs Up – Entertainment value
Having two professional teams in this city is something to value. The costs to see a Rebellion or Wild Things game is reasonable and a bargain compared to what a Pirates game or other minor league game in the region might cost a family to attend. The money that comes into the city through ancillary purchases also is a benefit.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at email@example.com.