Fordham's "Road to the WCWS" | Day Two: Practice Day
Fordham softball has reached its fourth NCAA Regional in the past five years. WFUV Sports’ Mike Watts is with the team to Tallahassee, Florida for the Rams’ postseason adventure. Here are some of the sights and thoughts from the trip.
After arriving in Florida in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, the Rams' first full day in Florida was structured around a 2:00pm practice at JoAnne Graf Field. A 9:30am bus trip to a chain bagel shop opened the day and the group got some extra rest at the hotel before leaving for lunch and practice around 12:30pm.
There is something inherently funny about pulling a bus into a breakfast or sandwich restaurant and unleashing 30 hungry people. Needless to say that common team favorites on the road best beware of Fordham softball. To the credit of today's choices, they fed the hungry masses quickly. One person said they like looking at the cashier's eyes when a 30 person line suddenly forms in front of their register. Having worked in a restaurant before, I'm thoroughly impressed.
Fordham arrived a few minutes early for their practice session, so they chose to warm up indoors while South Florida finished their practice at the stadium. As the Rams headed down to the dugout, 13th year head coach Bridget Orchard met with the announcers from ESPN, Pam Ward and Michele Smith. It should be noted that Smith's hair was noticed by the team from the bus outside the stadium. They spent nearly half an hour with her pregame, and will have her on live during Friday night's game during the fourth inning from the dugout. Incredible exposure for the program on national television.
I've been asked several times on this trip what announcers do to prepare for a game. I figured this is as good a forum to explain as ever. Announcers, ranging from national television to Division I local radio, are looking for unique and compelling stories to tell their audience. A lot of people can call the action on the field, but that action in a vacuum is meaningless. Elise Fortier and Kayla Lombardo's back to back home runs against Saint Louis were remarkable in any situation, but the context of a 1-0 deficit in the Atlantic 10 tournament in the bottom of the sixth inning is what matters.
There are a lot of places to find stories. Every girl on the roster at Fordham or Florida State was good enough to make headlines in high school - a big playoff win, their college commitment, a no hitter, etc. - and Google makes it easier than ever to look for that kind of news. Sometimes you start with media guides or player bios which can provide some interesting background info. You also interview the sports information staff or an assistant before the game sometimes. And then sometimes a story lands right in your lap in the form of a local news paper headline previewing your game (see right). With the entire regional being broadcast on ESPN2 (and Fordham's games on WFUVSports.org, I might add), Ward and Smith are looking for three games worth of material about the Rams after not seeing them in person during the 2014 season. For me, I have some Fordham material stowed away already, but I am especially busy studying Florida State's 50-win season.
Meanwhile on the field, batting practice, infield, and bullpen sessions were in store for the Rams today. Elise Fortier hit three home runs in her BP session including one that hit off the top of the wall, proving that her 19 home runs this year (one shy of the Fordham record) would have cleared the wall at Bahoshy Field or at Graf Field (with it's lengthier dimensions and higher walls). Kayla Lombardo stroked a few out of the park, and Amy Van Hoven also hit a ball off the right field foul pole (it counts!) as I looked on. Fielding practice with this team is as fun to watch as batting practice though, because they look like a well oiled machine. The Rams defense was ranked 57th in the nation by fielding percentage which is particularly impressive when you remember they practice on the floor of the Lombardi Center through March. Defense in collegiate softball always seems to be worth a couple of runs each game. The team's four pitchers threw from the circle in the final thirty minutes of the NCAA allotted 1 hour 45 minute session.
After practice we were surprised with an abbreviated tour of 85,000 seat Doak Campbell Stadium which provided excellent selfie opportunities for some players (and non-players) and a great team photo from the endzone bleachers. A walk through the bleachers, the team's weight room and their player of the year award packed athletics lobby showed just how much the 2014 BCS National Champions have to work with. Their Heisman winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, was busy taking batting practice at the baseball stadium next door preparing for a conference game against Duke.
After a two hour break at the hotel, Fordham softball departed for dinner and waited about forty minutes to be seated - the pitfall to the 30-guest table we ask for on a given night. It was a great chance for the team to break bread and laugh before a more serious Friday. My final thought from day two was just how outgoing this team has been. I've only felt positive vibes from players and coaches (at least when I've been around), which can't hurt going into the biggest game of the season tomorrow.