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What I Watched Last Night

I'm glad the data-entry stoner in charge of my satellite TV program guide at 2 a.m. this morning was promising "super heavyweights arm wrestling" on ESPN2. Otherwise, I wouldn't have found the taped replay of the previous evening's NCAA Division I Women's College World Series softball finals in Oklahoma City between Arizona and Tennessee. It was a do-or-die game for Arizona, which trailed 1-0 in the best-of-three series. I was looking forward to some good heavyweight arm rasslin', but I stayed with the softball because I'm a guy, and I naturally welcome three-hour events involving a whole bunch of attractive college women. Especially when a TV camera spends practically the entire time trained on their backsides.

While I came for the pie - particularly Arizona's pitcher, Taryne Mowatt - I stayed for the food because the Arizona-Tennessee game reinforced my opinion that next to rugby and Australian rules football, women's softball is largely an undiscovered gem that helps make ESPN2's programming far more interesting on the whole than ESPN's. Screw the Cubs and the White Sox, folks; these women play ball like there's no tomorrow - and somehow without the grinding boredom that makes Major League Baseball famous. Christ, if unpaid college chicks can go nine innings without making it feel like you're watching slugs cross the road, why can't grown dudes making more money than God for a living do the same?

Granted, college women don't spit or go adjusting themselves on the field, but I find it remarkable that anyone's able to wind up and pitch a softball underhand (and do screwballs, changeups, and curveballs) up to 75 miles an hour with the kind of consistent control that Lou Piniella only sees in his wet dreams. Come to think of it, if Piniella had a pitcher like Mowatt who could start 43 of the team's 55 games, go 34-10 with a 1.61 ERA, strike out 433 batters in 296 innings and hold batters to a .156 average, this town would have a woody massive enough to be seen from Neptune.

Besides being a pitching duel between Mowatt and Tennessee's skyscraper-tall Monica Abbott, the game featured dueling Nike vs. Adidas uniform fashions. The synthetic Nike/Arizona tighter fit was the clear winner over Adidas/Tennessee's baggier, more-traditional styling common to boys' Little League fields everywhere. Other than that, Tennessee's team colors are right out of The Bad News Bears, so I was kind of bummed to see the Lady Volunteers going without "Chico's Bail Bonds" plastered on the back of their jerseys.

The color commentary moved along nicely, too. Calling the game was ESPN's Beth Mowins, who was joined in the booth by the perky Jessica Mendoza, a 2004 Olympics softball gold medalist and Stanford University softball All-American. Mowins' voice is a dead ringer for that of slightly-butch actress Jane Lynch (Best in Show, The 40-Year-Old Virgin); the highlight of Mendoza's on-screen time was demonstrating the science of bunting. This reminded me of pro football commentator Terry Bradshaw's own on-camera demonstrations in the booth, except nobody made Mendoza and Mowins stick their hands anywhere near each other's ass like Bradshaw does.

Anyway, a nail-biter of a scoreless game came to an end in killer fashion when Arizona wrapped it up in the 10th after pinch runner Danielle Rodriguez barely caught the tip of home plate under a spinning tag by Tennessee catcher Shannon Doepking. That meant the two teams were back last night for the deciding game on ESPN2, with Mowatt and Abbott again on the mound. I'm not sure whether this is because amateur women softball pitchers are less fragile than professional baseball pitchers so they're able to pitch back-to-back games, or whether throwing a softball underhand at 75 miles per hour just takes less out of you than throwing a baseball overhand at 95 miles per hour, but there you go.

In a related but non-TV thought, you might want to head out this summer to the metro's own women's pro softball team, the Chicago Bandits, who now play their home games at Benedictine University's Sports Complex in Lisle.

And you might want to do it soon, before TV wrestling promoter Vince McMahon buys the whole damn league and turns it into a traveling slow-pitch T&A bikini rodeo and calls it The World Chicks With Sticks Federation or something. Because for now, it's as good as it gets.

*

Catch up with the What I Watched Last Night collection.



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Posted on June 7, 2007


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