By Randy Arrington
LURAY, July 7 — It wasn’t until “little” Kate Gordon saw the Washington Glory take on the Chicago Bandits that she realized playing professional softball might actually be a possibility. That 2007 National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) game sparked a dream beyond one she had already declared to her parents.
“As a young girl, I can remember watching the [Women’s College World Series] with my parents in our living room and telling them that one day they’d see me playing in there,” she stated in a recent interview with Extra Innings Softball. “But my dreams shifted beyond college softball when I went to my first NPF game. I realized then the dream of playing professional softball could become my reality. Ever since then, I’ve been working as hard as I can to get here.”
This summer, Kate Gordon Short is being paid to play the game she loves as an outfielder for the Smash It Sports Vipers — one of two teams competing in barnstorming fashion during the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF). The lone survivor of the now-defunct NPF, the USSSA Pride, makes up the other half of the emerging WPF. Last summer the Pride featured a former teammate of Gordon’s — Odicci Alexander.
Alexander, Gordon and the James Madison University Dukes took the college softball world by storm just over a year ago as they began their first appearance at the WCWS by knocking off No. 1 Oklahoma, arguably one of the best teams of all-time. They accomplished the shocking upset after a record-setting 69th home run by Gordon in the eighth inning.
The Sooners would go on to beat the Dukes in a second meeting a few days later, en route to another national championship. The Dukes beat No. 5 Oklahoma State before being eliminated, and performed better than any at-large seed in the history of the Women’s College World Series.
Alexander, a JMU pitching sensation from Park View High School in South Hill, jumped into the world of professional softball immediately. She received endorsement offers and even went to Japan to play professionally after leaving the Pride. Alexander currently plays for Athletes Unlimited, which also puts together professional teams in volleyball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer.
Short took time for other pursuits after leaving the game in June 2021 as the all-time home run leader in the Colonial Athletic Association. She used the fame she gained last summer in Oklahoma City to help her as a Realtor and property manager for Old Dominion Realty back at home in the Shenandoah Valley.
“I benefitted in the real estate business…that’s how I made money from the World Series,” Gordon said during an interview with Page Valley News earlier this week. “Odicci had a ton of deals…T-shirts and stuff like that…because she kept playing.”
While playing at JMU as a fifth-year senior and receiving and extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Short has worked for Old Dominion Realty since May 2020. However, her last day as a property manager was May 6, although she plans to continue selling real estate when she’s not being paid to play softball.
When the Vipers came calling this spring, the only connection that Gordon had to softball since playing in the World Series was coaching a local travel team called the Shenandoah Sparks that recently moved up to 12U. Her life-long friend and fellow coach, Allison Breeden, took over the team and encouraged her to pursue her dreams — as did her husband Keith, who she married in November.
Short immediately began a training regiment similar to her college days and prepared herself for playing at the next level through physical fitness and time in the batting cage. Then, during her first trip to the plate as a professional in mid-June, Short did what she was known for and belted a home run.
“I was really nervous because I hadn’t played a live game since the World Series,” Short said. “But this team felt like we had been playing together for a while because they were all so excited.”
Despite her instant success, Short has only managed a .231 average at the plate (6-for-26) and has not hit another home run since that first at-bat. However, she currently ranks third in WPF with three stolen bases and is tied for eighth with seven RBI. Short also recorded a triple, an on-base percentage of .310 and a slugging percentage of .423 through 13 games.
“It’s obviously a lot faster…just like college was faster than high school…people are stronger, they pitch faster…We only play on turf and the ball is faster off the turf,” Short told PVN. “The girls have been around the game a little longer and they are more mature, as well as being stronger and faster.”
Both the Vipers and the Pride are 9-4 on the season. The two WPF teams will play eight, three-game series with each other and other teams from mid-June to early August. The USSSA Pride is based out of Viera, Fla. and has a history in professional softball going back 20 years. The Smash It Sports Vipers are based in Rochester, N.Y. and are launching their first campaign, along with WPF, during this “exhibition season” that will take them through five states.
While WPF games have not yet made it to one of the ESPN channels — like a few Athletes Unlimited softball games have — fans can watch the Vipers and the Pride by paying for livestreams of their games.
“Everyone is so hopeful,” Short said of players’ outlook for the league. “Professional softball has been around for years, but now with viewership growing and games on TV on the rise, it looks like this can be sustained and give players something to do after college.”
Short says WPF hopes to expand to six teams next summer and draft considerably more college players than the dozen they brought in to help fill out the 16 spots on each team this summer.
“Hopefully more players will get drafted and more will have that opportunity, and it will just keep growing from there,” Short said.
The WPF’s No. 1 draft pick this summer was a familiar face to Short — Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo, the NCCA home run leader with 113 dingers heading into this year’s postseason and the 2021 College Player of the Year. After going head-to-head in last year’s World Series, Short and Alo are now teammates. While Alo has yet to hit a home run as a professional, she leads the league in batting average (.600) and on-base percentage (.647).
“Right now it’s being run really well,” Short said of the Vipers and WPF. “They are trying to give us the best experience.”
While Short won’t comment on the size of the check she receives twice a month to play professional softball — more out of a courtesy to other players, rather than a mandate from the league — her one-year contract requires her to be on the field seven days a week, either three to four hours for practice or four to fiver hours on game days throughout the 36-game season. During the off-season, she must participate in camps and clinics for the public and younger players when called on by the team throughout the year. The team does pay for housing during the season and offers reimbursements for flights or other required travel.
WPF is the official professional softball league in the United States, founded by USA Softball, USSSA and Smash It Sports. While Short wants to perform well on the field and help the Vipers win games, the former Page County High School standout wants to accomplish something even bigger, for both the WPF and the sport in general.
“It’s tough,” Short said of male-dominated sports getting more attention than their female counterparts. “I’m not sure why [softball] is not as successful…but it’s an exciting game, there’s plenty of action and it’s a faster game…so as opposed to a three to four hour baseball game, you are in and out of a softball game in an hour-and-a-half to two hours.
“I am just so excited to be on this team to help pave the path,” Short added. “I really want to be a role model…not just for my little sister and brother, but I want to inspire other little girls that thought maybe it wasn’t possible, especially coming from a small town…I know I can do that too.”
The Vipers are looking good this season after sweeping Team Mexico during a three-game series in Viera, Florida over the July 4th weekend. The Vipers beat Mexico by a combined 25-0 in the first two games of the series. They carry that three-game winning streak into a three-game series with the Pride in Evansville, Indiana July 12-14.
“It’s been a dream,” Short told PVN, “but I’m more excited to help this game grow…I’m looking forward to the remainder of this season and years to come.
“Maybe one day, when my kids are playing and they get an opportunity to play at this level, they can look back and say, ‘Hey my mom helped make it this way.”
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