Erica Westly knew baseball, thanks to the hours she spent as a child watching the sport with her father. And because she knew baseball, she also thought she knew softball. It was simply the female version of America’s great pastime, right?
Westly never played softball and never had a reason to think much about it. But she became intrigued when, as a journalist, she heard a surprising slice of softball history and began questioning her previous assumptions. She learned softball started with a boxing glove, a broomstick and a group of men gathered for a Harvard-Yale football game in 1887. As the story goes, one of the Yale fans threw the glove at a Harvard fan, who swung the stick and sent the glove soaring.
Softball spread in popularity as an indoor game played by both men and women. But it took on a greater importance for women, who did not have many, if any, other opportunities to play a competitive team sport.
Westly pored over old community newspaper archives and found an abundance of articles from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s detailing local softball games. Competitive company-sponsored softball teams traveled the country and served as community entertainment on summer days. The sport provided unique opportunities for women at the time, a detail that has been seemingly forgotten today. “There are so many books about baseball history out there,” Westly says. “But nothing really aimed at a mainstream audience about softball. My interest in writing a book came from that void.”
The author’s new book, “Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game,” chronicles the rise of the sport, the decline of company-sponsored teams and the way Title IX and the college game gave fastpitch softball a needed boost. The book illustrates how softball has evolved over the decades and includes stories from some of the sport’s key players.
These days, Westly tunes in to softball games and follows college rankings. Watching a college pitcher throw a “windmill” pitch reminds her how much the game has changed – pitching deliveries are just one piece of the evolution. Through her book, the author has gained a new perspective on the sport that she hopes to pass along to her readers.