After a last second move from Knoxville and a stint in limbo without a home field, the Tennessee Diamonds pro softball team has begun workouts at Lipscomb’s Draper Diamond.
The Diamonds will play home games there, which start with an exhibition against the TN All Stars on June 4th.
After Knoxville owners failed to fund the team, forcing a move to Nashville in May, the players are happy to just be settled in and playing ball.
“It [moving weeks before the season’s start] may be chaotic for the front office but it’s not too chaotic for us,” shortstop Chelsea Spencer said. “We just want to play some softball.”
The team and management all are satisfied with Lipscomb’s facilities and grateful for the opportunity to use them. But a large part of the Diamonds’ task will be getting the word out about the team’s presence there.
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) is a small, four-team league that faces challenges
in terms of success and growth. The Diamonds often find themselves promoters as well as players.
“Whenever we get out in the community we know that our biggest selling points are our athletes,” assistant general manager Lisa Iancin said. “Even if we go to sponsorship meetings we try to find interactive ways to showcase our athletes because they are the ones who are role models to the community – they sell the sport well.”
Recently, Diamonds’ players made appearances in the Nashville softball community at youth tournaments.
“I don’t think we ever stop promoting NPF, all season,” Spencer said.
Coach Ernie Reynolds expects a solid team, particularly his pitching staff. The rotation boasts former Texas A&M star Megan Gibson and former UT standout Monica Abbott, who is finishing up a season in Japan and will not be available for the first few games.
Abbott will be reunited with her former UT catcher Shannon Doepking, who was acquired in the same trade with Orlando that brought Abbott. Iancin hopes the pair’s college success will translate to fans in the stands.
“We’ve really got to capitalize on that opportunity as far as capturing that fan base that remembers them in the championship game of the college world series not too long ago,” Iancin said.
Doepking is excited about re-establishing the duo’s chemistry as well as her return to Tennessee.
“There is nothing like returning to play a sport in Tennessee,” she said. “The fans just love softball and sports in general.”
Doepking notes that with Softball out of the Olympics, NPF is the pinnacle of the sport right now.
“I think everyone’s dream growing up as a kid was ‘I want to be an Olympic athlete’ and with that out of the question this is the next best thing, this is where all the Olympians play now,” she said. “It’s our job to be able to keep this league going so the young girls playing today can have that opportunity.”
With only four teams in the league the Diamonds are assured to be in the mix for a title and Coach Reynolds thinks the team is capable.
“We know that we’re going to be one of four teams competing for a national championship,’ he said. “So when it’s late August we want to be healthy and peaking.”
They also hope that by that time they will have piqued more than a minimum local interest.