Fast Pitch Perfect
Fast-pitch softball strengthens its position as a top-tier girls’ sport in America. (Photo: Andy Nott)
As the calendar transitions from winter to spring, school-age athletes are likewise transitional from indoor sports to fields across America. And leading that march towards Spring 2024 is the continued strength of fast-pitch softball. Now that schools and players are more than three years from the height of the COVID pandemic, fast-pitch softball has made a spectacular comeback and is poised for additional growth in the years to come. That, of course, is great news for team dealers.

Fast Growth for Fast-Pitch

The business of selling girls’ fast-pitch softball is moving along as fast, if not faster, than some pitches leaving the circle at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City every year in late May and early June.

After speaking with a number of team dealers in all parts of the U.S., it quickly becomes clear that fast-pitch softball is alive, well, thriving and, just like a good fastball, it’s on the rise!

Despite the obvious limitations caused by early-spring weather, interest in fast-pitch softball is strong in New England, specifically in Vermont, according to Kevin Smith, owner of Kevin Smith Sports in St. Albans, VT.

“Up here in Vermont, fast-pitch softball participation is back to pre-COVID,” says Smith. “And, I think the sport is still growing,” he adds, explaining that the dealer limits his softball sales to uniforms and fan/spirit wear. He refuses to stock and sell gloves and bats because “you never have the right glove or bat in stock to sell.”

“We have web stores where we sell team uniforms and fan wear to fans,” Smith explains, with the majority of his softball business at the high school level.

The fast-pitch softball business is also thriving for D & H Sports, Bastrop, LA, where owner Glen Hendrix reports that his business is growing because of travel softball,” which is bigger for D & H than high school softball.

That’s because, according to Hendrix, if travel teams are not buying new uniforms every year, they are at least buying add-ons and accessories. And all teams at all levels are busying basic necessities.

“Every year, all softball teams are buying softballs, bats, gloves, socks and cleats,” says Hendrix.  “And now many players, especially infielders, are purchasing fielders’ masks.”

Because of D & H Sports’ location in northeastern Louisiana, which is close to the Arkansas border, Hendrix sells Baden softballs to schools in Louisiana and Wilson softballs to schools in Arkansas.

Meanwhile, in south Florida, avid fast-pitch softball players are on the softball diamond nearly 12 months a year, which means year-round sales for Medallion Sporting Goods, based in Riviera Beach.

“For us, the travel softball business has been huge, much bigger than the local high school business,” says manager Kevin Licata, who says they specialize in softball uniforms, batting helmets and protective gear with the 9-13-year-old age group the prime market.

According to Licata, the only break on south Florida’s fast-pitch travel softball calendar is when high school-age ball players play high school softball in the spring.

Softball Commitment In Ohio

In Coshocton, OH, Local Team Shop owner Scott Nelson and his colleagues are totally committed to serving and selling fast-pitch softball to teams in the institutional market and have a unique way of approaching the business.

“Our approach is called Direct to Coach,” says Nelson. “If we can gain the trust of the high school coach, we have a very good chance of getting that business. We focus on selling in three different quadrants – to teams, staff and fans.” This commitment extends to being on-call for a high school head coach and his team. “We can process an order online, over the phone, with paper, via email or in person at the school,” says Nelson. “However, whenever, and wherever a team wants us to show up, we do.”

Local Team Shop limits its softball sales to clothing. “We’re apparel guys and we sell all apparel from socks to hats in softball,” says Nelson.

In Cedar Falls, IA, Iowa Sports Supply caters to local Little League softball leagues, travel fast-pitch softball and the more than 7000 high school fast-pitch softball players in Iowa, where high school fast-pitch softball is played in the summer.

“We sell uniforms, socks, softballs, bats, fielding masks and catchers’ gear,” says graphic designer Maggie Lampe, who adds that the dealer also caters to the needs of fast-pitch softball fans. “We create fan wear stores so that fans can buy what they need,” she says. “We sell polo shirts for coaches, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, beanies, pants, and hats.”

Out west in Glendive, MT, Squad Sports is the go-to retail outlet for fast-pitch softball players, teams and fans.

“We sell everything in fast-pitch softball with the exception of cleats,” reports owner Lara Crighton — fan gear, uniforms, bats, hats, socks, gloves, pants, practice gear and bases as well as field paint and chalk.

And while many team dealers in the U.S. are losing sales to Internet portals, that’s not the case for Squad Sports.

“Many local fast-pitch softball teams are making a point of buying gear and uniforms from us rather than spending money through the Internet,” says Crighton. “We also sell lots of fan gear — T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, hats, coats and sweat pants. Here in Montana, if you watch fast-pitch softball you must be prepared to go from a hoodie to a coat to a T-shirt over the course of one game.”

While Crighton is happy to establish an electronic store to sell fan gear, many local parents and fans prefer to walk into her store, touch the item, feel the material and try on the right sized shirt before buying.

Coach Speak

Reflections on softball from those on the front lines.

Present vs. Past of Fast-Pitch Softball. “Travel (fast-pitch softball) teams used to play only during the high school off-season, but now they play year-round and even during our high school season so more girls are getting burned out, mentally, and are suffering overuse injuries,” says Mark Boretti, the varsity girls fast-pitch softball head coach at Wellington (FL) High School, located in the fast-pitch softball hotbed of south Florida.

Impact of Other Team Sports. “Girls’ lacrosse and flag football are becoming more popular and fast-pitch softball numbers have decreased significantly,” says Boretti.  

The Gear Is Great. “Everything, equipment-wise, is better and much improved,” says Scott Doan, director of culture for athletics at Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay, FL, and a former high school fast-pitch softball coach who spent 40 years coaching high school softball in Miami, FL. “Nowadays, I look in a dugout and I see 15 bats for the 15 players on the team. And, every bat is costing at least $300.”

Declining Interest in Travel Ball. “About 20 years ago, 14 out of 16 players on a high school fast-pitch softball team played travel ball,” says Doan, who led Westminster Christian School to five Florida High School Athletic Association state championships. “Now, sometimes as few as four or five players on our teams will have played travel ball.”