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National Pro Fastpitch Introduces Six Teams; Inaugural Season League Play Launches in Early June

Tucson, Ariz. — At a press conference held today at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, new home of the league’s Arizona Heat, National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), released its 2004 inaugural season schedule. NPF, the nation’s only women’s pro fastpitch softball league, also introduced the six teams participating in the 60-game season.

The six NPF Ball Clubs introduced today are: Akron Racers (Akron, Ohio); Arizona Heat (Tucson, Ariz.); Texas Thunder (Houston, Tex.); New England Riptide (Boston/Lowell, Mass.); New York/New Jersey Juggernaut (Upper Montclair, NJ); and California Sunbirds (Stockton, Calif.).

“We are launching our inaugural season with six fine teams and 96 extraordinary players – it is going to be an exciting year for fastpitch,” said Richard Levine, President and CEO of National Pro Fastpitch.

Now in its second year as the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball in the category of women’s fastpitch softball, the league’s inaugural season will open June 1 and run through mid-August. The season will feature the first NPF All-Star Game, scheduled for Wednesday, July 14 at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, and championship playoffs and finals to be held August 20-31.

The league features former Olympic gold medalists such as Michele Smith, who played on the winning USA Olympic team in 1996 and 2000 and who now plays for New York/New Jersey Juggernaut, as well as Akron Racers' pitcher and 2000 Olympic gold medalist, Danielle Henderson and Texas Thunder pitcher and 1996 Olympic gold medalist, Christa Williams, among many other top athletes. NPF also boasts renowned head coaches including Ralph Raymond, of the New England Riptide, who led the 1996 and 2000 Olympic softball teams to consecutive gold medals.

The 2004 season follows the success of the 2003 NPF All-Star Tour, which featured events hosted by 12 Major League Baseball Clubs last summer.

"As a father and grandfather, I know first-hand the positive impact that participating in diamond sports can have on children and their families," said Commissioner of Baseball Allan H. (Bud) Selig. "I am proud of the relationship between Major League Baseball and National Pro Fastpitch, and know it will create valuable opportunities for young women to play this exciting sport and to be inspired by some of the top athletes in the world of fastpitch."

Major League Baseball is the official development partner in the category of fastpitch softball for NPF. Now in the second year of that partnership, Major League Baseball will continue to work with NPF to help develop relationships that will be beneficial to NPF as it moves forward with its 2004 launch. This relationship also offers Major League Baseball the opportunity to reach out to their female fan base, which is the goal of the Commissioner’s Initiative on Women and Baseball.

Levine said that the response from the NPF All-Star Tour this past summer was overwhelming, with more than 25 clinics and a host of other activities reaching nearly 10,000 girls. “Our 2004 season promises to build on that momentum and expose more fans than ever to the thrill of fastpitch. With the growing popularity of fastpitch at the high school and college levels, together with the fastpitch competition at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games this August, this sport is really taking off worldwide, and we can’t wait to get underway in June,” he said.

"It's great to know that with the launch of National Pro Fastpitch, young girls in Texas and around the country can dream about a professional career on the diamond," said Pam Gardner, President, Business Operations of the Houston Astros. "The NPF All-Star Tour visit to Minute Maid Park last year was a big hit with our fans and we're looking forward to bringing the local NPF affiliate team, Texas Thunder, out to our ballpark this season for activities that young players and their families will enjoy."

A remarkable 45% of all diamond sports high school participants are female. With nearly 358,000 high school participants, girls’ softball ranks above girls soccer in participation among high school students by over 50,000. Girls’ participation in high school softball has increased by over 60% in the last two decades. Fastpitch now enjoys nationwide exposure at over 1,100 NCAA colleges.

About National Pro Fastpitch
National Pro Fastpitch is headquartered in Denver, Colo. The league, created to give elite female fastpitch players the opportunity to pursue a professional career in their chosen sport, has operated since 1997 under the names Women’s Pro Fastpitch (WPF) and Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL).

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CONTACT:
· Aaron Moore, National Pro Fastpitch (720) 891-0093
· Christine Herbert, Sander/GBSM (303) 825-6100
· Carole Coleman or Matthew Burton, Major League Baseball (212) 931-7878

To view the online press kit Click Here

To view MLB.com's converage on the 2004 NPF Press Conference Click Here