A Force to be impressed with..

Police Officer Joe Bologna idled his car and walked toward the outfield fence of Field 5 at the RBI Phillies complex in FDR Park, not more than a stone's throw from Citizens Bank Park.

Bologna had a question, perhaps the same question most Philadelphians would have if they saw a group of women moving gracefully across a diamond: Who are they?

"I figured they were a college team," said Bologna, standing with star Philadelphia Force pitcher Amy Harre, the outfield fence separating the two.

"And that's why we're here," Harre said. "To let people know who we are."

The Force, based in Allentown, are part of the country's only women's professional softball league, National Pro Fastpitch. The NPF began in 2004. The Force joined two years later.

The team is training in town for four days, until tomorrow, hoping to generate fan interest, drum up sponsorship money, and promote the league. The Force's front office said the team has to attract interest in Philadelphia to remain financially viable.

Each of the six teams in the league has a salary cap of $100,000 and a 20-woman roster.

"Because softball won't be in the Olympics in 2012, this is the biggest year for marketing," said Erin Statmore, the Force's assistant general manager. "After Beijing, our league will be the face of softball."

The Force is hoping Harre, a 6-foot blonde with a quick smile and blazing fastball, will lead the way. The 25-year-old Southern Illinois graduate is in her first season with the Force, fourth in the league.

"I think right now she's probably at the top of her game," said Force head coach Jennifer Teague.

Word among the Force players and support staff is that Harre has thrown 71 m.p.h. in pitching the abbreviated distance - 43 feet - from mound to home.

Harre is a native of Nashville, Ill., a town of about 3,000. In fifth grade, the junior high softball coach approached Harre and two other girls about taking pitching lessons.

"At that time I probably wanted to be more of a cheerleader than play sports," said Harre, only half joking.

For two years, Harre said, she practiced, rarely hitting the strike zone. In her backyard was a shed that housed lawn mowers. She whipped a softball at its side.

"I couldn't even hit the thing," Harre said. "I'd throw it over, to the right, to the left."

Now Harre tells people that she, quite literally, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Harre, like the sport she plays, has come a long way.

And she knows that now, along with her Force teammates, her job is to carry the sport, their team, the league, until it is on stable ground.

"Our goal is that someday, when little girls grow up, they can play in an established, professional league," Harre said. "We hope they can just play softball and make a living doing it."

So that's why when Bologna walked over to the outfield fence, Harre quit shagging fly balls and walked to meet him.

Turns out Bologna has a 14-year-old daughter who's crazy about softball.

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