Today, a lot of sports, in general, revolve around money. Whether it’s college scholarships or refusing to have a professional season because the pay is not high enough, some athletes have strayed away from the actual love of their respective sports. However, National Pro Fastpitch Players are perfect examples of professional athletes who are not driven only by money. In order to play the sport for as long as some of the NPF players have, heart, love, and a strong passion for the game are required.
Akron Racers’ Kristina Thorson recognizes the direction sports are headed in the United States and she makes sure to keep herself level headed personally. Hailing from University of California - Berkeley, Thorson garnered All Pac-10 honors all four years of her career (2003-2006). She was named an Easton and NFCA All-American her sophomore and junior years. She set single season records for wins (36) and saves (5) as well as the career record for saves (12) while a Golden Bear, and she became only the third Cal pitcher to record 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts.
In her rookie season in the NPF (2007), with the Philadelphia Force, she was deemed Rookie of the Year and set single season records (for the Force) in wins (14), innings pitched (116.2), strike outs (115), and ERA (1.20). Since then she has been a member of two NPF Cowles Cup Championship teams with the Chicago Bandits. She was recently traded to Akron for the upcoming summer season.
Thorson spoke with the NPF about her softball experiences so far…
Q: You have played softball some internationally, once specifically in Italy, how did this experience help improve your game?
Kristina: I think my experiences playing in Europe have taught me a lot about different strategies. Softball in the states has seemed to move away from small ball some, but small ball is still the name of the game on the teams I've played for. There are different approaches to situations, pitch calling, hitting, etc. that helped open my eyes to many different philosophies. This helps me take a more complete approach to understanding the game as a player and as a coach. But I think what I take away most from my experiences over there is inspiration and admiration for each player. Sports are very different in places I've traveled; there are no summer teams, there are no scholarships. Every girl that plays, does so on their own time and for the most part, on their own dime. All of the ladies in the women's division either go to school or work. And the age range on the teams are amazing; 16-40! They leave work early to practice, commute from several hours away and go home that night. But the camaraderie on the teams is awesome. I always come away with a renewed inspiration for the athletes of the game as well as a renewed goal to show my love for the game the way my friends overseas do.
Q: You were traded to the Racers during the off-season, what are you most looking forward to in being a part of the Racers Family?
Kristina: Through my tenure in the league, I have heard nothing but great things about the Racers organization, which from what I've experienced so far, are all true. I've also been able to meet some of the fans, and they are so warm and welcoming from the second you meet them that even though I'm new to the team, I feel like I've been there for years. There is just so much positive energy all through the organization that it makes for a wonderful environment to play in.
Q: How did you get started as a Pitcher?
Kristina: When I started softball when I was 8, I wanted to play shortstop. But everyone had to tryout to be pitcher, and I guess I was the only one who could get the ball over the plate so they put me there. I like to think that pitching chose me.
Q: You were a member of the 2008 Cowles Cup Championship Team, what did it mean to you?
Kristina: The 2008 Bandits was a very special team. The chemistry we had was the kind you make movies about; it was perfect. We didn't necessarily have all the big names that some of the other teams did. What we had was a group of girls all of whom were confident in their own abilities and every bit as confident in everyone else to get the job done. To me, the championship doesn't remind me of what a talented team we had (not that we weren't), but of how everyone played for each other and how we were a family. I am lucky to have been a part of a team like that in my career, because many people, in all sports, don't get to. It's an amazing experience.
Q: What advice would you give to an NPF Rookie?
Kristina: I would have to go with be yourself. Each player is here for a reason because we are the best of the best. Have confidence in your skills; know what you are capable of. But at the same time, don't try to be something you're not. You've been successful for many years; you don't want to lose that trying to be someone else.
Q: What are you looking forward most during the 2011 Season?
Kristina: I am really looking forward to playing in a new environment. As much as I loved playing in Chicago, I always welcome new and different situations to better myself as a player and as a person.
Q: What advice would you give to a young athlete who is just starting to pitch?
Kristina: First and foremost, have fun with it. As far as actual pitching advice goes, define what will make you successful. Some girls naturally throw hard. Some change speeds or hit spots extremely well. Others have great movement. Find what comes natural to you and focus on that. The other parts of pitching will come along, but you have to go with what's natural to be successful at the beginning.
Q: What have you been up to this off-season?
Kristina: Right after the NPF season I got to play in Forli, Italy for a month again. I love playing over there and will hopefully get more opportunities to in the future. Most of my time is spent working with my pitching students and lifting/practicing. I joined a new gym, California Strength, who has me on a great olympic lifting program. My pitchers are doing awesome, too! One of them, Sydney, threw two no-hitters in a week! Others are really coming along - gaining speed, smoothing out their mechanics, and really starting to blossom into pitchers rather than just throwers. It is so fun to see them mature! I am also planning my wedding, which is right after season. So far it's been really simple, but I'm sure I'll have a lot more to do with it as it gets closer!
Q: Who was your mentor growing up and why?
Kristina: I would say my two mentors were my dad, who really still is a mentor, and my former pitching coach, Jim Grant. Between the two of them I've learned that life is lived in the grey, to always challenge myself and others to be better, that curiosity breeds genius, and to always, always thank the people that help you. If there was one quote that sums up what they taught me about sports it would be this, "Champions do uncommon things; things that are boring and tedious to others."
Q: What are some of your nicknames?
Kristina: Almost everyone calls me Thor, and I've taken quite a liking to that name (and Norse god and Marvel character). I definitely don't get called by my first or last name on the field. A couple people call me Thorface, which was a nickname in college that somehow came about because of my game makeup. The only other one I hear every once in a blue moon is Goth Girl, which a newspaper in the Bay coined when they heard about my makeup.