Naomi Lujan, right, straps on her helmet before going to bat during a game on Friday at Greene Acres Park. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
Wander around Greene Acres Park in Clovis these days and you might hear the sounds of something that hasn’t been around that locale recently.
Get a little closer, realize it’s girls softball, and you might notice something else that’s a little different about the pitches: Velocity.
The first girls fast-pitch softball league in Clovis began play last week with a total of 16 teams — 15 from Clovis and one from Portales.
Six teams are in the 10 & under division, five compete in 12 & under and five play in 14 & under.
Most of the Clovis Youth Fastpitch league games are played weeknights at Greene Acres Park with a few, on Monday nights, at Spencer Park as well.
“It (Greene Acres) hadn’t been used in a couple of years,” said Yolanda Aguilar, president of the new league. “We had to do a lot of work to it. We put up more netting for the foul balls, we’ve painted the concession stand and the bleachers and just cleaned up around the area.
“Some local businesses have helped us scrape the infield. We’ve got a new scoreboard put up — well, maybe not a new one, but one that works.”
The impetus for the formation of the fastpitch league is largely due to the formation of a softball team at Clovis High a few years ago. On the New Mexico high school level, the only softball played is fastpitch.
For Clovis, players only were introduced to the quicker tempo when they got into ninth grade. And that, according to proponents of the league, was too late.
“It’s kind of hurt our high school program,” Aguilar said. “We have a lot of good athletes that are able to catch on, but it’s often a pitching duel and ours don’t start pitching until they're freshmen, instead of 10-to-12 years old like these other places.
“It just changes the whole dynamic of the game, when you're two or three years behind. And we’ve lost a lot of athletes from even trying out because they were afraid of trying something new.”
Over 190 players are in the fastpitch league, which last week held its opening ceremonies — replete with a live radio broadcast and former Clovis High football player Hank Baskett throwing out the first pitch.
Aguilar says that the teams in the league were primarily converted from already-existing slowpitch teams in leagues run by the Clovis Girls Athletic Association.
Debbie O’Rear, secretary of the CGAA board, said the conversion has affected the numbers in the slowpitch league. Still, she believes that the dent is not necessarily the beginning of an irreversible trend.
“It mainly affected 10-to-12 year old teams in our league,” O’Rear said. “It did take some of our teams away, because it’s something they have to try, but I’ve already had some feedback from the girls who are doing the fastpitch who will be coming back to our league next year.
“You have to be a really good athlete to like fastpitch, in my opinion. And, in our league, anybody can play.”
The development of the pitchers in the new fastpitch league may be the toughest aspect, particularly among the youngest players. Aguilar says that the 10 & under teams will play games, at least until June 10th, facing a pitching machine. After that, the youngest girls who are ready to pitch fast will get a chance to do so.
League play will last until the beginning of July.
The Clovis Youth Fastpitch League, according to Aguilar, consulted other fastpitch leagues in cities such as Lubbock, Odessa and Carlsbad before starting.
“They (Carlsbad) only do fastpitch, they don’t do slowpitch at all, which is what I’d like to see here, because Clovis isn't that big,” Aguilar said. “Right now, we’ve got the girls split.”
Brandi Thomas, coach at Clovis High, is pleased at the formation of the new league.
“Anytime you get a feeder program for your program, that’s something positive,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been saying since day one, that we need a feeder program in order to compete.
“All our girls that are playing for us now have been playing slowpitch, and there’s a big difference. It’s a totally mental game — any sport is. This will help us out in the basic foundations of the game.”