February2015

Softball Greatness Doesn't Happen Overnight

February 13, 2015

Plant City, FL


Softball Greatness Doesn't Happen Overnight
By Bill Plummer

If there is one word that is overused in sports, it's when people refer to too many athletes as great. You hear it all the time. This player or that player is great. Are they really? Very few players are great. Some are good, some are fair and others are just average, but few are great. And that's the way it should be. Too often and depending on which era the player played in, parents and relatives often refer to their sons and daughters as great. Greatness, however, isn't accomplished in a few years. It takes years and years and possibly decades before a player is judged as great. Sometimes it is when the player is retired or is no longer playing on a highly competitive level.

Two female softball players who achieved greatness in their careers were Lisa Fernandez and Joan Joyce. Joyce played her last season of amateur softball in 1975, going undefeated, while Fernandez completed her career with an epic performance in the 2004 Olympic Games, leading the USA to the gold medal by pitching the gold medal game and batting a record .545. Today, Joan is the head softball coach at Florida Atlantic University and has compiled a record of 790 wins and 493 losses in 20 years. In 2014, Joyce's team was 33-22. She is the only softball coach in the history of the university. Fernandez, meanwhile, is an assistant coach at UCLA, her alma mater, and had an eye-popping career including leading the Division I schools in ERA and batting average in 1992. She is the only softball player ever to accomplish this feat, batting .510 and compiling an ERA of 0.25. She led the Bruins to two NCAA titles and two second place finishes in her four years.

Besides being outstanding pitchers, Joyce and Fernandez were outstanding on offense and did play another position when called upon. When not pitching Joyce played first base and compiled a career .327 batting average to go along with her 753-42 pitching record and 18 All-America selections. Fernandez played third base when not in the circle and had a .382 career batting average to accompany her 93-7 pitching record. She indeed was the complete package. As is fitting, these two were at their best when they faced the best in competition and each excelled to lead their teams to either national titles or Olympic gold medals.

Some players crack when they face the best of the best but not Joyce and Fernandez who thrived on it. It is difficult enough to be an outstanding pitcher let alone to be an outstanding player at another position and excel offensively. It takes enough effort to be an outstanding pitcher let alone to make the time to concentrate on fielding and batting skills. Joyce and Fernandez made the time and the results speak for themselves. Joyce and Fernandez each played in a different era but each dominated a team sport as if it was an individual sport. They did it year after year and event after event. When softball followers meet and discuss the greatest players of all-time, more often than not Joyce and Fernandez are mentioned. And they rightly should be. They earned their greatness on the field and deserve their place in softball history. That is the View From Here.

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