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On the other side of the coin in the City by the Bay

On the other side of the coin in the City by the Bay
By Reed Saunders

Much of my trip around the country with the National Pro Fastpitch All-Star team this summer is about breaking out of my comfort zone.

No familiar circle of friends to turn to. No recognizable streets to follow. No idea of what channel to find “Dawson’s Creek” re-runs.

I sat in an airport terminal last Monday assured the lights were about to be turned off on anything with which I was familiar.

Fortunately, things have been different.

A friendly corps of staff members and a terrific team of all-stars has eased the transition and many road maps from the friendly folks at the rental car desk made me aware of at least a few street names here in Sacramento.

So when we headed out bright and early Sunday morning for San Francisco to do promotions and put on a clinic at the Giants-Tigers game, my nerves were calm.

The mini-van I’d been driving for nearly a week was now a behemoth of family security under my command. The radar-enforced lanes of Interstate 80 streamlined confidence with every speed-limit-obeying car that passed.

My friends made me feel comfortable, the setting (a ballpark) made me feel comfortable; the ballads of Dan Fogelberg on the soft-rock radio made me feel comfortable.

My job once I got to the ballpark, however, was, at first glance, far from it.

As aesthetically pleasing as the aura of Pac Bell Park might have been, I found myself on the other side of a coin I never wanted to turn over.

Our NPF all-stars had a table set up on the concourse, where players could sign autographs, give away pins and converse with interested fans… while I was to be the carnival barker who drew in passers-by.

Of all that is possible for human beings to do, only three acts can really bring me, a relatively peaceful and stress-free guy, to the point of stepping into oncoming traffic:
1. Refusing to get more than halfway into the turn lane.
2. Messing up the words to songs.
3. Trying to sell me stuff.

I’m a seasoned ignorer of the concourse sales pitch. Be it ballparks, airports or strip malls, I’d heard a million odd voices, dangling the proverbial carrot on a string in front of me, trying to draw me in. I’d ignored practically every one.

So, even though I wasn’t actually selling anything at Pac Bell this Sunday afternoon, you could say the process of finding myself the pitchman where I was usually the one fending off pitches was a little daunting, let alone for a product I wasn’t sure of.

Hey, I’m a believer in this league as much as anyone and all my hopes and efforts are vested with the hopes it will be come a reality. But trying to get baseball fans to care two cents about a couple pro softball players who don’t really have a league yet? Going in, my task seemed like trying to sell peace to the Palestinians.

I felt, much like Indiana Jones in Berlin, a pilgrim in an unholy land.

Regardless, there I stood – draped in NPF gear from head to foot, trying to get people to come get some autographs, meet some nice women who play softball and give away a few pins.

And you know what?

People stopped.

They were intrigued. They gleamed when they realized we weren’t after their money. We wanted to converse about our league and their lives, give them a pin for their jackets, sign an autograph and send them on their way with a smile.

Most of them did. And not just the daughters who brought their cap and glove to the ballpark that overcast day by the bay. But also the countless fathers who were impressed to learn there might actually be a professional future for the game their daughters play and love.

Through nine innings of professional baseball, hundreds (HUNDREDS!) of children and parents alike stopped by our booth to meet some smiling faces of professional softball.

We were far from the main attraction, but we were interesting enough for more than a few people to stop by and say hello. Color me happily surprised.

That day marked the NPF Tour’s first of many promotions, clinics and appearances at Major League Ballparks over the course of the summer.

If it was any indication, when it comes to pitching this league, this sport to fans, knowing now there is an audience out there, I’m planning on being a lot more comfortable than I thought.

Now if I could just find a Dawson’s Creek episode from time to time…

pictured in the photo is NPF All-Star Erika Hanson and young fans on the concourse at Pac Bell Park, June 8th, 2003.

Reed Saunders is a 2003 graduate of Colorado State University. He’ll be working public relations on the 2003 NPF All-Star tour this summer. Follow along with his travels with his weekly column on profastpitch.com.