Haylie McCleney Photo by Jade Hewitt Courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch
Deas, T. (2016, August 6). Former teammates put friendship aside. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20160806/news/160809746
Together they conquered the world. Now they are competing for softball domination.
Haylie McCleney and Jackie Traina were teammates at the University of Alabama and roomed together this summer while playing for their country and helping the U.S. to its first world championship since 2010. Less than a week after defeating Japan in the championship game, they were playing against each other in the National Pro Fastpitch league.
McCleney, a four-time All-American from Morris, made her pro debut as an outfielder with the Orlando-based USSSA Pride, while Traina, who led Alabama to its first national championship and finished her collegiate career in 2014, is a pitcher for the Scrap Yard Dawgs team based in Conroe, Texas, near Houston. Their teams are expected to be among the four that will advance to the NPF playoffs, which will take place at Tuscaloosa's Rhoads Stadium, where they played for the Crimson Tide.
Friendship is put aside when Traina is in the circle and McCleney is in the batter's box.
"She's always a pest," said Traina. "Always makes you work."
Said McCleney: "I take that as a compliment. I think that's one of the best things you can be called as a hitter. I never want to be an easy out."
The pest admits the pitcher presents problems. Traina throws above 70 mph, high-end speed for women's softball.
"When Jackie's humming it in there, I'll be honest: I can't really see it well," McCleney said.
McCleney, 22, became a professional softball player exactly one week ago. She's still adjusting to a new routine: In the pro league, she plays almost every day and has to learn the nuances of new fields and scout new opponents. She has had to adjust to the travel schedule and the responsibility that comes with autonomy.
"I am the definition of a rookie," she said, "still trying to get into the routine of how everything works."
There is no strength coach to tell her what to do in the morning as there was in college, no nutritionist to tell her what to eat.
"Just trying to figure out how to get laundry done and where I'm going to eat," she said. "I'm getting paid to play and I've never done that before, so I have money. I'm not used to that yet."
She has help. Fellow Pride outfielder Kelly Kretschman, the league's reigning most valuable player and an all-time Alabama great, gives her tips.
"Her knowledge and game sense is just incredible," McCleney said.
Traina, a 24-year-old from Naples, Fla., is more seasoned. Since finishing her four-time All-America career at UA, which included MVP honors in the 2012 Women's College World Series, she has played with the U.S. and professionally in Japan. She will return for a third season as soon as the NPF playoffs end.
Softball is on the rise. The sport has been voted back into the Olympics for the 2020 Summer Games and the pro league has never been healthier. With the higher salaries offered overseas, Traina has been able to make a full-time living playing softball year-round.
"I never thought that would be possible," she said. "It's great to see softball growing, to be a small part of it."
Just six games into her pro career, McCleney is batting .450 going into the weekend with a double and five stolen bases. Traina is off to a rough start with a 6.22 earned-run average through nine innings in two appearances.
With their teams atop the standings – the Pride is in first place, the Scrap Yard Dawgs in second – the pest and the pitcher probably aren't done with each other.
"It's really, really hard for me playing against Jackie because I never had to play against her in college," she said. "I tell myself to try not to root for her because it's in my nature. It's mixed emotions because you want her to do well."
Traina doesn't struggle as much in separating the on-the-field and off-the-field relationship.
"It's different, kind of a fun little rivalry you have," she said. "After the game we come together and we're good friends."
About National Pro Fastpitch (NPF):
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2002, provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in diamond sports beyond their collegiate success. The 2016 NPF season will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Coverage includes the NPF College Draft presented by Bownet on Thur., April 14, followed by 23 regular-season games, a Championship Series Preview Special and the 2016 NPF Championship Series. The NPF recently announced that the Scrap Yard Dawgs, located in The Woodlands, Texas, will join the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Dallas Charge, Pennsylvania Rebellion and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2016 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand, representing the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball.
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