There will be more players in the game in the Rainy River District Women’s Fastball League this season.
The league began its fifth season since its rebirth in 2013 on Monday with five games, a new rule, and the presence at many ballparks of temporary fencing that president Stacy Patey hopes will boost home run totals.
“Last year at our end of the season meeting, we asked our ladies how they felt about trying to put up fences for our league,” noted Patey.
“We really feel that they will take our league to a whole new level.
“We have many heavy hitters,” she added. “However, with the inside-the-park home runs, that means a race around the bases before the ball is back in the infield.
“So we feel that with the fences, then our ladies will be credited with more homers.”
Patey said some of the teams are using snow fences costing roughly $200-$300 for each set-up while the Manitou T-Birdies went all in and purchased a temporary softball fence she estimated cost around $800.
“The cost will be a factor for some teams, for sure,” Patey conceded.
“Most of our teams will also be responsible for putting up and taking the fences down because we have men’s teams that also play on the diamonds, so we are looking for something that we can get done quickly,” she explained.
The distance to the fences will be 220′ at the corners and 235′ in centre-field.
“The fences are not mandatory so the same home run rules will apply in the parks that do not have the fences,” Patey said.
“But I think that by the end of next season, we will all have them [with fences].
“It will be so exciting to see the number of balls that will be hit out of the park,” she enthused.
Last year, Manitou’s Summer Leonard and Shae Smith of the Northwest Bay Beavers tied for the league lead in homers with six apiece, with Shannon Stone of the Dawson Tigers belting five.
Also this season, the RRDWFL for the first time will implement the extra player rule, which will see teams have the option of a 10-batter lineup while only playing nine in the field.
However, it’s different from the designated hitter rule in the American League because the extra player can be inserted into the game at any point at any defensive position, with the opportunity to rotate players through different positions.
“The extra player probably won’t be used if players only have 10 on their bench because when you start with the 10 batters, then you must end with 10,” Patey said.
“So if you have an injury, that player would then become an out in your batting order, so you wouldn’t want to take a chance that you might run short of players,” she stressed.
“We played a tournament last summer in Dawson using an extra player and it was great.”
The league has one fewer team this season, with the Big Island Wildcats dropping out to leave 11 teams in total–forcing a different team to have the bye each night during the regular season.
That will include in the second half, when the teams are split geographically into East and West divisions, with the West having the extra team.
“I was very upset to learn that Big Island was unable to play this year–they are a great group of ladies,” noted Patey.
“I do, however, understand how hard it can be to field a team sometimes.
“So although I know it was a difficult decision for them, I appreciate that they made the decision before we were into the season,” she added.
Patey, meanwhile, is very impressed with how the skill level of the league has increased since the first pitch was thrown four years ago.
“I feel that we are more and more competitive every year,” she remarked.
Talks are underway to gauge the possibility of a women’s and men’s tournament being held on the same weekend, reportedly on multiple diamonds in the west end of the district.
“We have just recently started a tournament committee, and discussed maybe approaching the men to see if they wanted to run a men’s and women’s tourney, but we haven’t made any decisions regarding tournaments, yet,” Patey said.
Meanwhile, with the retirement of well-respected and much-used veteran umpire Carey Gosselin ahead of this season, Patey felt there still shouldn’t be any danger of an umpire shortage to cover all the games.
“We have all discussed umps that are available and we are pretty good at exchanging numbers, so I think we will be OK,” she said.
“There is talk of an umpire clinic possibly in May if anyone is interested in taking it,” Patey added.
“We will definitely miss having Carey out there, though.”