Two years ago, a couple of college buddies were watching the Women’s College World Series on television and were captivated by what they saw.

“We saw the amount of attention and the number of people in the stands,” Joseph Donald, a 2006 Baker High graduate, said. “We saw the potential of growth.”

His companion that night was Michael Chiaradio. The two had been baseball teammates at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.

“He came to me with the idea of having a pro softball team,” Donald said. “We wanted to form a team last year.”

There was one major problem: The National Pro Fastpitch League that had been around for 15 years wanted close to $1 million to join. Donald said that was not financially an option.

But the duo didn’t give up. They decided if they couldn’t join the already established organization, they would just have to start their own. That is when the American Softball Association (ASBA) was born.

“The idea came about eight months ago,” Donald said. “We wanted professional softball to grow, but it didn’t look like it was going to expand. The chances for players were limited.”

Chiaradio, a New Jersey native, was gaining crucial knowledge on how to operate a franchise when he was with the Empire League’s Plattsburgh, New York, baseball organization. He invited Donald to join him last year.

“We saw how the business side operated,” said Donald, who had minor league experience as a player, much like Chiaradio. “We have applied the same principles to softball.”

With Chiaradio serving as the chief executive officer and Donald the chief branding officer, they came up with a unique business plan. The league is based on a revenue-sharing model that puts the players on an even field with the organization. There is no ceiling on earning potential, revenue is split equally among teams and the original players receive founders’ shares in the company.

To help reduce expenses, the four teams are playing their games at Satsuma High School. Donald credits Monica and Mallory Meadows, another pair of Baker alumnae, for securing the location for the ASBA.

“Every dollar that comes in is split 50-50 with the players,” Donald said. “That is one of the major staples of our foundation. Anything softball-related income is split.”

Another key has been the introduction of host families. There are about 20 local families housing players, with some keeping up to four young women at a time.

“If we had to pay the housing expenses for 56 players, it might be $30,000,” Donald said. “That savings can be shared with the players.”

Hosts are only asked to provide a bed and some privacy for the players, who are responsible for their own food and transportation. In addition to creating a relationship that could last a lifetime, the hosts receive season passes.

The draft took place June 6. Mississippi State’s Cassidy Knudsen was the No. 1 overall pick. Former University of South Alabama player Kaleigh Todd was the 33rd pick, going to the Moh-BEEL! USA squad.

“I’m just so excited right now to being able to continue my playing career,” Todd said about being drafted. “I’ve been working towards this moment since I started playing at the age of 3. All of the hard work has paid off. I couldn’t be more excited and proud to stay in Mobile and help start this new league.”

Alumnae from Spring Hill College in the league are Lauren Stewart (Outkast) and Jenna Charnock (E1 Pro Ballers). Kristen Gardner of Vancleave, Mississippi (a cousin of this writer’s wife), who played at Mississippi College, now pitches for E1 Pro Ballers.

Of the four teams, three have local connections. Moh-BEEL! USA (community action group) was the first to sign up, while Future 1s (an apparel company) and Outkast (nonprofit youth organization) were next. E1 Pro Ballers from Arizona completed the field.

“The local community gave us an opportunity to start here,” Donald said. “I think ASBA can do really well here, considering the youth softball in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

“These young women are role models. They want to get their brand of softball out there. They are building a league of their own.”

Even before the first season is finished, the college buddies are already planning for the future.

“We have given 56 players a chance to play professional softball in Mobile,” Donald said. “Our goal next year is to triple the opportunity. We want to add eight more teams, so we’ll have four in Satsuma, four somewhere in Baldwin County and four more at South Alabama.

“This season will give us the momentum toward the sponsorship trail. We have barely scratched the surface.”

The inaugural 72-game summer season began June 15 and runs through July 31. The first games begin at 5 p.m., with the second to follow 25 minutes after the opener concludes. The first game on Sundays starts at 2 p.m.

Admission is $5, while children 12 and under wearing their team jersey are allowed in for free. For more information, visit www.ASBASoftball.com.


Aloha from the Causeway

The Battleship Rugby team is hosting the second annual Luau 7’s event this Saturday. The match features a faster-paced and higher-scoring version than the typical 15-player format.

Rugby 7’s is a sanctioned Olympic sport. It will feature both men and women’s teams with players of all ages and skill levels on five regulation fields. The Battleship Rugby club is inviting teams to visit the exhibits — including the USS Alabama, USS Drum and the military aircraft — following the action.

There will be a social with a luau theme, so guests are asked to wear their best Hawaiian apparel. For more information, visit battleshiprugby.com.


Straight as an arrow

A recent story about local youth archers inadvertently left out one individual. Jonathan Hall of Grand Bay’s Breitling Elementary competed in the NASP (National Archery in the Schools Program) World Championship on June 9. He placed fourth out of 762 archers in the Elementary Boys Division, scoring 288 out of 300 possible points. Prior to this, he participated in the Eastern National Championship and earned a spot on the NASP All-American Academic Team.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of ASBA | Savannah Horvath of Moh-Beel! USA takes batting practice at Satsuma High School. She is a shortstop who played at California State University, Northridge.