Michael Chiaradio and Joseph Donald are two friends who had played baseball together at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. After watching the Women’s College World Series on television, they were captivated by the passion displayed on the field and eventually decided to get involved with a professional softball team.
The major obstacle was funding. The already-established nationwide league wanted approximately $1 million to expand by an additional team.
The duo did not despair. They studied their options and decided to establish their own organization: the American Softball Association (ASBA).
The inaugural season, played at Satsuma High School in 2018, was well received. The ASBA conducted its second draft last week and will open its next campaign this Friday.
“I would have to admit it was crazy last year,” said Chiaradio, a New Jersey native who previously had worked with the Empire League’s Plattsburgh, New York, baseball organization. “It was our first year of operation, and I made some mistakes. We were just a couple of guys making all the decisions.”
However, all the hard work paid off as the start of a new season is just days away.
“I will always have gratitude for those young ladies from the first year,” he said. “This league is moving forward because they stepped out. They made a huge investment in us, and we are pushing ahead because of them.”
• The league consists of four teams. Each squad will be composed of 14 players.
The first name selected in the draft was one well known to local fans. The E1 Pro Ballers claimed Devin Brown, an All-Sun Belt Conference pitcher at the University of South Alabama.
Chiaradio said Brown had been drafted in 2018 by another league. However, that team later merged with another squad and this reduced the number of roster spots. At this point, Brown decided she would not return to them.
“Let me just say that Joseph and I have nothing to do with the draft selections,” Chiaradio said. “But when I saw she was eligible, I knew she would go No. 1. It is a big deal to have her in our league.”
Brown will reunite with former Jaguar teammate Kaleigh Todd. The Moh-BEEL! USA team forfeited its fourth-round pick to keep its second baseman, an ASBA All-Star as a rookie.
“Kaleigh was a protected player, and she deserved it,” Chiaradio said. “Not only is she an incredible player, she is one of the nicest people you are going to meet.”
Other area players selected were Makayla Reed, a Saraland native who played at Belhaven University (taken by E1 Pro Ballers), and Alyssa Singleterry, who previously played at Coastal Alabama Community College before moving on to Huntingdon College (taken by The Field).
• The ASBA has two new teams this year in addition to E1 Pro Ballers and Moh-BEEL! USA. The Field is being sponsored by The Field Training Facility & Sporting Goods of Saraland.
“They were actually a host family last year,” Chiaradio said of supporters who provide a bed and some privacy for the players, who are responsible for their own food and transportation. “They said they wanted to make an even bigger commitment this year.”
The Field serves as an indoor baseball and softball training facility for athletes of all ages. The company will also produce the league’s uniforms.
Performance Lab sponsors the other team. This is a 30,000-square- foot indoor sports training facility specializing in baseball and softball. It is located off Schillinger Road in West Mobile.
“This is a great addition,” Chiaradio said. “They have hitting simulators and weight rooms. They will allow all of our players to work out for free.”
• Even the team’s coaches have a local connection. Performance Lab will have Steve Alcorn, who serves as an assistant coach at the University of Mobile.
William Hess will coach Moh-BEEL! USA. Since the 2015 season, the Mobile native has served with Southeastern Louisiana University’s softball staff.
Kelsey Cooper will direct E1 Pro Ballers. Another Mobile native, she currently coaches softball at Citronelle High School.
Ivey Kane, an assistant coach at Coastal Alabama, will manage The Field. Kane played at Theodore High School.
“The coaches and host families have really made a difference,” Chiaradio said. “It is hard to put into words. I guess it also takes a village to start a women’s professional softball league, and we have over 100 people pushing it forward.”
• The ASBA owners have continued to invest in the program. They have purchased a pair of three-bedroom houses near the University of South Alabama campus. They can place up to a dozen ASBA players there during the season.
“The host families are great, but this will give the players a place they can hang out,” Chiaradio said. “We see it as a great investment, because we can rent the houses in the off-season to students.”
To reduce travel expenses, the ASBA games are played at Pat Hicks Softball Field in Satsuma. Donald, a Baker High graduate, credits Monica and Mallory Meadows, another pair of Baker alumnae, for securing the location.
“Gene Darawich is the coach at Satsuma,” Chiaradio said. “It is amazing how accommodating everyone there has been.
“We’ll play all of our games there except for when we go to the University of South Alabama on June 19. That will be a special night and I hope will help with exposure.”
Following a request by the players, the league is cutting back to five nights a week. There will be two games each night, with the first starting at 5 p.m.
Admission is $10 at the gate, while children 12-and-under wearing a team jersey are allowed in for free. Fans can select from several packages in advance online that can reduce the prices. For more information on tickets, the rosters and to see the schedule, visit asbasoftball.com.
TURKEY CALLING RETURNS TO MOBILE
The Mobile Sports Authority (MSA) has helped to bring the World Turkey Calling Championship back home. The event will be Friday (2 – 8 p.m.) and Saturday (8 a.m. – 8 p.m.) at the Mobile Convention Center.
MSA reports the inaugural championship took place at the Battle House Hotel in 1940. Current Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s grandfather, Fred T. Stimpson, took home top honors.
Judges will give male and female competitors a turkey-calling situation. The participants will then replicate those particular wild turkey sounds using air and friction calls.
The contest will feature various age groups (10-and-under up to senior, and open) competing for the world title in their respective divisions. There will be no admission charge.
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