Madelyn Yannetti’s final year at Messiah College hadn’t gone as she hoped, but she’d made peace with the end of a satisfying softball career.
After all, she’d thrown nearly 16 scoreless innings during the Falcons’ run to an NCAA Division 3 national runner-up finish in her freshman year. She’d compiled an ERA of 2.17 for her career, and was nearly untouchable first two seasons. She even graduated with a Division 3 national record intact, pitching 19 innings of shutout ball in a single outing during a 1-0 complete-game victory over Arcadia during the MAC Commonwealth Tournament.
The former Gettysburg High School pitcher struggled in her junior year, finishing with a 6.39 ERA. She was pushed into a nurturing role during her senior campaign and bounced back with a 3.02 ERA, but was saddled with a 6-9 record — her only sub-.500 year from the pitching circle — as her team prepared for a future without her. It was a good enough way to begin the next chapter of her life, she thought.
When she returned home, Yannetti’s family wouldn’t allow her to forget about softball completely. In the fall they’d learned that she’d been entered into the American Softball Association draft portal by an opposing coach. A nice gesture, Yannetti thought, but not likely to be a fruitful one.
During the draft on June 5, she’d done her best to grin and bear it as the tension built. Her family watched it unfold on an online live stream. Yannetti sat in a separate room, checking Twitter on her phone occasionally as the picks were announced.
As the draft entered the 12th round, Yannetti reminded herself that she’d already accepted the end of her career.
Then she heard a scream from her parents in the living room. They burst into her sanctuary in celebration as she refreshed her Twitter to see that she’d been selected as a pitcher by Performance Lab, one of the league’s four teams.
“I believe I’m a great player and feel that I’ve had many great experiences and opportunities, but I never saw this happening,” Yannetti said, before putting tongue in cheek. “My parents asked me like 15 times, ‘Are you sure it says your name?’ I said, ‘It’s on Twitter. It must be real.’”
For a week, Yannetti spent her days conditioning and evenings scrambling to find clothing to survive the sultry southern heat. Wednesday morning, Yannetti was on a plane headed for Mobile, Alabama, welcoming one last chance to prove what she has in the pitching circle. League play begins Friday.
“That really restored a little bit of faith,” Yannetti said. “To have someone believe in me enough to put me on this team is a confidence booster, knowing there are many, many great options out there. I’ve always had fantastic coaches who I credit with most of my successes. This is just another extension of that.”
The ASBA is a step or two below the National Pro Fastpitch league, softball’s smaller equivalent from Major League Baseball. Yannetti likened it to the minors, or an independent league. The girls will play a 30-game schedule that includes a few off days and concludes on July 25. A four-to-five day playoff closes out the year. Every game is played at Pat Hicks Softball Field in Satsuma, Alabama.
The players receive a paycheck, based on donations, business investments and attendance, Yannetti said. They also receive food, room and board.
Yannetti was nominated for the draft by York College coach Jen Petteys. She was surprised to find out that an opposing coach with whom she’d built no discernible relationship would choose her for the draft, but she was honored nonetheless.
Former players are eligible to return to the 14-woman rosters. Her team will be managed by Steve Alcorn, an assistant coach at the University of Mobile.
Yannetti felt fortunate to be playing with former Messiah teammate and shortstop Amanda Jones, who was selected by Performance Lab in the third round.
“There’s a wide variety of girls from all over,” she said. “It’s a huge mix. Im sure the array of people will be wider than anything I’ve experienced. Everyone brings something new to the table and I’m excited to learn from people.”
Yannetti wasn’t certain at first that she was going to take the opportunity to join the team. She’d been helping her godmother, who is dealing with late-stage ALS, in Gettysburg since graduating on May 18.
“They told me how excited they are for me,” Yannetti said of her godparents. “It’s been a really great experience caring for someone and being there for someone. It was a challenge to step away.”
Planning to live in Gettysburg, she had also begun the process of looking for a position in education. She’s certified to teach health and physical education for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Yannetti celebrated her selection by attending a Luke Bryan concert last Thursday, but was hard at work Friday with Jones and Messiah assistant Alex Quigley, preparing for her latest opportunity. Her pitches — a two-seamer, changeup, drop ball and rise ball — are still in working order.
“My M.O. is to get a lot of ground balls,” she said. “I like to think of myself as an inclusive pitcher. I like to get everybody involved and keep the strikeouts low.”
Yannetti didn’t completely write off continuing her softball career beyond this year, but said it would be unlikely that she would pursue further options should she impress scouts during league play.
“I’ve given a lot to the sport. I love it, I adore it and I want to stick with it,” she said. “But it takes a lot of work and time to be a good player. I really respect the game and after these six weeks I think it’ll be my time to step back.”
Yannetti looks forward to seeing her family at her games. She said her father, Bernie, and mother, Effie, have already begun to plan trips south for the summer.
“They’re a great influence. Because of their openness and generosity, I’m free to make whatever decision I need to make,” she said. “They’ve always been there for me no matter what. Alabama isn’t quite far enough. They’ll find a way, which is great.”
Adam Michael can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @GoodOldTwoNames