WHEN Clint Myers replaced Mike Candrea as head coach of the softball team at Central Arizona College, he was baffled by what he saw some of his new players doing — left-handed hitters running at the pitch before they swung the bat.
That was 1986, not long after the slap hitter had emerged as a weapon in college softball.
Twenty-two years later, Myers — now Arizona State's head coach — is still baffled by the slapper, though now it is because of the talent, athletic ability and coordination they show rather than the oddity of the act.
"It's tough enough to hit a ball when you're standing still,” Myers said. "Then you put the component of movement with it and you're talking about truly excellent athletes.”
The phenomenon of the slap hitter is unique to softball — unless you consider Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki an occasional slapper — and it has added a new dimension to the game.
"It developed on the West Coast because there was so little offense,” said Louisiana-Lafayette co-head coach Stefni Lotief, who makes regular use of the slap hitter. "They started using speed and try to make the defense work.
"Slapping and increased speed has become a bigger part of the game. With great athletes that run so fast that's now a big part of it.”
The purpose of the slapper is to put pressure on the defense, forcing the infielders to make a clean play and a quick throw with a runner speeding down the baseline.
"If you make the defense work, you're more likely to get an error,” said Lafayette leadoff hitter Vallie Gaspard, who is batting over .400 as a sophomore in just her second season as a slapper. "An overthrow, that's like a double, maybe a triple. You want to make the defense worry more about where you are on the base path than the ball.”
Gaspard, like many slappers, was converted to a left-handed hitter when she got to college and has found success, despite being a natural righty.