Almost 30 years ago, ESPN broadcasted its premiere edition of SportsCenter to set the stage for the network’s first sporting event broadcast: the world championship of slowpitch softball.
Today’s men’s slow-pitch game, the Border Battle between USA and Canada, will be the first time the network returns to slowpitch softball since Sept. 7, 1979. According to Team USA’s coach Steve Shortland, who spent the last seven years as the All-Armed Forces team coach, slowpitch softball has the largest number of participants for a recreational sport in the nation. "There’s a lot of folks out there who, I think, have this misnomer about slow-pitch softball that it’s a picnic sport,” Shortland said. "But these guys are elite athletes that work on their game the entire year.” Because of the nature of slow-pitch softball, the games tend to feature much higher scores and a lot more home runs than fastpitch. "It’s high-octane, more entertainment value,” said Jeff Rhoton, general manager of softball for Winner Comm, the production company partnering with ESPN for the Border Battle. "It’s almost like watching a big fireworks show when the big hits go out.” And there will be big hits. Rhoton said fans and viewers should expect homers to go past 500 feet from home plate, well beyond the 300-feet home run fence. "ESPN’s always looking for different sports and niches,” Rhoton said. "(Slowpitch) is just another extension of softball.” The Border Battle will be today at 3 p.m. on the north field at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium and will be televised by ESPN (Cox 29).