Filler Sunshine State Sluggers

The UA Softball Team Is On Far.
By Tom Danehy

THE UNIVERSITY OF Arizona women's softball team is going to the NCAA Tournament for about the eight millionth time in a row, but this year, there is actually some drama attached to it.

Danehy For the past few years, the Lady Cats have won like 64 games out of 65 during the regular season, hosted a regional tournament at Hillenbrand Stadium, won three lopsided games, then waltzed on to the World Series.

This year, things are different. See, this year is a dreaded "rebuilding" year for the Cats. For most teams that would mean they would have to hope to get into the NCAAs, getting by on lesser talent and seeing a serious dropoff in the quality of play and the number of wins.

For Arizona, all it meant was going from being the No. 1-ranked team in the country the past two years to being second-ranked this year. Talk about freefall!

Arizona lost more than half of their starting lineup from last year, including the national player of the year, Laura Espinosa. She and Amy Chellevold graduated. The starting catcher is on maternity leave, one player is on the Olympic team and another is out for the season with an injury.

So all Arizona did this year was go 51-9 (.850) and finish one-half game behind Pac-10 champion Washington. For this, the NCAA pounced on the Cats and sent them packing to Florida, where they open regional play outside of Arizona for the first time in 10 years.

It's all quite unfair, but no one is complaining, at least not publicly. The Cats have always been all business, as witnessed by their high-road approach after the questionable way that UCLA "won" the NCAA title last year, using a hired gun non-student from Australia to do so.

If the road to the World Series runs through Florida, so be it. Heck, the World Series is in Georgia this year, anyway. Might as well get used to the oppressive heat, bugs and twisted English, anyway.

There has always been an anti-West bias in the NCAAs. It pops up during the men's basketball tournament all the time. It shows up in the college football polls, and now in the women's softball pairings.

It should come as no surprise that the best softball is played in the West. The weather and population make it so. This year the top four (and five of the first six) teams in the country are from the West. And yet four Western teams are being shipped out elsewhere to fill brackets across the country. Of course, the optimist will look at it as an opportunity to have more Western teams in the World Series.

Still, I'll miss not having the NCAA Regionals at Hillenbrand this year. It's become an annual event around here. Three teams come to town, all three get spanked, and the wacky announcers at Hillenbrand give away prizes to whoever has a picture of their Uncle Ed in boxers. Can't beat that.

Meanwhile, the Cats have to go to Florida, the land of carpetbaggers, real-estate scams and dangerous inbred white folks--basically everything that makes Carl Hiaasen books so cool.

Just to show them that they have our support, we offer this travel guide, having actually been to Florida and escaped without contracting malaria.

Tip No. 1: Be prepared to sweat like you've never sweated before in your life. You'll take a shower, dry off, lie in front of the inadequate air conditioner for an hour, walk to the closet and start sweating all over again. For some reason, this seems to appeal to retired people from New York.

Tip No. 2: Learn to speak German and Portuguese. That way you'll be able to talk to the people in line at Disney World. But don't speak German out loud because German tourists in Florida have a life expectancy of about 12 minutes (the amount of time needed to get the rental car out of the airport parking lot).

Tip No. 3: Watch out for the mosquitoes. They've been known to carry off small children.

Something else you should know. Florida is divided into very distinct areas. The part down by Miami is all retirees from New York and Cuban refugees, which means that nobody speaks English. In fact the only place in the state where people speak real English is near Orlando, because not all of the tourists are from Brazil and Europe. Some are from Arizona.

Much of the rest of the state is still redneck country. My friend Mike Elliott went from being a deejay at KRQ here to Orlando and then to Tampa. While in Tampa, he was stunned to see that they still ran announcements of KKK meetings in the newspaper. He had a Voodoo guy on the radio as a gag and got calls from outraged rednecks asking why he had a n--- on the radio.

In other parts of the state, there are people who have kids who play the banjo a lot. They have a vocabulary all their own.

For example:

FAR: That doesn't mean a great distance. It's a conflagration, like, "The house is on far."

FLAN: Not a Spanish dessert, but a means of transportation. "I'm flan down to Miami."

MOWER: Opposite of less.

PAYER: Two of a kind.

TAR: The rubber things on which a car rides. "I've got a flat tar."

You get the idea. Go down there, Lady Cats. Kick some Southern butt, then escape back to the United States. Then go back to Georgia and do it again.

You've got as good a chance as any to win the national title this year. Australia kept all its national players at home to train for the Olympics and UCLA got an institutional ethics transplant. TW

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