March 11, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the four-team women’s professional softball league, completed its 2012 Senior Draft on Wednesday afternoon.
Unlike with Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft, NPF’s came and went pretty much without fanfare.
It probably would have gone completely without fanfare on the Georgia Tech campus had it not been for the 13th overall pick. That was when the Carolina Diamonds, stepped up and selected Yellow Jackets senior third baseman Kelsi Weseman with the first pick of the fourth round.
‘I was really excited and honored,” said Weseman. “I always kind of knew the pro league was out there but I didn’t know if it was a possibility for me.”
It is now.
The chance to play on the professional level is not only a thrill, but makes her a torch-bearer for Yellow Jackets. Weseman hopes to become the sixth Yellow Jacket to play in the NPF, which has been in existence since 2004, joining catcher Savannah Brown (2008, ’09), shortstops Tara Knudsen (2005) and Aileen Morales (2008-09), outfielder Caitlin Lever (2007, ’09-11) and pitcher Jessica Sallinger (2006-08, 10).
That list is almost a who’s who of GT Softball, as the quintet combines for 13 All-ACC nominations, while Knudsen, Lever, Morales and Sallinger were All-Americans (Sallinger being named twice). Weseman certainly fits in that company, as she entered her senior year as a three-time All-ACC First-Team performer, the conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2009, its Player of the Year in 2011, and an All-American last season, the eighth in school history.
Weseman has been made aware of Tech’s ties to the league and her role in sustaining it.
“Caitlin Lever just retired from NPF, so she told me, ‘You’ve got to keep that Yellow Jacket tradition going,'” said the Hutto, Texas, native.
Morales, currently an assistant coach with the Jackets, who played her two seasons with the Chicago Bandits and teamed with Sallinger on the ’08 champions, believes Weseman is the perfect candidate to continue the tradition.
“She’s such a great player,” said Morales. “I know we’re proud. Caitlin and [Sallinger] and some of the other players who’ve played in the league were excited to see another Yellow Jacket get out there and represent us. So we’re definitely excited for her.”
“We’ve had a long tradition of us going into the league,” she continued. “It started with Tara Knudsen, in ’05, so we’ve always had somebody in the league since then. Kelsi will step in and do great over there for the Diamonds. I think she’s a good fit for that higher level of softball. It’s a great opportunity for her. I told her, ‘There are only a few people that get that opportunity to even get drafted. You should be honored.’ She’ll do great.”
When Knudsen joined the Arizona Heat in 2005 she began a streak of four straight years in which at least one Tech player joined the league, as Sallinger joined the Bandits in ’06, Lever became a Bandit in ’07, followed by Morales and Brown, who played with the Rockville Thunder in 2008. The streak of at least one Yellow Jacket playing in the league was in jeopardy when Lever retired following the 2011 season.
She will get a shot to join the Carolina Diamonds, which is under ownership of new owner Amelia Nemeth, the first woman owner of an NPF franchise. They will not have a home field, in 2012, playing at various venues in the Charlotte area.
Morales believes Weseman is getting on board at a good time for the league.
“They’ve done such a good job of building the fan experience, which means you’re having a lot more people at the park every day. You’re doing a lot more in the community,” said Morales. “They’ve gotten a lot more games on TV in the past couple of years and have really made a good push to get more backing and to have improved facilities and improve the entire experience, which is something all those girls will benefit from.
“[The Diamonds] are doing this the right way,” she added. “They’ve got an owner, they’ve got somebody who’s really behind it. It’s a matter of them continuing to grow. They have that strong backing and they want the league to survive. They want the league to build and grow. It’s been tough at times but it will keep going.”
The timing also is perfect for Weseman. She is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in Industrial Engineering but has no problem putting the real world on hold for a little while to extend her playing career.
“It’s actually working out really well for me because I don’t really know what kind of career path I want to go into yet,” she said. “I’m applying to grad schools for the next couple of years just to try to figure out what I want to do. This definitely gives me something fun to do during the spring and summer.”
The proximity of the franchise to Atlanta is a plus, as is the opportunity to play with former North Carolina Tar Heel pitcher Danielle Spaulding, with whom she played in Europe a couple of summers back. Although she has yet to speak with Spaulding or any other teammates, she has talked with Morales, who assured her she’s on the right road.
“She just told me she thought it would be a good fit for me,” said Weseman. “It’s a way to keep playing and if I continue to play like she knows I can then I should do fairly well.”
The Diamonds open their season on June 7 with a weekend series in Akron, Ohio, against the Racers. They’ll play their first home game the following Thursday, when they open a weekend series against the Chicago Bandits.
You can follow Weseman and the Diamonds all season long by going to www.yourcarolinadiamonds.com (their web site is due to launch shortly).
To follow NPF, visit www.profastpitch.com.