Aug. 20, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Kelsi Weseman was fourteen years old in 2004 when National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the women’s professional softball league launched — actually re-launched.
Back then, there were six franchises, one of them was the Texas Thunder, which played its games in Houston, Texas.
The team has moved four times since then, the last move coming prior to 2012, to Charlotte, N.C., where they play as the Carolina Diamonds. This incarnation of the team has its own version of “Texas Thunder” in Weseman, the rookie third baseman and former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.
The Hutto, Texas, native, who turns 22 on Aug. 31st, finished her rookie season with a .298 batting average (third on the team), nine home runs (tied for the team lead and second in the league), 24 RBIs, (tied for third on Carolina and ninth in the league), 31 hits (tied for third on the team) and she was one of three Diamonds with a triple. She also led the team in at-bats per home run, 11.556 (second in the league) and created 23.58 runs (third on the team and ninth in the league).
Professional ball has seemingly been an extension of her senior season at Georgia Tech, when she was named ACC Player of the Year and helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the ACC Championship. Her thunderous bat been a big part of a Diamonds team that led the NPF with 54 home runs (seven more than the nearest team), and had the second-best slugging percentage (.419).
Weseman still treats turning around pitches from the best players in the world with the same humility she did when doing so to the ACC’s best — one of which, former UNC pitcher Danielle Spaulding actually is on her team.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to see some good pitches to hit and take advantage of them, I guess,” she said. “There were nerves the first couple of games, but other than that it’s been fun.
“Every game is a challenge,” she added. “I don’t want to say that it wasn’t in college, but you know every pitcher was the best at their school and probably the best in their conference. I’m facing people who have played in the Olympics. You have to be so much sharper because you know they’re not going to make mistakes. You might see one mistake a game. So you have to be ready for it.”
Weseman proved more than ready. In her first professional at-bat, she lined a 1-1 pitch to center field for a single in the seventh inning of the June 8th opener, only 20 days after completing her college career. She hasn’t stopped hitting. Kelsi’s batting average didn’t fall below .300 until an 0-for-13 skid with two weeks remaining in the season. The five-game hitless streak was her longest of the season and the first time she went more than two games without a hit since the second, third and fourth games of the season (and she didn’t bat in two of those games).
Her approach throughout the season was right on according to Diamonds teammate and former Yellow Jacket outfielder Caitlin Lever.
“It’s a very tough league to play in with the very best pitching in the world and she’s holding her own and rocking it out,” said Lever, who is in her sixth year in the league and who helped recruit Weseman to Georgia Tech. “She’s giving a run for her money with the Rookie of the Year. She’s been phenomenal for us at the plate.”
Lever is impressed with Weseman’s fearlessness against this top-flight pitching.
“I think that’s half the battle in the league,” she said. “It is a very intimidating culture. With only four teams it means the talent is that much better. She came in with the right approach. Nothing really phased her. That’s what you have to do. You have to swing early and often in this league. You can’t get behind on these pitchers or they’ll eat you alive. That’s what she did.”
In fact, it’s Weseman who has done the feasting for much of the year. She put together a seven-game hitting streak, had eight multi-RBI games and, with about two weeks to play, found herself leading the league in both home runs and RBIs.
“I’ve tried not to look at [the stats],” Weseman said. “It helps that my team has a really good offense this year. We’ve got a bunch of people that are high in home runs and in RBIs so I think that helps me a lot. With all the more experienced players that are also doing well they figure that they’ll take their chances with me and I’ve been successful so far, I guess.”
Weseman is referring to first baseman GiOnna DiSalvatore, formerly of UCLA, and catcher/DH Rachel Folden, a Marshall alum, as the trio is clumped together at Nos. two, three and four at top of the league in home runs (Weseman and DiSalvatore have nine, Folden has eight), while shortstop Bianca Mejia (Long Island University), Folden, Weseman and DiSalvatore are among the NPF’s top 11 in RBIs.
The Diamonds finished the season in third place, at 17-26, but all four teams in the league make the playoffs (there are two best-of-three rounds). So it’s off to Chicago for Wednesday night’s series opener against the second-place Bandits, who finished 25-19. Lever warned that regular-season records don’t mean anything in postseason play (Carolina was 7-9 against Chicago).
“I know they’re not looking at us to be a threat,” she said. “But we’re that team that will come up and get you because we have people like Kelsi that can have that huge hit in any moment. As long as our pitchers give us a chance, we’re looking pretty good to go after a title.”
It’s been a long season for Weseman but she’s ready to push it two more weeks. After all, these are the big games, the ones she lived for and thrived in at Georgia Tech.
“I enjoy playing softball,” she said. “It’s fun for me so I just enjoy playing. It hasn’t been too hard.”
By the way, the Diamonds franchise is three years removed from winning the NPF Championship. That year they finished third, below .500 but took out the USSSA Pride, the team they could face in the finals. Carolina hopes lightning can strike twice.
With Weseman around they know there will certainly be plenty of thunder.