April 7, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Playing professional ball is a dream that is no longer limited strictly to male student-athletes. In fact, their female counterparts are making the dream become reality with greater and greater frequency.
The WNBA is the most renowned of the women’s pro leagues, but National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), a women’s professional softball league, whose current incarnation celebrates its 10th anniversary this season, is opening doors to the nation’s top collegiate players and Georgia Tech is becoming a reliable provider of talent to the League.
The latest Yellow Jacket to be drafted into the League is shortstop Ashley Thomas, who was selected by the Akron Racers on the fifth round (18th overall) of the March 31st Draft.
Thomas, the 2013 ACC Player of the Year, became the sixth Yellow Jacket drafted, and the second in three years. Coincidentally she follows her predecessor at short and 2011 ACC Player of the Year Kelsi Weseman.
Should Thomas make the team, she’ll become the eighth Georgia Tech alumnus to play in the league — shortstop Tara Knudsen (the first Jacket selected, on the third round in 2003), outfielder Caitlin Lever, pitcher Jessica Sallinger, and 2008 draftees catcher Savannah Brown, shortstop Aileen Morales and infielder Brittany Barnes and Weseman preceded her.
Thomas, who is making a strong case for a second straight First-Team All-ACC selection — she ranks in the top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, hits, runs scored, total bases, stolen bases, plate appearances and assists — took time to talk with The Good Word about seeing her name get called on Draft Day, fulfilling her dream of playing pro ball and anticipating who she’s eager to play with and against at the next level.
THE GOOD WORD: What was the experience like hearing your name called on NPF Draft Day?
Ashley Thomas: I was in my room watching it with my roommate, [third baseman] Chelsie Thomas, and my boyfriend was on the phone. We were watching it and Chelsie immediately put me in a chokehold and started hugging me, she was so happy for me. It was really, really exciting. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve dreamt about the pro league and being able to play with those types of players. It’s just awesome that I’ll get to experience it. It’s exciting that we get another Georgia Tech representative in the pro league.
TGW: How long have you been following the NPF?
THOMAS: As soon as I found out there was a pro softball league that I could play after college I’ve been wanting to play in it. That was, I don’t know, whenever I started getting serious about softball, like 12-and-under. The NPF League and the USA Team actually would come to play at one of the fields near my house. They would play at Craig Ranch (in her hometown of McKinney, Texas) sometimes, so I always went to go watch them. Ever since then I said, `If there’s a way I can play after college and keep on going, then that’s what I want to do.’
TGW: Who are you looking forward to facing in the NPF?
THOMAS: Everybody (laughs). It’s going to be awesome to face Cat Osterman, of course, It’s going to be crazy. Even some of the pitchers that got drafted with me this year, [Arizona State pitcher and first overall pick] Dallas Escobedo is a great pitcher. I’m just thrilled. I’ll be thrilled to be out there, honestly.
TGW: Who else do you know that is in the league or got drafted this year?
THOMAS: Actually, my best friend from high school, Jenny Gilbert got drafted. She goes to Ball State. She’s been playing on the Canadian [National] Team. She also got drafted by the Akron Racers so I’m super-excited. I can’t believe that we’re going to be playing together again. In high school she was a pitcher but now she plays outfield. I’ve always been infield.
TGW: What’s your timetable regarding the end of this season, the NPF and graduation?
THOMAS: I have one more semester after this one so I’ll be graduating in December. So I’m going to be in Ohio for the summer and then coming back here to Georgia Tech.
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