Kristina Thorson’s fastpitch dreams remain alive and well.
The 22-year-old pitcher has always set high expectations for herself and met them.
As a Shorecrest senior in 2002, she was Gatorade’s Washington Player of the Year and last year she wrapped up a standout career at California by being named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year.
With the U.S. Olympic team tryouts coming up in September in Chula Vista, Calif., Thorson hopes to make the 18-woman roster and help the Americans win their fourth consecutive gold in Beijing in 2008.
But right now, the Lake Forest Park native pitches for the Philadelphia Force, a National Pro Fastpitch team. She hopes to help build pro fastpitch into the big show, something young girls can dream about, like boys in Little League aspire to play major league baseball.
“We want to change it and make this like baseball,” Thorson said. “That’s what our goal is for this.”
Thorson spent June 11-15 trying out for a spot on the U.S. National team that will compete at the U.S. Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She failed to snag one of two roster spots set aside for right-handers who only pitch. Michigan’s Jennie Ritter was the only newcomer to make the pitching staff, which includes such luminaries as Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman.
“I didn’t show as well as I hoped,” said Thorson, who is still feeling the after-effects of an injury to her pitching wrist that required surgery last year.
Despite that disappointment, Thorson serves as the ace of the Force staff, a continuation of a standout career at Cal.
The right-hander set school records in victories (36) and saves (5) her senior year. In four years she went 102-26 with a 1.00 earned run average, striking out 1,071 batters in 867 1/3 innings.
Last summer, Thorson went abroad and played for the semi-pro Dornbirn Sharks in Austria. The team paid all her expenses during the three months she was there.
Thorson said the level of softball was comparable to high school varsity so teams sign top American players to take on a leadership role. Thorson also played in Italy for a week and she had the opportunity to travel around Europe.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” she said.
She returned to finish up her degree in public health at Cal and had surgery to repair tendon damage in her pitching wrist as a result of overuse.
“The actual wrist is not that bad,” she said. “There’s some scar tissue built up in it. It takes awhile to get loose.”
Thorson signed with the Force last October. In January she started training again, pitching batting practice to the California hitters and working out with Cal football players who were preparing for the NFL combine.
“It was the first time I hadn’t been on a team so I had to take the training into my own hands,” she said.
In May, she joined the Force for training camp and the season began June 7.
“She’s an incredible young woman, one of many on my team,” Force general manager and owner Tom Kleinman said.
Thorson is 1-2 so far this season with a 0.69 earned run average.
Philadelphia, which joined the league last year, is in last place out of six teams with a 2-6 record through June 20.
National Pro Fastpitch started up in 1997 as Women’s Pro Fastpitch, and is the only pro fastpitch league in the United States. Major League Baseball became an “official development partner” in 2002 as part of its effort to connect with women and women athletes. Major League Baseball does not provide financial support, however.
The Force, which plays its games at ECTB Stadium, a former minor league park in Allentown, Penn., averaged 625 fans per game last season, tops in the league. The team hopes to draw about 800 per game this year.
“We will probably break even and maybe make a few dollars this year,” Kleinman said. “Over 75 percent of teams in this league make money.”
Four teams make the playoffs when the season concludes in mid-August.
“I really like it,” Thorson said. “We have a really great group of coaches. … They’re great motivators.”
Each team in the league has a $100,000 salary cap with about 20 players on each roster. Players make from $2,500 to $5,000 for the three-month season. Someday, the league hopes to be able to pay players enough to live on year-round, but now they all have jobs in the offseason. Thorson’s offseason job is giving fastpitch lessons to 30 girls in Walnut Creek, Calif., near Oakland.
Thorson also plans to continue her studies in either infectious diseases, exercise science or kinestheology when her softball days are over.
Thorson got engaged last August to former Cal football player Erik Robertson, who recently signed as a free agent guard and center with the San Diego Chargers.
As for the Olympic tryouts, Thorson feels a bit of urgency there. She’ll have to beat out somebody who is already on the roster.
“I think if I can pitch my game I think I can do that,” she said.
She plans to come back and play for the Force the next couple seasons.
“I’ll play as long as my body will let me,” she said. “I have a feeling it will not be as long as I hope.”