Houston's Scrap Yard Dawgs Battle It Out in Fastpitch Softball
The Dawgs scatter after a huddle at the pitcher's mound.
Down a grass-lined road, past a gravel parking lot and under a baking hot sun lies the home of the newest Houston pro sports team.
Down a grass-lined road, past a gravel parking lot and under a baking hot sun lies the home of the newest Houston pro sports team.This 75-acre complex of softball and baseball fields – named the Scrap Yard – is where the Scrap Yard Dawgs, Houston's women's fastpitch softball team, play ball. At a recent Sunday home game, a few dozen fans braved the 100 degree-plus heat index to sit in the stands, often beneath the protective shade of hand-held umbrellas. The satisfying thwack of the neon-yellow softball – a few inches larger in circumference than a baseball – into the catcher's waiting glove could be heard throughout the intimate field. (Which, okay, yes, is technically located in Conroe.) “Softball definitely has that 'wow' effect,” said Meagan May Whitley, who plays catcher for the Dawgs. “It's so fast. You're right on top of each other. Like there's people that are running speeds that you wouldn't believe, that are hitting balls harder than you [would] believe, hitting them farther than you [would] believe.” The Dawgs, who started their inaugural season in June, are ranked second out of the six teams that make up the National Pro Fastpitch league. They're the second pro softball team in Texas, after the Dallas Charge (who they lost to on Sunday). And they made headlines earlier this year for signing one of their players, pitcher Monica Abbott, as the first woman ever to receive a $1 million contract from an American pro franchise for a team sport. “It felt good to be able to hopefully open some doors for the next generation,” Abbott said of the contract. “[And] hopefully inspire them to close the wage gap a little bit, or get their worth, fight for their value.” Yet for the Dawgs, the contract is not only about shattering records, but also expectations. Women's sports in general have long been underappreciated – remember the Sports Illustrated writer who tweeted, “Women's sports in general not worth watching,” right after the U.S. team won the Women's World Cup? – and softball was no exception, at least until recently. “College softball is at an all-time high,” said Connie May, the team's general manger and Whitley's mother. “The game itself has exploded.” Last year's Women's College World Series aired on ESPN and was watched by more than 1.8 million people, more people than ever before. In fact, more people watched the WCWS than did baseball's Men's College World Series, according to CBS Local Sports. And the Houston area, May said, is a hot spot for softball. “There's just hundreds of thousands of kids playing the game in that city,” she said. She should know: May raised Whitley in Spring, and now coaches a local 18-and-under softball club. “I mean, there's so many teams, I wouldn't even venture to count. And then you have all the associated families who are falling in love with the game.” Despite this increased attention, the road to the Dawgs' first season hasn't been easy. Though May and others initially planned to create a proper stadium for the Dawgs – right now, they play on a retrofitted field – record spring rains doomed the team’s plan to start building before the season.
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