Take a last look at UW softball great Danielle Lawrie
UW softball star Danielle Lawrie is playing in her third Women's College World Series. But after that, her gender means her choices are limited. She could play in Japan, play for peanuts in the U.S. or move to another career completely.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Danielle Lawrie's numbers
1,848 Career strikeouts
136 Career wins
68 Fastball in mph, at 40 feet (can hit 71 mph, equivalent
of 97 in baseball)
65 Career shutouts pitched
31 Career home runs
8 Career no-hitters
4 Career perfect games
3 All-America and All-Pac-10 first-team selections
2 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and Pac-10 Player of the Year awards
Control means everything to Danielle Lawrie.
She is used to throwing five different pitches wherever she wants, whenever she wants. She hits long home runs. She wins, more than anyone else in this oft-slumping sports town. And after each game, she runs sprints in the outfield because she's not satisfied.
Lawrie, the University of Washington senior ace, is almost always in control. Even now, with the Huskies one loss from being eliminated from the Women's College World Series, she seems to have a handle on the situation.
But here's the unfortunate thing about the future for this transcendent pitcher: Soon, she'll lose control. Soon, her career will be full of uncertainty.
Sadly, Lawrie may never have it this good again. She's only 23, at least five years from her prime, but because softball is no longer an Olympic sport and offers lackluster professional opportunities, this might be the last grand stage of her career.
Sure, she will play for her native Canada in many world championships, including one later this month in Venezuela. Sure, she expects to play professionally, either in the United States or Japan. But it won't be a glamorous life: less exposure, less diverse competition, maybe even less enjoyment.
So she wants her last days to proceed slowly. She's in no hurry because for all that she's done — most valuable player of Washington's national title team last season, two-time national player of the year, three-time All-American, Olympian, icon — Lawrie knows her life won't be the same once she throws her final pitch in purple and gold.
"Soak this up longer"
"I don't want to rush anything," said the 5-foot-7 Lawrie, who received her second straight USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award Tuesday. "I don't want to press the fast-forward button. There are so many times when I wish I could pause the moment. I want to just soak this up longer because, before I know it, it's all going to be done."
As she spoke during a recent interview, an eerie song blared through the Husky Softball Stadium speakers. Sting was crooning "I'll be watching you," and Lawrie was clinging to the time of her life, and you felt like she'd soon be offering similar lyrics about a program she elevated from contender to champion.
"No, it won't be the same," Lawrie said of the future. "That's why I want to absolutely love every minute and opportunity, because if I can go out with the biggest bang in UW's history — winning and just having the best all-around group of girls — I don't think I could ask for anything more."
In a fairer sports world, she would be able to ask for more. She would be like her male peers.
Brandon Roy has become a multimillionaire and one of the faces of the NBA since he left Washington. Next April, Huskies quarterback Jake Locker will be a top pick in the NFL draft and walk into the league with first-round money, expectations and global appeal. Soon, Huskies golfer Nick Taylor will be seen regularly at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
Lawrie has accomplished more than anyone in that incredible trio, but her options are limited. It's the sober reality for most female athletes who participate in team sports.
Normally, only elite women's basketball players can become rich as professionals, and they play in multiple leagues across the world to make that good living. Softball, a low-scoring sport built on dominant pitching, has too many detractors and can't generate the revenue to provide such opportunities.
Lawrie refuses to cry foul. She doesn't have to because she has plenty of high-profile admirers willing to say what she can't.
"She's an absolute stud"
Former Mariners star Jay Buhner is one of them. He has an appreciation of softball because his daughter, Brielle, plays the sport. He considers Lawrie one of the great talents in all of sports.
"She's an absolute stud," Buhner said. "That's the only bad thing about Danielle Lawrie. She is basically the cream of the crop, and there's no well-paying professional softball. She's the millionaire of softball. A multi-, multimillion dollar type gal, if there was a league like that. Too bad there isn't."
It's the most unfortunate part about this ending. It's also a reason Lawrie plans to "be a warrior at all times" during this last dance, hoping to wring every thrill she can out of the college experience.
"It's tough," Lawrie said. "This is my life. For 23 years, this is what I've been pouring everything into. I'm going to miss college. For me, it will be different to be successful in college than professionally."
How different? Softball legend Michele Smith can provide some perspective. After an acclaimed college career at Oklahoma State, Smith played in the Japan Pro League for 16 years and set a standard for foreign stars to compete overseas. Smith says Japan could be Lawrie's best option, if she can handle living so far away for six months a year.
It's an exclusive league. The Japan league, which pays six-figure salaries to its top players, consists of 12 teams in its top division. Each squad is allowed only two international players on the roster, and some teams opt not to carry two because of the expense. The teams tend to want players who have both elite talent and a desire to become entrenched in Japanese culture. In addition to competing, most of the players also have a side job within the organization. Smith taught English to Toyota executives.
Another option would be more complicated: stay in the U.S., play in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league, pursue a non-playing career (Lawrie is interested in sports broadcasting and coaching) and make the Canadian national team her biggest priority. She would need the extra job because NPF pays pennies. Teams have a $100,000 salary cap for a 20-woman roster. As a rookie, Lawrie might not even make $5,000.
Lawrie is open to trying anything, but before making a decision, she plans to graduate. She missed the 2008 academic year to compete with Team Canada in softball's Olympics swan song and won't graduate until January. So she'll train on her own and complete her coursework for a sociology degree in the fall while mulling options.
"I think there's an opportunity for her to play overseas," said Smith, an ESPN softball analyst. "I wouldn't be surprised if she gets approached by some of the teams over in Japan. At this point, ... she's going to have to go play professionally in Japan or be patient and try to get the sport back into the Olympic Games. But if that's another 8, 10 years out, she would be in her early 30s by the next time the sport is back in the Olympics.
"It's tough right now for the kids who are at the elite level to figure out what they're going to do with their careers."
Regardless of where she plays, or for how much money, Lawrie will compete just the same.
She's still the Danielle who, as a child, bloodied a boy's nose for picking on her brother. She's still the determined ace who threw 395 pitches in a day last season to help the Huskies advance in the NCAA tournament. She's still the woman with the mental toughness to survive allowing an unfathomable five home runs to Oklahoma last week, only to come back the next day and shut out the same team in a doubleheader.
"She could do as much as Jennie Finch has for the game of softball if she channels her talent the right way," Washington coach Heather Tarr predicted.
First, though, there's the matter of going out with the biggest bang in UW's history. The best player in college softball is back in control for one final, fleeting time.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
Information in the summary of this article, originally published June 4, 2010, was corrected June 4, 2010. A previous version incorrectly stated the number of appearances Danielle Lawrie has made in the Women's College World Series. She has played in three.
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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