Like many women who grew up in the 1980s, Emily Friedman never imagined playing professional sports, mostly because the pro leagues for females were few and far between. She's 23 years old now, and these days, pro options for women have surged, so the college softball standout played her way onto the Philadelphia Force — an affiliate of National Pro Fastpitch, a professional women's softball league.
"I think all little girls dreamt of Olympic rings — that's what there was after college," said Friedman, a second baseman in her second year with the Force. "Now, there's this to look forward to. Hopefully, it will grow and expand, so little girls now have this to dream about. That's what we're playing for."
The 2007 season opened with a night game on June 7, at the team's home ballpark — Elite Championship Tournament Baseball Stadium at Bicentennial Park, which sits on a serene Allentown street lined mostly with houses and trees. With 400 people watching under the stadium lights, Friedman hit two singles, though the Force lost to the Washington Glory 13-3. Earlier this week, the team had a 2-6 record, the worst of the six teams in the NPF; however, Friedman said that they're playing for "nothing less" than a championship.
"I'm really excited," announced Friedman. "There's a lot of strong points to our team, and the chemistry is fantastic."
Originally from Berkeley, Calif., Friedman excelled at the University of Wisconsin, gaining "Freshman of the Year" honors, as well as hitting .315 during her sophomore season. After transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, Friedman remained productive, batting .500 during a stretch of games at the NCAA Fresno Regional.
During the winter, Friedman earned a spot on a start-up Israeli Olympic softball team.
With a squad comprised mostly of American players, organizers said they needed to speed up the aliyah process so that the players could become citizens in time for the qualifying games. However, the government was unwilling to comply with that deadline, and the team was forced to disband.
After going through tryouts, practices and a scrimmage game, Friedman believed the now-defunct Israeli team could have done well against international competition.
"Some of the players that were going to be involved played at great programs," she said. "We could've been pretty decent."
So rather than spending the summer in the Jewish state, she lives near the Force's stadium in Allentown. In the NPF, an average rookie makes between $2,500 and $4,000 per season, with better or more experienced players getting more compensation, according to Philadelphia Force owner and general manager Tom Kleinman. Although they play in the Lehigh Valley, the team is called the "Philadelphia" Force because 85 percent of the fans come from the greater Philadelphia area, according to Kleinman.
Figuring It All Out
With Friedman living the rest of the year in California, she currently finds herself looking for employment opportunities that will allow her to play in the NPF during summertime. So Friedman, like many other players, is hoping to catch on somewhere as a coach.
After her playing days are over, the biology major plans to enter medical school.
"We all love the game, but at some point you have to start a career," she said. "You have to figure out what you want to do."
But for now, Friedman's in no hurry to give up softball, and she remains focused on becoming a better player and expanding enthusiasm in the NPF.
"We're really hoping that people get interested and involved in supporting women's athletics, and having professional athletics," she said. "The goal is to create a league where little girls can dream of being a part of this."