Monica Abbott – the youngest member on the silver medal 2008 Beijing Olympic national team for USA – has signed the first US$1 million contract in the National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) league history.
The Houston-area Scrap Yard Dawgs, NPF’s newest expansion team, signed the free agent to a six-year deal expected to pay her US$1 million. It is the first million-dollar contract in the history of NPF, which begins its 13th season later this month with six teams and plays a 50-game regular season. The contract is believed to be the most lucrative paid by an individual American professional franchise to an active female athlete in team sports.
Softball, specifically college softball, has never been more popular than over the past decade with the Women’s College World Series drawing record crowds and strong television ratings. ESPN – the sport programming dedicated television network – is offering its most comprehensive NCAA Division I Softball schedule in 2016 with more than 600 games carried across their network of channels.
“In my mind, it [the contract] represents an opportunity for the younger players in our game,” Abbott said. “The pro league, it’s continued to grow year in and year out…I see opportunities for other athletes, for the college girls coming in [to the league], for the college freshmen, for the 12-year-olds. I see opportunities for them to only be a professional softball player. To not have to have another career, another job. Hopefully it just raises the bar of our sport.”
But perhaps more notably for softball, at least in the USA, the contract in many ways is structured to facilitate Abbott’s return to international competition with USA Softball. If she makes the team and should baseball/softball return to the Olympics in 2020, she can try to reclaim gold in Tokyo and then make an NPF farewell tour in 2021.
The contract doesn’t preclude Abbott from continuing to pitch professionally in Japan, where she is a star for the Toyota entity. To be a full-time softball player, Abbott and a handful of others earn most of their income playing in Japan and train full time as employees of the companies who sponsor the teams, leaving only a summer interlude to compete in NPF while the Japanese league was on break. This arrangement provides an opportunity she said she will continue to evaluate year-by-year.
Abbott, 30, pitched to a 13-1 record with a 0.31 ERA, 0.59 WHIP and 149 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings last year for the Chicago Bandits.
“I feel very humbled and very excited to be the voice for softball,” Abbott said. “I hope that, God willing, I’m going to have the right words to help expand this sport and expand opportunities for all female athletes, whether it’s softball or volleyball or basketball or whatnot.”