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Behind the Mask to Behind the Plate: Fitzgerald Takes a Swing at Softball

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Katie Fitzgerald and the Bandits showcase the mission of SheIS

Nick Monaghan, courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch.

On August 12th, Chicago Bandits fans got to see something they normally wouldn’t see behind home plate: a hockey goalie in full gear.

Katie Fitzgerald of the Metropolitan Riveters suited up and protected the net from a handful of shots off the stick of Bandits catcher Kristyn Sandberg. Sandberg, who plays men’s league hockey and is a consistent threat at the plate with 33 career home runs, shot both pucks and tennis balls. She even managed to score a few times on Fitzgerald, who led the league last year in both GAA (1.87) and SV% (.920).

Kristyn Sandberg scores on Katie Fitzgerald and her teammates approve!
Nick Monaghan, courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch

Fitzgerald, a native of Des Plaines, Illinois, was not a stranger to the Bandits. She served as a media relations intern with the team during the summer of 2017.

“I’ve been a Bandits fan for a long time,” she said, when asked how she ended up on their staff. “It was one of my favorite jobs that I’ve had so far.”

She returned this past August with two seasons of NWHL play and an Isobel Cup under her belt.

“It was cool to kind of do a crossover event to promote both the Bandits and the NWHL,” she said. “It was cool to kind of see those worlds collide.”

The showdown was a product of collaboration between the NWHL and NPF, who are both involved with SheIS, an initiative that was launched in May of this year, aimed at garnering support for girls and women in sports. Jason Lowenthal, the Bandits’ director of media and public relations, said that there has been a coordinated effort to empower their female athletes and get them the recognition they deserve.

“We’ve challenged our players and personnel to maintain a consistent presence not only in the local community but through social media, as well,” he explained. “In the digital age, these players have access to thousands of fans and we have to find ways to utilize those connections to our advantage.”

SheIS has also focused on “cross-pollinating” between different sports. When asked if she sees a lot of that kind of crossover, Fitzgerald agreed that she did.

“I just think it’s really cool to see what everyone’s up to and see the crossover between all the different leagues,” she said.

Fitzgerald’s cousin, Janelle Flaws, played briefly for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL, but the crossover between the leagues is more than just family support. A handful of Riveters attended a Sky Blue FC game in August of 2017 and served as honorary captains, and the team will be joining Sky Blue again this Saturday at their final home game of the season.

When asked what sort of crossover events she’d like to see or participate in, Fitzgerald recalled the Riveters trip to Sky Blue, where a few of them took shots on net from center field.

“To have us go and try soccer, to have Kristyn do hockey, or to have us try softball or basketball...when someone who doesn’t excel much at that sport gives it a try, it really makes you see how skilled those players are. And it’s entertaining, it’s funny.”

We’ve seen Lindsay Whalen of the WNBA use her social media to promote the Minnesota Whitecaps, we’ve seen Amanda Kessel spend time with some Washington Mystics players, and now, we’ve seen a goalie fully dressed doing her best to butterfly behind home plate. Hopefully the relationships between female athletes in all sports will grow through initiatives like SheIS and the use of social media.

The more players are able to interact with and support one another, the more fans of one sport will try watching another. If fans of women’s basketball can get hooked on hockey, fans of women’s hockey can get themselves to NWSL games, and soccer fans can tune into softball games, women’s sports will gain a tremendous foothold.