SCHERERVILLE | Hall of Fame baseball manager Earl Weaver always claimed that the best play in the sport is the three-run homer.
Allison Snyder concurs.
"When I step up to the plate, I go for a home run," said the St. John girl, who plays shortstop for the NWI White Sox Fastpitch 10U girls softball team.
Snyder not only swings for the fences, she clears them on a regular basis. As of July 8, she had clubbed 12 dingers. Some were inside-the-park and some were in open fields, while others were hit over 200-foot barriers -- a mean feat for a 10-year-old softball player.
"She is one of the best power hitters I've seen at this age," said Rick Baker, who is Snyder's assistant coach and general manager of the NWI White Sox Fastpitch program.
"(The Chicago White Sox Training Academy) approached me about starting a fastpitch program," said Baker, a longtime coach and instructor. "I wasn't too sure at first because I knew it takes a lot of work to start one up."
In its first spring-summer season, the Sox have fielded two teams: 10U and 12U. For 2012, the program plans to have five teams.
The established teams are having successful seasons. The 10U squad has won American Softball Association and National Softball Association state titles, and placed first in the regular season in the I-80 Conference. The 12U team placed second in the ASA and NSA state tournaments.
The ace for the 10U team -- which holds a 69-10 record heading into the ASA Nationals that run July 31-Aug. 7 in Johnson City, Tenn. -- is Jessi Kiefor of Schererville.
"I just have two pitches: a fastball and a 'cat's paw' changeup," said Kiefor, who has been playing softball since was 5 years old. "Sometimes, I get mad when they hit my changeup, thinking I could have gotten them out with my fastball."
While Kiefor will likely learn more pitches, 10U coach Brooke Baker said it's "too early to talk about teaching her riseballs or drop pitches. You want to keep it basic at this age."
Daughter of Rick Baker, Brooke was Indiana Miss Softball for Lake Central in 2003 before continuing her career at Purdue University, where she set Boilermakers records in wins (71 career, 26 season) and complete games (90).
The mainstay behind the plate for the 12U team is Lexie Madrigal of Crown Point.
"I wanted to play for a good team and have the opportunity to catch every game," Madrigal said of her reason for joining the White Sox. "It sometimes gets hot when you wear the gear, but I like always being in the game."
Rick Baker hopes the White Sox will always be in contention, especially at the national level
"The premise here is to build a top ASA program in this area," Rick Baker said. "ASA is where the best teams and players play. And if these girls can go deep into the national tournament, they'll face top players from California and Texas.
"Like for Brooke, I want to help these girls get a chance to play Division I softball. And when they do and play against teams like Arizona State and UCLA, they'll be ready for them."