Day Dominates in Softball Pitching Against Men
CLU softball coach Debby Day holds her own
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Debby Day never set out to be a trailblazer. She wasn’t trying to prove anybody wrong or show anyone up.
Day just wanted to keep playing softball at a high level.
It just so happened that required joining a men’s fast-pitch league.
Over the last 15 years pitching against the guys, Day has overcome any gender stereotypes strictly through her performance on the field.
The 45-year-old former University of Arizona All-American has earned the respect of her teammates and opponents by retiring batters and collecting titles in bunches.
“I am out there for the competition. I am not out there goofing around with a big ribbon in my hair to have a good time. I am there to play ball,” said Day, the head softball coach and assistant athletic director at Cal Lutheran. “I don’t want to be a sideshow. I don’t want to be a part of the carnival. I just want to be on a team and I want to win.”
Day has done plenty of that in her career.
She helped Arizona capture the school’s first NCAA title in 1991, and finished her college career with 116 wins. Her career ERA at Arizona was a minuscule 0.44.
Pitching against a different gender, Day has been just as successful.
She has become one of the top men’s fast-pitch league pitchers in the nation and established several historical milestones along the way.
Two years ago, Day became the first female to win a game and the first female named to the all-tournament team at the North America Fastpitch Association World Series.
Last year, Day was named the Co-Most Valuable Pitcher as her Long Beach Wolfpack team won the NAFA “A” World Series title.
On Aug. 7, Day will become the first female to pitch at the “A-Major” level at the NAFA World Series.
“There are not a lot of women that can compete against men and hold their own, let alone dominate. She is a dominant pitcher among men,” said Billy Rogin, who has been one of Day’s catchers for 15 years. “She makes people look bad. She can find your weaknesses, and she does it to guys in their 20s and 30s who are at the top of their games.”
Day, the mother of a 20-year-old daughter, started playing softball when she was 9.
She never imagined her career would last so long, especially after her final college game ended in traumatic fashion.
One year after leading Arizona to the NCAA title, Day was in the circle for Arizona’s 1-0 loss to UCLA in the 1992 NCAA championship game.
The game ended when Day gave up a walk-off home run to UCLA’s Jennifer Brewster in the seventh inning.
“I have still never watched that game,” Day said. “It’s really difficult getting over losing in the World Series like that for your team. I really didn’t want to play anymore. Once I graduated and didn’t have a job, I went and played pro ball in Japan. But I just didn’t have the passion for it. I was just doing it because I didn’t have anything else to do.”
Day returned to the United States and began coaching at Iowa State while raising her daughter, Kylie.
She didn’t start playing again until she moved to California and joined a women’s league in Burbank. Her stay in that league didn’t last long.
“It just wasn’t as challenging as I would have liked,” Day said. “Then, one girl’s boyfriend asked if I wanted to come out and pitch for his men’s team. From that point on, it’s all I have done.”
Day figured she would encounter some resistance from men who didn’t think a woman belonged on the field or didn’t want a woman in their dugout.
At her first appearance at the NAFA World Series, a handful of opponents snickered and directed condescending words her way.
“There has been pushback here and there, but I am really lucky to play with guys who back me 100 percent and always say something in my defense,” Day said. “My teammates are like my brothers and they won’t put up with it at all. They just have their own way of making guys feel stupid for even saying anything.”
Day actually doesn’t mind if an opponent becomes fixated on her gender. She uses it to her advantage in the circle.
“There are a few guys who don’t want to strike out against a girl. If I notice they are really concerned about that, I know I am going to win,” she said. “I don’t know if I will strike them out, but I will beat them.”
Day still throws 65 mph, only 2 mph less than she did in college.
The pitching circle is 46 feet from home plate in the men’s league as opposed to 43 feet in college. Day prefers the longer distance because it makes the movement on her pitches more effective.
“I am not a big strikeout pitcher. I work ahead in the count and go right at people and let my defense make plays,” said Day, who has an ERA around 2.00. “I’ve had to develop a change-up. I never threw a change-up in college. But you are not going to throw the ball past guys at this level, so I need to use more off-speed pitches.”
Day and Rogin have been longtime battery mates for DY2, a team that plays in a Wednesday night league in Burbank. Last week, Day pitched DY2 to yet another title.
Although Rogin has framed thousands of Day’s pitches over the years, he remains amazed at how quickly she switches into game mode.
Day often arrives at the field with homemade baked goods and sandwiches, and leaves with bruises all over her body following another victorious start.
“It’s kind of like a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. She is a woman through and through off the field, but on the field she is a competitor,” Rogin said. “She is tougher than all of us, to be honest. She can take a line drive off the shin and be fine. Most pitchers would use a practice pitch, but she won’t give them the satisfaction. She is a warrior.”
Considering everything Day has already achieved, Rogin is convinced she will be awarded the ultimate honor.
“She is going to be the first woman inducted into the men’s softball Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s not if, but when. You can pretty much mail that in. To me, she is already a Hall of Famer.”
Although Day never intended to be an inspiration, she realizes the strides she’s made for her gender.
A few years ago, some male opponents wouldn’t even shake her hand. Now, they ask to take pictures with her to send to their daughters.
“I am just really lucky to still be able to play this sport and hold my own,” Day said. “I am not the type to needlepoint or start scrapbooking. I love playing softball, and I want to enjoy it as much as I can and keep going as long as my body will allow.”