From Little League to the Big League
At every level she has played, Ashley Smith has been on softball’s biggest stages. At the age of 13, she won the Senior League Softball World Series, in high school her team won three straight state championships, in college she competed in the NCAA Tournament and now she plays at the top level of professional softball, the National Pro Fastpitch League.
But the story begins long before Smith became a professional and even before her three trips to the Little League Softball World Series. For her, just like so many others, it all began in the yard playing catch with her father. “I started playing softball when I was eight,” says Smith. In those days at West Portage Little League and playing catch with her dad, she dreamed of being a pitcher just like her older sister Kristalyn. But that changed a few years later when she became a catcher. Smith “could throw all the way to second base,” and thus began her career behind the plate. Reluctant at first, soon Smith was doing most of the catching in the sessions of ball in the yard. Smith took turns with her dad being the backstop for Kristalyn and soon began to learn the nuances of the position.
Quickly the goal became reaching the World Series. “I grew up going to the World Series to watch my sister,” says Smith. “I had always wanted to play in it myself.” And not long after, she had the opportunity. In 1998, at the age of 13, Smith’s senior division team from West Portage Little League advanced through the districts, states and regionals to make it back to Kalamazoo for the World Series. The hours in the yard paid off for Smith and not only did she get to compete with the best of the best, West Portage Little League won the title that year. “It was such a memorable time in my life and I feel so lucky to have been a part of such a wonderful event.”
But Smith knows that softball is about a lot more than simply winning and losing. Through her total of three trips to the Little League Softball World Series at various levels, one in the Senior Division and two at the Big League level, Smith has acquired a bond with her teammates. From riding with them in the team limo to performing their skits during the closing ceremonies, the Little League World Series is about friends…those on your team and those from the other teams. “It was great to be able to interact with girls my age from different cultures and continents,” recalls Smith. “The World Series is truly about having fun and being goodwill ambassadors of the sport of softball.”
For this family, trips to the Little League World Series are not uncommon. Smith’s two sisters, Kristalyn and Shannon, both played at the World Series and went on to play college softball at Western Kentucky University. For Smith herself, her softball career continued at the University of South Carolina. With the Gamecocks she was a four-year starter at catcher and the possibility of playing in the Nation Pro Fastpitch League (NPF) began to develop. Of course, college is about much more than softball and Smith was a three-time Academic All-American, a three-time SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and ended her college days with a 4.0 GPA. In 2006, Smith was drafted by the Akron Races in the NPF Senior Draft. She ended up in Philadelphia playing for the newest team in the league, the Force.
Into her third season playing for the Force, Smith has not forgotten about the influence Little League has had on her and her career. “I’m trying to give back to the game that has given me so much,” Smith says. Despite spending her summers with the Force and her off-season working on her masters degree in Construction Engineering and Management at the University of Michigan, Smith finds time to teach young girls about softball and life. “Softball teaches you how to work towards goals, be humble in defeat, it gives you confidence, and shows that hard work and determination can pay off.” Whether it is working with her sister’s high school team or teaching at camps put on by the Philadelphia Force, Smith is an ambassador for the sport of softball. “My hope is that being a professional softball player will be a viable profession for all those girls who grew up throwing the ball around in their front yards with their fathers…just like me.”
Ashley Smith Profile
- Bats: Right
- Throws: Right
- Third season at Philadelphia
- Prep all-state selection in 2001 and 2002
- Michigan Gatorade Softball Player of the Year in 2002
- Three time academic All-American at University of South Carolina
- Tied for fifth all-time in home runs at University of South Carolina
- Eighth all-time in RBIs at University of South Carolina
- Three time academic All-American
- The Philadelphia Force finished one game out of the playoffs during the 2007 season. Ashley Smith, coming off her second shoulder surgery, is now healthy and hopes to help the team to a championship. To follow Ashley and the Philadelphia Force, go to the team’s official website at www.philadelphiaforce.com