Pitching For The Cup
Dec. 15, 2009
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Can you feel it? She can. She knows it’s there. She has that itch to go play the game she loves because her competitive fire still burns.
East Carolina’s Keli Harrell never strayed far from the game she loved, becoming a graduate assistant for the softball program after her days as a record-setting pitcher for the Pirates ended in 2007.
This summer, Harrell received an e-mail from the Superfund Wanderers of Vienna, Austria, asking her to join their team for the European Cup. The Wanderers, one of 11 professional fastpitch teams in Austria, were set to take part in the 17th annual top European professional tournament in Parma, Italy, from August 17-22. Harrell jumped at the opportunity to play again and see parts of the world she would never otherwise experience.
Harrell certainly had the credentials to warrant interest from the Wanderers. She ended her East Carolina career as the Conference USA all-time strikeout leader with 948. In the league career rankings, she also sits first in appearances as well as second in saves and innings pitched and third in wins. In the summer of 2008, she played professionally for the Twins, one of eight Dutch Major League Softball teams.
“I had not pitched in a game for about nine months,” Harrell wrote in her blog after she returned from the trip. “I knew I had to get to work, and fast. I trained every day for a month and on August 8th I boarded my flight to Vienna.”
While in Vienna, Harrell shared a flat in the heart of the city with an American shortstop, Amanda Phillips, who was also on the team. For a week, the two explored Vienna during the day and practiced with the rest of the squad each night.
“I was able to visit the Parliament building, Wiener Staatsoper [the Vienna State Opera house] and Stephansdom [St. Stephen’s Cathedral, first built in 1147],” Harrell wrote. “All the buildings were so beautiful and historic.”
Following the week in Vienna, Harrell and the team traveled nine hours to Parma, Italy, for the games.
“We drove through the mountains of Austria to get to Italy,” Harrell wrote of the travel. “It was one of the most scenic trips I have ever taken.”
The European Cup invited teams from Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic and Spain. Before the games began, Harrell was able to spend some time enjoying the city with friends whom she had played with during her time with the Twins the summer before.
When the tournament began, however, Harrell was all business on the field. She pitched all seven innings in the Wanderers’ 1-0 game one win against a squad from Belgium. She surrendered just two hits while striking out 10. Twice the Belgians had two runners on, including in the bottom of the seventh, but Harrell ended both innings with strikeouts looking to preserve the Wanderers’ victory.
The team played again that night against the host, Old Parma. Harrell was again called upon to pitch and went six-plus innings, surrendering five hits and the game’s lone run in a 1-0 loss. Despite the setback, she believes memories from that game will last her a lifetime.
“It was amazing,” she wrote. “I pitched the game of my life and left everything I had on the field. I’ll never forget the feeling of throwing like that, knowing I had my good stuff.
“We were playing under the lights in a battle against extremely talented competition. My team showed all kinds of fight and the crowd was so into the game. It was everything I hoped I would experience and more.”
Harrell’s team went on to drop a 2-1 decision to the Croatians, a 3-2 setback to the Netherlands and a 3-0 loss to the Spaniards before ending the tournament with a 2-1 triumph over the Germans.
“We did not win Cup as we all would have liked,” Harrell wrote. “But we played our hearts out.”
Harrell finished the tournament with 29 innings pitched, including complete games against the Netherlands and Germany and two innings in relief versus Spain. She picked up the two victories her team recorded while at the Cup.
Proving that she still had her dominant strikeout ability, her 29 innings of work produced 34 whiffs, the most of any pitcher in the tournament. Harrell recorded two more strikeouts than the Czech Republic hurler, Jana Vacikova, who tossed 41 innings. Harrell completed the tournament with a 0.72 earned run average, the seventh-best mark at the event.
Harrell said the tournament provided her with some new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
“I am so glad I got the opportunity to play in the European Cup,” she wrote. “I consider it a privilege to have played with the Wanderers.”
For more about Harrell’s professional experiences playing with the Wanderers and the Twins, check out her blog at www.blackbeardsballers.com.