Softball: Mel Dumezich enjoying transition to pro game
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 20, 2013 9:02PM
Updated: August 22, 2013 7:04AM
ROSEMONT, Ill. — On May 24, when Mel Dumezich was sitting on the bench for the last out of Texas A&M’s 10-2 loss to eventual champion Oklahoma in the NCAA regional, she didn’t have much time to anguish.
The Whiting High School graduate was taken out of the last inning after giving up eight runs, and Oklahoma scored two more off relief pitcher Lauren Ainsley to end the Aggies’ season.
Dumezich shed a tear with her teammates after a fourth straight year of falling short of reaching the College World Series, traveled back to the campus and was soon on her way back to the region to start the next phase of her softball career — playing for the Chicago Bandits.
“We lost, I drove home to Texas, packed all my stuff and literally an hour later I left to come here,” said Dumezich, with ‘here’ referring to 27 Jennie Finch Way in Rosemont.
That first day at the Ballpark at Rosemont was spent signing a contract and then jumping right into her first practice as a Bandit after being drafted with the Bandits’ fifth pick in April.
What started more than 15 years earlier as a young softball player, continuing through several years of travel ball, a record-breaking career at Whiting and a pretty successful career at Texas A&M had officially turned into a profession as part of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league.
Mind you, it’s not a very lucrative one — the pay for the women donning Chicago Bandits uniforms ranges from $3,000 to $5,000 for a summer of competition, as well as a free apartment. But nonetheless, the two-time Post-Tribune player of the year and two-time Indiana High School Athletic Association softball state champ — going undefeated in the circle both times — was now being paid to play the game she loves.
“It’s like I’m on a full ride again in school, except I’m not in school,” Dumezich said.
To say it’s a dream come true would only be half accurate. You see, playing pro softball hadn’t popped into Dumezich’s head until a couple years ago.
“I never really looked at softball past college, minus the Olympics,” she said. “But once the Olympics were out (softball was an Olympic sport from 1996 to 2008 before being voted out for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games) … I never thought of the NPF; it wasn’t that popular.”
In the middle of her college career, Dumezich started seeing some of the women she had been facing for years going back to travel ball being drafted in the NPF. One of those players was Bandits teammate Alisa Goler.
“I used to play with her — she was older and got drafted,” Dumezich said. “So I’d come (to Rosemont) and watch (the Bandits) play when I was in college.”
Little did she know she would be wearing the same uniform as Goler. Just being picked speaks highly of Dumezich since there were only 20 amateurs drafted by the four NPF teams.
Turns out she was picked by the perfect team, in more ways than one.
For her personally, it works out great so she can visit friends and family back home — or they can come to her.
“My dad (Milo) works out here and he’ll have lunch with me once in a while,” Dumezich said. “My brother (Zach) also works out here sometimes. It’s nice to be close to home, close to friends, unlike in Texas.”
Aesthetically, it doesn’t get any better with the 2,000-seat facility and playing on FieldTurf — not just the outfield, but also in the infield, which is colored to look like a standard dirt infield.
“I’d say it’s better,” Dumezich said when comparing the turf infield to dirt. “You don’t have any bad hops, but it’s definitely faster.”
The location can be breathtaking with O’Hare Airport nearly a stone’s throw away. Depending on where you’re sitting in the stadium, the airplanes look like they’re barely clearing the scoreboard.
“That’s fun,” she said. “During a game we’ll have runners on and a plane will come; the girls will start saying it’s a rally plane.”
And the rookie also has a young coach who works well with first-year players, especially with the mental approach to being a pro.
“We tell our rookies the hardest part is adjusting to failure,” said Bandits head coach Mike Steuerwald, who is in his second year at the helm after being an assistant with Chicago for two years. “You’ll have more failure in this league than you’ve ever had from the time you’re four or five years old — .250 is a good average in this league. You’re coming here and you may not even be in the starting lineup or getting a pinch hit or an inning of relief as a pitcher.”
As for Dumezich, she definitely has caught Steuerwald’s eye and earned extra playing time. She’s been averaging a start per series. Going into Saturday’s action, she has strikeouts in 21 innings with a 3.23 earned run average.
“Her demeanor and how she shows up to the field every day impresses me,” he said. “Whether she’s gotten hit in an inning or pitched great, you can’t tell the difference and I love that in a pitcher.
“And she’s ready to work. She’s had quite a few injuries coming out of college and she still shows up ready to work. Usually I’m the one who needs to cut her reps.”
Dumezich actually admits her injury issues are her fault because of her work ethic.
“It’s just from four years of going nonstop,” she said about a shoulder injury that hampered her in the NCAA Tournament and has required a couple cortisone shots and an appointment to see a specialist within a couple weeks.
“I was pitching and playing the field (second base) and throwing in practice. Not too many pitchers (in college) play the field, too. I think I should have been smarter about it. All the reps at second base during practice … I didn’t need that.”
So what’s on the docket for Dumezich? She hopes to play in the NPF for seven or eight years, using teammate Vicky Galindo as an example. Galindo is 29 years old and played in the 2008 Olympics.
Dumezich also still has a year left at Texas A&M before getting her major in sports management and minor in coaching. She’ll finish up in May, then stick around to help coach the Aggies before hopefully returning for a second season with the Bandits.
And who knows, maybe she’ll be an agent down the road, though representing herself wouldn’t save very much money.