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updated: 8/12/2011 6:21 PM

Softball star un-retires in time to help Bandits

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  • Former NPF star Stacy May-Johnson returned to the Chicago Bandits lineup on Thursday and belted a two-run homer against the league-leading USSSA Pride. The Bandits won the game 6-5.

      Former NPF star Stacy May-Johnson returned to the Chicago Bandits lineup on Thursday and belted a two-run homer against the league-leading USSSA Pride. The Bandits won the game 6-5.
    Photo courtesy of Dina Kwit/Chicago Bandits

 
 

Five games back after a two-year "retirement," Michael Jordan dropped his legendary double-nickel (55 points) on the New York Knicks in a 1995 regular season game at Madison Square Garden.

It was a spectacular display, unparalleled in sports history.

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Safe to say, it will be tough for any un-retiring athlete to ever match that magical moment, especially so early into his or her comeback.

But Thursday night, in her first game in a Chicago Bandits uniform this season, Stacy May-Johnson certainly gave it her best shot.

The 27-year-old veteran third baseman smacked a 2-run home run over the left field fence in the sixth inning that started a rally for the Bandits. Down 4-0 when May-Johnson homered, the Bandits wound up defeating the best team in National Pro Fastpitch, the USSSA Pride, 6-5 with a walk-off 2-run home run by Alisa Goler in the bottom of the seventh inning at Rosemont Stadium.

May-Johnson, a two-time NPF most valuable player and one of its career leaders in doubles and home runs, had retired at the end of last season after five years with the Bandits to spend more time with her husband, Nathan. But she knew on Thursday in that scrapbook-worthy, Jordan-esque moment, while high-fiving Goler and the rest of her teammates, that her decision to return was the right one.

"It's just fun being back on the field, especially in a game like this," May-Johnson said. "It's fun to compete at a high level, and that's what I'm all about. It's good to be back to do that."

Not too long ago, May-Johnson figured she'd never be back. Period.

She is now an assistant softball coach at the University of Iowa, where her husband, a construction manager, also recently got a job. The two are looking forward to settling down and starting a family.

"We've been married for four years and we've basically been spending 50 percent of our time together and 50 percent of our time away from each other. It was even like that before we got married," May-Johnson said. "We're to the point where we're done with that and with all the travel that I would do while playing, we knew that it couldn't change unless I made a change.

"I just couldn't do that much time away from home any more. I knew I had to step away and retire."

And May-Johnson did. For a while.

Then she got a call from USA Softball. In April, about eight months into her retirement, May-Johnson was asked if she would be interested in trying out for the U.S. national team, which still competes in various international events even though softball is no longer an Olympic sport.

She had never before been given such an opportunity.

"I just couldn't pass it up," May-Johnson said. "I had always wanted to play for USA Softball but just never got the chance. I thought, 'This is a great opportunity.' Plus, even though there's travel, there's not as much (as with the NPF). And I could do most of my training from home. It just fit.

"I got the OK from my husband, I got the OK from my boss and it was like 'I have to go do this.'"

Late last month, May-Johnson led Team USA to the World Cup Softball title over Japan by hitting .353 and belting 2 home runs in the tournament, which was held in Oklahoma. On her way home, she received text messages from her former Bandits teammates.

They wished May-Johnson congratulations, and also sent her their own wish.

As long as she was in shape and in form, they wanted to know if she would join them for the stretch run of the season, and the playoffs.

They had an open spot on the roster and they would need her for about 10 days in August. Tops.

"My initial reaction was 'I don't know if I could go back, I've missed so much time,'" May-Johnson said. "But I talked to my husband and my boss again, and I thought about it. I thought about how it would be just a short period of time and how it would be so much fun.

"And basically, I just ran out of reasons not to come back."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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