Although the Chicago Bandits claimed the National Pro Fastpitch championship in 2011, the title was not a reflection of the team's regular season.
Last year's Bandits went 20-20 in the regular season, finishing third in the four-team league before capturing the championship with a perfect run in the NPF playoffs.
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If you goHere are the details for fans heading to the Chicago Bandits home-opening series for the 2012 NPF season:
What: A four-game series between the Bandits and the USSSA Pride
When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:35 p.m.; Sunday at 5:35 p.m.
Where: The Ballpark at Rosemont, 27 Jennie Finch Way, Rosemont
Tickets: Reserved seats range from $8.25-$13.25. General admission is $3.25.
Highlights: On thursday, the 2011 NPF Championship banner will be presented, along with banners commemorating the retired numbers of Laura Harms and Stacy May-Johnson. Magnet schedule giveaway.
Friday: Poster giveaway to the first 300 fans.
Saturday: Jennie Finch will be in attendance to sign autographs and throw out the first pitch. The Bandits will receive their 2011 championship rings before the game. Postgame fireworks.
On the Web: ChicagoBandits.com
As the team looks to defend the title, associate head coach Mike Steuerwald wants everyone to focus on improving.
"We finished third in the regular season last year, so we've got a lot to improve on as a team," Steuerwald said. "Returning veterans have emphasized that with new players coming in."
This year the team has made it a goal to win both the regular-season and postseason championships. Their season will begin tonight against the USSSA Pride, the 2011 regular-season champions.
The Bandits will once again be lead by veteran pitcher Monica Abbott, an All-American when she pitched at Tennessee from 2004-07.
"Anytime you have a pitcher like that, with her capabilities, it just makes everyone's job so much easier," Steuerwald said. "From a hitting standpoint, if you can put up a couple runs that game, you're going to be in the game. You can feel a little more ease among the players when you have someone like that in the circle."
This season, Steuerwald will be co-coaching with Keith Berg, Abbott's high school coach. Steuerwald and Berg will coach to their strengths, with Steuerwald concentrating on hitting and Berg working with pitchers.
The pitching staff will feature veterans Abbott and Nikki Nemitz and rookies Meagan Denny-White and Chanda Bell. Steuerwald hopes the veterans will be able to help Denny-White and Bell transition into the league.
"Having two pitchers that are brand new to the league, it's going to be key to have Monica and Nikki guiding them, helping them understand the hitters in the league and how to attack them," he said.
Offensively, the team will rely more on small ball than it has in the past. Tammy Williams and Amber Patton are both slappers who will help get the offense started.
"We have hitters coming back that have pop, and a lot of our veteran hitters have some power, but overall we're a team that has a lot of speed in different spots," Steuerwald said.
The Bandits and Pride will face off at 7:35 p.m. Thursday in Rosemont.