The Chicago Bandits will enter the National Pro Fastpitch championship as the No. 1 seed and will have home-field advantage throughout the championship series.
But even without the top seed, the defending champion Bandits have an edge. The 2012 NPF championship will be played at the Ballpark in Rosemont, Chicago's home field, this weekend.
If you goWhat: 2012 National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series featuring top professional women's softball teams
When: Thursday-Sunday at the Ballpark at Rosemont, 27 Jennie Finch Way in Rosemont
Tickets: $5-$15 available at (877) 722-6348), championship.profastpitch.com or at the Ballpark box office before games.
Who: All four NPF teams (Chicago Bandits, USSSA Pride, Carolina Diamonds and Akron Racers) will play a best-of-three series in which the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds compete alongside a series between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. The winners of those two series face off in a best-of-three final series for the championship. A minimum of six games and a maximum of nine games will be played during the series.
Stars: The teams feature nine Olympic medalists from Team USA and three Olympians from Team Canada. Former Bandits star Jennie Finch-Daigle is expected to attend.
Thursday, Aug. 23
Game 1:Bandits vs. Diamonds, 6 p.m.
Game 2: Pride vs. Racers, 8:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 24
Game 3: Pride vs. Racers, 6 p.m.
Game 4:Bandits vs. Diamonds, 8:30
Saturday, Aug. 25*
Game 5:Pride vs. Racers, 11 a.m.
Game 6:Bandits vs. Diamonds, 1:30
* These games may not be necessary depending on the outcome of games on the first two days. If there will only be one game, it will be at 11 a.m.
Game 7: Winners of first series meet in the Finals at 7 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 26
Game 8: Second game of Finals, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 9: If needed, a third and deciding game of the Finals, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
• Welcome reception at Stephens Convention Center at 6 p.m. and awards dinner at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets available at (615) 232-2900.
• Champions Festival at Stephens Convention Center ,10 a.m. to noon Sunday for players, parents and youth coaches. Enrollment at www.championsfestival.com.
"It's going to be awesome," said second baseman Danielle Zymkowtiz. "It's gonna be 80 of the best softball players in the world playing in one spot. It will be great for the fans, great for the families, great for softball lovers."
The Championship Series will run from Aug. 22 through Aug. 24. The Bandits open the series against the New England Riptide at 6 p.m. Friday.
Bandits general manager Aaron Moore said his team has the advantage of familiarity and not traveling, but he added that the Village of Rosemont and the league will do their best to make the ballpark neutral, including removing any Bandits logos on or around the field.
"It's really going to feel like a neutral site game," he said.
NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf said one of the cons associated with hosting the series in Rosemont was allowing the Bandits to defend their championship on their home field. But the pros of hosting the game -- potential sponsors, proximity to O'Hare Airport, a strong support staff to assist the league in running the event -- outweighed the cons.
"I think it speaks to Rosemont that in spite of that argument, we are still there," she said.
While Kempf said ticket sales are below what they were hoping for at this point, she said softball has a large walk-up audience and expects most of the tickets to be purchased at the gate.
"The women deserve to play their championship in front of a packed house and that's what we're looking for," she said. "Rosemont has always been confident in their ability to do that."
After the stadium opened in 2011, Moore said, Rosemont put in a two-year bid to host the series in 2012 and 2013. The Ballpark in Rosemont was the first professional softball stadium to be built in the United States and among the few, if not the only, venues created primarily for women's professional sports.
"Athleticism and talent and extraordinary ability are entertaining and rewarding and captivating regardless of the gender," Kempf said. "We should make sure that girls have role models to look up to when they're growing up and that they have the venue to exploit their extraordinary talents as adults."
Former UCLA coach and Hall of Fame member Sue Enquist also will be on hand. She is hosting a leadership event for players, coaches and parents from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday that will feature several softball legends. Fans can purchase a ticket to Enquist's event for $35 and receive admission to the championship game. "I would just really encourage anybody that loves baseball to just sneak a peak," Enquist said. "Come out for one game. I guarantee you, it's addicting."