Although the Chicago Bandits won't reunite with a few key members playing in the Japanese league until later this week, they are ready to launch their quest for another National Pro Fastpitch softball championship Wednesday night.
Outfielder Megan Wiggins, the team's 2012 home run leader, will return after Wednesday's home opener at The Ballpark in Rosemont and will be ready for Thursday's action. Ace pitcher Monica Abbott and newly signed stars of the Japanese league, catcher Kazuki Watanabe and outfielder Eri Yamada, are scheduled to arrive in Chicago this weekend.
Bandits home gamesHere's a glance at the Chicago Bandits' home schedule at The Ballpark at Rosemont for the 2013 NPF season:
Thursday: Akron Racers, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Akron Racers, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday: Akron Racers, 7:35 p.m.
6/20: USSSA Pride, 7:05 p.m.
6/21: USSSA Pride, 7:35 p.m.
6/22: USSSA Pride, 7:35 p.m.
6/23: USSSA Pride, 3:05 p.m.
6/25: ALS/CNMSBL Strikers, 7:05
7/03: NY/NJ Comets, 7:05 p.m.
7/04: NY/NJ Comets, 2:05 p.m.
7/05: NY/NJ Comets, 7:35 p.m.
7/06: NY/NJ Comets, 7:35 p.m.
7/18: Akron Racers, 7:05 p.m.
7/19: Akron Racers, 7:35 p.m.
7/20: Akron Racers, 7:35 p.m.
7/21: Akron Racers, 3:05 p.m.
7/24: NY/NJ Comets, 7:05 p.m.
7/25: NY/NJ Comets, 7:05 p.m.
7/26: NY/NJ Comets, 7:35 p.m.
7/27: NY/NJ Comets, 7:35 p.m.
8/14: USSSA Pride, 7:05 p.m.
8/15: USSSA Pride, 7:05 p.m.
8/16: USSSA Pride, 7:35 p.m.
8/17: USSSA Pride, 7:35 p.m.
Bandits catcher Jenna Grim, a Loyola University alum, said the team is ready to make an aggressive push at another NPF championship and is excited to welcome new draft picks and free agents to the roster.
Grim said Yamada, dubbed in Japan as the "female Ichiro," and Watanabe should be key additions to this year's Bandits roster. Teammates Abbott, Wiggins and infielder Tammy Williams have playing against, and with, Yamada and Watanabe in Japan.
"We always ask questions about what these players (in Japan) are like, and the one thing I've always heard about Yamada is she's amazing," Grim said. "She's an amazing outfielder, hitter, just an overall outstanding player. It's very exciting to see what she will bring to our team."
After last year's deflating end to the season, the Bandits are hopeful these new additions will improve their chances of landing the No. 1 seed in 2013. To the dismay of many players and fans, the NPF did not award a 2012 championship after heavy rainfall canceled play and many players had to leave the next day due to contractual commitments with teams overseas.
"Not having the championship game last year makes us work a lot harder to bring another championship back here to Rosemont," Grim said. "It was a let down, because we worked so hard for something and we were really anxious to play. We are really ready to go this season."
New rules give the No. 1 seed an automatic bid in the championship while the other teams in the league battle single-elimination style for the right to play the top seed. The Bandits hope to grab another trophy after winning the 2008 and 2011 NPF championship.
"It would have been fun to have back-to-back," Grim said. "I guess if we win this year you could call it back-pause-to-back."
The Bandits open the season tonight against the Akron Racers at 7:05 p.m. in The Ballpark at Rosemont. Tickets are available at www.chicagobandits.com.