Bandits, Red Stars face ebb and flow of difficult market

Updated 11/5/2010 10:49 PM

Call it the equilibrium of the sports universe.

As one professional women's sports team in Chicago looks to march full steam ahead, another seems to be proceeding with caution.


It was a big day in Rosemont on Friday as the Bandits, Chicago's professional fastpitch softball team, broke ground for a new, fastpitch-specific stadium at the northeast corner of Bryn Mawr Avenue and Pearl Street, just east of O'Hare Airport.

Retired Bandits and U.S. Olympic team star pitcher Jennie Finch, Bandits owner Bill Sokolis and even Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens were scheduled to be on hand to do the honors.

Fittingly, the stadium will eventually sit at 27 Jennie Finch Way. Finch wore No. 27 during her illustrious career. Neat stuff.

The Bandits, who used to play in Elgin, seem to want to do this up right from the details of the address to the big stuff. It's bound to pay off. Hopefully.

With stadium plans that seem first-class and a location that is central and easy to get to, the Bandits certainly are positioned for long-term success.

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"It's been a long time coming," Sokolis said. "We've tried different locations, and Rosemont really stepped up to make us feel like this should be our home. It's beyond words how great this is for the team, the (league, National Professional Fastpitch) and the sport as we plan to use this new facility to continue growing the sport of softball."

Meanwhile, the Red Stars, Chicago's professional women's soccer team, would love to grow the sport of soccer.

But they are in the same boat as many Americans these days.

They're just trying to ride out the economic storm and stay standing for another day.

On Thursday, the Red Stars issued an ominous letter to the media about the health and future of the league (Women's Professional Soccer) as well as the team, which plays its games each spring and summer at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

The letter was prompted by news that two other teams in the league, the Washington Freedom and FC Gold Pride, are in jeopardy of not playing the 2011 season.


"We are mired in a tough economy and trying to sell 'women's pro sports' to a very busy customer base while many fans simply have thinner wallets," the letter states. "We never thought it would be simple. All the WPS teams have lost far more money than they intended, but we continue to push on, to restructure and strive for a day when young women can dream with clarity about playing professional sports.

"Our owners remain committed to putting the team on the field in 2011, but have been stretched further financially than we ever planned. Like you, we hope that all eight (WPS) teams are financially prepared to play in 2011."

Now, if I were a player for the Red Stars, I would be a bit worried. The tone of that letter was bleak.

But, on the bright side, at least the message was that no one is giving up. Not here anyway. And not any time soon.

The league is hoping that it catches some big-time momentum from the 2011 World Cup.

Maybe here in Chicago, the Red Stars can also catch some momentum from the forward-swinging Bandits.

Here's hoping that eventually, the two teams can ride each other's waves of success and prosperity.

Civil war:

Come springtime, new Chicago Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman and two of her best players center Sylvia Fowles and guard Epiphanny Prince will be part of one big, happy family.

But for now, the family is divided.

Chatman is fulfilling the final year of her contract in Moscow as head coach of perennial Euroleague power Spartak Moscow Region. Prince is on her team this winter.

On Wednesday, Chatman and Prince faced off against one of the other top teams in the Euroleague, Galatasaray from Turkey. Fowles, who first played for Chatman in college at LSU, plays for Galatasaray.

This time, Chatman and Prince got the best of Fowles, 66-40. Prince scored a game-high 19 points, while Fowles led Galatasaray with 8 points and 10 rebounds.

Draft number:

In other Sky news this week, the WNBA draft lottery was held Tuesday and the Sky got the No. 3 overall pick, behind No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Tulsa.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the Sky to head into the 2011 season with some momentum on our side," Pokey Chatman said. "We're looking to improve from 2010 and this is our first shot."