Ever since the Arizona Wildcats last won a Softball National Championship, things have changed greatly within the sport.
It’s been a decade, but even with that long drought still irritating the throats of Arizona players and fans alike, you can’t lose sight of what Mike Candrea has done for this game.
For the first time ever, ESPN is broadcasting each and every Regional game somewhere on its platform as the sport continues to grow in popularity at an astronomical rate. Softball was also brought back into the Olympics in the most recent vote and will be played in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Another such example is in Tucson this weekend. The Saint Francis Red Flash is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, exemplifying the increased parity in the sport.
“The parity around the country is phenomenal right now,” Candrea said earlier this week. “You see the Saint Francises of the world and they’re there for a reason. They’ve got what it takes to make the top 64, so you better respect ‘em all, fear none of ‘em, and get ready.”
Another is South Carolina, who is part of an SEC that sent each and every team in its league to the postseason this year, the first time that’s ever happened.
But Gamecocks head coach Beverly Smith isn’t one to forget what Candrea did to allow for schools to invest in softball the way they have.
“He’s just been one of the idols really,” Smith told me on Thursday. “If Mike Candrea had a DVD or a tape out you were going to buy it and watch it. I’ve always found him to be so knowledgeable, but most impressive really is how he treats other coaches and how he’s willing to share information, so he’s really been a leader in our sport.”
“He’s touched softball at all levels,” continued Smith. “He coached the national team for years. I think a lot of the speed/slap game started here, so he’s touched it for years and softball’s done nothing but grow, but he’s certainly one of the legends in our sport.”
Is this the year of Candrea? Who knows. But the highest tournament seeding since 2007, a 1,500th career victory, and his deepest team yet certainly points an arrow to yes.