Kacy Acree is one of the most decorated players in the history of APSU softball.
After four years of playing for the Governors, Acree now teaches middle school special education at New Providence Middle School in Clarksville, Tenn.
While the career choice was on her own accord, Acree’s story is not uncommon: former teammate Danielle Liermann (nominated as an All-American second team selection by Softball America) has pursued academic advancement beyond a professional playing career.
The two have placed inside the top 10 of the Govs record books in 24 different categories, 16 of which having at least one of the two players cemented inside the top three. Acree and Liermann were also responsible for the winningest season in program history, producing 39 victories in 2018.
Despite the duo’s incomparable success, the lack of professional advancement in the world of softball provides limited opportunities: In the highest current professional league, the National Pro Fastpitch, 95 players are listed on roster as opposed to the 5,720 active players in division one, according to the Next College Student Athlete Association.
“I do think it’s disappointing that that there’s not many opportunities and even more disappointing that if you did want to go into softball, it takes over your life,” Acree said on the mindset of a collegiate player, knowing the lack of opportunities to play softball at the next level.
Acree continued in mentioning the words of a former assistant coach and NPF player, Cheyenne Coyle, who had to work multiple jobs while playing in order to make ends meet: “You need to dedicate yourself to work out, to go and hit for two hours, to go and practice for two more hours. You can’t do that if you’re going to have to get another job, that would be extremely hard. That part of it is definitely disappointing.”
Although Acree’s interest in playing professionally diminished as time went on, former Austin Peay softball head coach Rodney DeLong saw the potential of both players being drafted into a professional league in the event of an equivalent expansion to that of Major League Baseball.
“I definitely think both of their skill sets would give them that opportunity, there’s no doubt about that,” DeLong said. “If there was a bigger league and a minor league process with larger rosters, I definitely think those two kids are talented enough to get into a system, continue to grow and get better in the game and eventually, ultimately, make it to a professional level.”
The current draft selection process for National Pro Fastpitch includes 22 selections over five rounds, as opposed to the 40 rounds touted by the MLB. Even beyond the process of being drafted into the Fastpitch league, the issue becomes monetary: according to ESPN, the base salary for an NPF player sits at $10,000.
“I feel like that’s even more of what’s disappointing, because you look at the major leagues in baseball players and how much they’re getting paid,” Acree said. “Even if we got a quarter of what they get paid, it would be sufficient.”
To current Governors head coach Kassie Stanfill, the trajectory of professional softball all comes down to the financial aspect of National Pro Fastpitch: “Well, unfortunately everything takes money. Over the years they’ve done a great job. They’ve gradually made changes to continue to try and compete and make pro softball a thing. It always comes down to money: how many teams are in the league, are the athletes getting taken care of, are we able to pay them, is it worth their time.”
DeLong believes that the driving force for softball’s future is found within the fans.
“We’re transitioning as far as thought process goes about female sports,” DeLong said. “I still think there’s a lot of sports fans that really haven’t dove into softball. I say sports fans, even baseball fans. I think there’s a large number of baseball fans that if they would just sit down and really get into softball- even if it’s just the college world series- I think they would really enjoy it.”
Acree found the atmosphere within the game of softball unlike any other and hopes for fans to globally recognize not only that, but the game as a whole in years to come.
“There’s just such an atmosphere of excitement around the field which comes from the girls chanting in the dugout, how fast-paced it is: You’re never really going to be bored at a softball game, it’s so quick and fast paced,” Acree said. “You can see that the people enjoy playing it, that the people who are there enjoy watching it. As far as my career went, I always felt home with the parents, they always made people that were coming in feel at home. It was an opening and very exciting atmosphere.”