TUSCALOOSA—While the glass ceiling in America seems to be cracking more and more with each passing day, the gold ceiling was officially shattered on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as Rawlings granted the first-ever Gold Glove to a woman in the award’s 59-year history. That woman—A.J. Andrews of the Akron Racers—will now take her golden trophy, perfect fielding percentage and bevy of spectacular plays from the regular season into this weekend’s NPF Championship Series, for which her Racers are the fourth seed and are set to open up against the regular-season champion USSSA Pride on Friday.
“The fact that I get to be the stepping stone for this, the fact that it’s the first one and the strides that the NPF is making is unreal,” Andrews told Excelle Sports at the NPF’s annual awards banquet on Thursday night. “The fact that I’m the pioneer for that, I really don’t have words for it.”
Rawlings, which awards 18 Gold Gloves each Major League Baseball season to honor the best defensive players in both leagues, announced last week that it would grant the first-ever softball honor of its kind.
[More from Excelle Sports: Abbott, Kretschman headline 2016 NPF Awards]
“I think it says a lot about what women’s sports are doing and how they’re gaining more acknowledgement,” added Andrews, an LSU graduate. “People are realizing just how awesome women’s sports are. To have a Gold Glove in softball, it just makes everything more real. The fact that we are professionals, the fact that it’s growing, the fact that children can grow up and play professional softball and professional sports, like men, is cool.”
Andrews, a right fielder and the seventh overall selection by the Chicago Bandits in the 2015 NPF draft, beat out her teammate and third baseman Kelley Montalvo, Bandits outfielder Brittany Cervantes and Dallas Charge catcher Kaylyn Castillo for the prestigious distinction. She also captured a share of the league’s Rally Spikes Award on Thursday—along with the Bandits’ Sammy Marshall—for the most stolen bases during the regular season with 15. Andrews hit .259 this summer, notching seven doubles and two home runs, collecting 10 RBIs and scoring 24 times for the Racers.
Huge night for the Racers! Kelley, Griff, AJ,Taylor & Sami. Wow!2016 All-NPF & the 1st ever Gold Glove comes to AK pic.twitter.com/1ve0Q19f8C
— Joey Arrietta (@ArriettaJoey) August 19, 2016
While the former All-American and three-time All-SEC selection certainly shined with her bat and cleats this season, it was ultimately her golden glove that landed her on ESPN’s SportsCenter multiple times, en route to earning the historic award.
“The ball could be 50 feet over the fence, in my head, there is some way I can manage to get it,” Andrews said. “That’s just how I am. That’s how I play, and the fact that it’s getting acknowledged is pretty cool. I’m just going out and doing what I love to do and I love to play hard.”
And for Andrews, it’s not just about the diving plays and accolades that come in their wake. It’s about the precedent that is being set and the groundwork that is being laid by her and other NPF players for the future of the league.
[More from Excelle Sports: Andrews makes catch of the year-caliber grab]
“When girls are growing up and they go to college, they play their sports, but at the end of the day, they know they have to get the grades because they have to get another career and aren’t able to make money playing the sport they love,” Andrews stated. “Men, they get to do that. But we are setting the pavement for girls to come up and have this as a career and I think it’s awesome.”
The postseason begins Friday at the University of Alabama when the second-seeded Scrap Yard Dawgs face the third-seeded Bandits in Game 1 of the best-of-three first-round series at 6 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. The Pride and Racers will follow suit at 9 p.m. ET on NPF TV. The winners of the first-round series will face off in the best-of-three championship round beginning Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network for the right to own the Cowles Cup.