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Grimm Launches Mid-Majors into Professional Spotlight

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The question caught Maddy Grimm completely off guard.

Grimm was thinking about transferring from Kent State to a power conference program for her final season of eligibility in 2017. She thought she needed to prove herself beyond the mid-major level.

Grimm had received permission from Kent State’s athletic director to contact different schools in the pre-transfer portal era. She was interested in Kentucky and spoke with head coach Rachel Lawson.

“She asked me, ‘are you happy at Kent?’ I was like, ‘yeah. I love it here,’” Grimm said. “She told me that was something to consider. It was a great point.”

Grimm began to have second thoughts about leaving Kent State. She realized the grass may not always be greener on the other side. Her feeling was confirmed when she discussed the situation with her Kent State teammates and head coach.

“They all told me whatever I decided, they would support me. There was no spite or I can’t believe she is going to leave us,” Grimm said. “How they handled it gave me even more reason to stay quite honestly. It’s crazy to be surrounded by people who care about the human and person versus their agenda.”

Grimm went on to earn Mid-American Conference Player of the Year as a senior. She still takes great pride in coming from a mid-major program. That’s what made the final game of the Women’s Professional Fastpitch league’s inaugural season even more meaningful. The Stahlstown, Penn. native hit two home runs for the Texas Smoke against the USSSA Pride in the title-clinching win of the WPF Championship series.

As the lineups were being announced before the game, the college programs named included LSU, Oregon, Washington and Florida.

“Then it was, ‘the starting shortstop for the Texas Smoke, from Kent State University,’” Grimm said. “I was like, ‘that’s right!’ It felt so good to represent the program on that stage.”

Grimm has been a softball journeywoman since graduating from Kent State as the program’s all-time leader in home runs (69), RBIs (192) and runs (172). She’s played in domestic pro leagues, international pro leagues and even had a summer stint with a slow pitch squad.

The Tryout Ticket

Grimm joined the Texas Smoke this summer as a tryout player. It was a last-minute decision after nearly two years away from competitive softball. Grimm now lives in Southern California, where she gives lessons and coaches travel ball and high school. 

Her friend Lindsay Thomas was planning to try out for the Smoke and told Grimm the team needed infielders. Grimm was hesitant to leave her students and players for the summer, but Thomas booked Grimm’s flight to put a bit more pressure on her to go

“I told myself I would just try my hardest and compete and give it all I got. But I was very at peace with my life outside of playing,” Grimm said. “I have figured out who I am outside of Maddy the softball player. I would definitely say that was an advantage for me going in.”

Smoke head coach Tori Tyson met Grimm for the first time at the tryouts. She immediately noticed her energy, hustle and willingness to be coached. 

After Grimm made the team, Tyson knew there would be a feeling out period among the other players in the league.

“Regardless of whether people want to admit it or not, there is definitely a different perception when you don’t come from a big school,” said Tyson, the head coach at Howard University. “None of these young hotshots knew her name and she had to really earn her stripes in a way. It’s a weird feeling because she was actually one of the most experienced on the field.”

Ready to Play Anywhere

Grimm was drafted by the Akron Racers out of college in 2017 and signed a three-year contract. But the organization relocated after one season, leaving Grimm searching for another opportunity.

She was contacted by Moh-BEEL! USA, which made her a fourth-round draft pick in the inaugural American Softball Association. Grimm spent two summers with the organization until the league folded.

A few teammates convinced her to head overseas to play in New Zealand for Parkland Christchurch United. She stayed from September 2019 until March 2020, when the Covid pandemic forced her to hastily leave the country.

Grimm returned home to Stahlstown to give lessons and joined a slow-pitch women’s team that traveled around the country to keep her competitive juices flowing.

Grimm eventually moved to Irvine, Calif, to open her own training company and coach with the SoCal Sting and Northwood High. Her last playiing experience before joining the Smoke came in Italy with Collecchio in the summer of 2021.

“I coached everywhere that I played to help grow the game. Just giving people access to my experiences and spreading what I know to people who were so eager to listen and learn was so refreshing,” Grimm said. “I get that people in the U.S. are competitive and I love that, but people sometimes lose sight of the love of the game. I have seen that firsthand in travel ball.”

Grimm was a multi-sport athlete at Ligonier Valley High. She played softball, soccer, basketball and was a kicker for the football team. 

The football coach had rules in place to help Grimm avoid injury since she had already committed to Kent State. She was not allowed to be tackled in practice and had to immediately run off the field after any kickoffs she attempted.

Grimm nearly defied orders during one game when a returner was darting through defenders on special teams. 

“The coaches were yelling for me to get off the field, but I thought I could at least jump on him and be dead weight and make him carry me to the end zone or drag him down,” Grimm said. “I didn’t have the chance since he was pushed out five yards in front of me. But I was ready.”

Veteran Persistence

Grimm didn’t have much time to train for the WPF season and never felt fully comfortable at the plate. She batted .190 in the regular season, but hit .517 in the postseason in seven at-bats.

“It had been a minute since I’d seen live pitching. I was giving myself a grace period and trying not to get mad at myself,” she said. “Once I hit those home runs in the last game, I was like, ‘why was I making this so difficult?’ It was definitely a good way to close the season.”

Nobody was cheering harder than Tyson. She knew what Grimm was capable of and was waiting for her to break out.

“I have never seen more effortless bombs in my life,” Tyson said. “I think that is what makes Maddy so special. She takes such good care of her body and she is freakishly strong. I am not being dramatic. That second home run she hit, I have never seen a ball go out so fast and so far.”

For WPF to become a viable entity that sustains longer than a few seasons, Tyson believes the league is “going to need more Maddy Grimms.”

“You are going to get your big-name people, but we need people who are going to give you those stories that you want to fall in love with,” Tyson said. “We need the people who are out there doing the grunt work and earning their stripes instead of expecting respect to be given at any age.”

Grimm agrees that veteran experience is necessary to bring a different perspective to the dugout. She also sees the value of having a mid-major presence.

“We are not used to all the new shiny toys that a lot of power conference schools are used to getting with all the gear and everything running like a well-oiled machine. If something gets messed up, I think playing at a mid-major prepares you for that and understanding it will be OK,” Grimm said. “It’s fine if we have to eat at IHOP after a game at midnight. Not everything will be catered, but you will survive.”

Grimm is on a one-year contract with the Smoke. She would like the option to return next season with more time to train to see what she can accomplish. But Grimm would also have to consider if she can step away from her travel coaching jobs for another summer.

Regardless, Grimm is glad she took the chance and flew to Texas for the tryout.

“This experience was really good for my soul,” Grimm said. “It was really cool just to be a part of history and setting the culture of what professional softball could be.”