Softball is played in Hillsborough County by several thousand men, women and children from the age of 8 on up year-around. Most games are slow-pitch recreational contests.
But for the Brown sisters _ Emily, 17, and Allison, 14 _ slow-pitch softball doesn't have enough action for the sport that directs a major part of their lifestyle.
Both girls are fireball pitchers. Emily, a senior at Plant High school with two years as a Panther starter behind her, has already played on a fast-pitch world series championship team from the Tampa Bay Little League.
She pitched for the Tampa Bay Little League all-star team of 11-12-year-olds that won the championship in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1987.
In the past seven years, Allison has played on several all-star teams and still hopes to be part of a Little League world series or national champion ASA team before finishing high school.
Between ASA and little league, both girls are either playing or training about 11 months each year.
Allison is a freshman at Plant this year and plans to try out for the team. But she realizes the Panthers lost only one starting senior last year, and that as a ninth grader she might not even make the squad. She will play Little League during the prep season if she doesn't make the team, even though she wants to play on the same team with her sister.
"We are real competitors on the field," said Allison. "Emily would take great pride in striking me out in the one Little League season we played in the majors (ages 9-12). Then when I became a better hitter, she would walk me so I wouldn't hit. But that was on the field. Really we are the best of friends. I know she will always make sacrifices to help me, and me her. When I am in a game with lots of yelling in the stands, I can always hear Emily when she shouts words of instructions to me."
The younger Brown finished the summer in late August with the Pinecrest Patriots for 14- and 15-year-olds. Randy Percy, Paul Christian and Preston Mattair were the coaching staff.
Mattair works as a private pitching coach for both girls a couple days a week.
Playing with Allison on the Patriots were Stephanie Ferlita, Jill Linsey, Jackie Yglesias, Jessica Watson, Angela Lorenzo, Jennifer Goolsby, Tana Parks, Holly and Amanda Dittgebrant, Jamie Christian, Casey Martinez and Missy Laing.
Allison plans to play winter ball with the Tampa Heat Wave under coach Sonny LeBlanc.
When they were both younger, mom Kathleen Brown had a 4-by-8 piece of plywood with a hole in the middle leaning against the house for them to practice pitching.
"We threw at that hole in the board until we finally wore out the board a couple years ago," said Allison. "Now we catch for each other or get a friend to catch."
Both girls pitched in Little League baseball with boys teams at ages 7 and 8 and they still play baseball with the guys when a sandlot game can be put together. They believe that baseball experience helped them to play better fast-pitch softball.
Emily has earned numerous all-star recognitions as a prep player in the past two years, including all-Western Conference, all county and all-Suncoast.
"I would like to tack on a state championship in my senior year," said Emily. "It would also be nice to play my last year with my sister on the team, but Plant has a lot of good players back this year including most of the starters. My sister is often stubborn about taking my advice, but I respect her as a player and really we are close even if we love to compete."
The Browns have different styles at the plate. Emily is a light hitter with the skill to bunt and get on base; Allison is a hammer.
"Emily gets a lot of base hits, bunts and walks, or anything to get on base," said Allison. "I get a lot of doubles and triples. Home runs are hard to get in most of the ASA fields we play on. I practice by playing home run derby with guys in the neighborhood for three or four hours at a time. In that game only a few play, so you have to hit the ball to the field where they are. To win you have to hit it past them."
Emily has been playing either baseball or softball for 10 years and Allison almost eight. They practice their pitching three and sometimes four days a week for three hours each day.
Beyond prep state titles and ASA national titles, both Brown girls want to play in college, then perhaps enter the coaching ranks.