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Laudato leads way with bat, glove

Football teams have quarterbacks, armies have generals and the Tampa Bay FireStix have Marty Laudato to oversee the whole field of play and call the games from behind the plate.

The three-year veteran catcher in the Women's Pro Softball League is one of the keys to Tampa Bay's success this season.

The team is in first place, 1{ games in front of Virginia.

She can throw out a runner trying to steal second base, isn't afraid to throw out someone overrunning third and isn't intimated by the strongest player trying to run her over at home plate.

Her defensive skills and savvy are not her only assets to the FireStix. She also is the top hitter in the league. Her .336 batting average and 34 RBI are tops in the WPSL.

She has a slugging percentage of .524 and seven home runs, both second in the league.

"Something Marty has done all year has been instill confidence for the rest of the team when she is behind the plate," FireStix coach Linda Derk said. "Just her presence as the catcher brings the whole team up another level. They all have confidence in her. She caught Dee Dee Weiman-Garcia's perfect game last season."

Softball is a way of life for Laudato. However, baseball was her sport when she was younger.

"Baseball was my sport until I reached the age of 15," she said. "I was a pitcher. But at 15, the boys I played with started getting too big and too strong for me to feel safe playing. So I switched over to fast-pitch softball and love it."

Laudato was given a full scholarship to play softball at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, a Division II school.

While there, she was selected first-team All-American in 1990, '91 and '92. She also was the 1992 NCAA Division II Player of the Year and finished her collegiate career with 15 school and four national records.

Her most memorable experience occurred toward the end of her senior year.

"In the first game of the World Series, I was the leadoff batter, and I hit a home run on the first pitch," she said. "That was a thrill I will never forget. There were other exciting moments, but that one will always stand out."

After graduating from Bloomsburg, she went to East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University, where she earned a master's degree in marine biology.

Her first year in the WPSL was as a member of the Georgia Pride. Last year, she was traded to Tampa Bay.

She's the league's best hitter, but she really likes being behind the plate, too.

"I love the control," she said. "I call the game with some of the best pitchers in the sport."

On the field, Laudato smiles very little and takes everything seriously. However, she also looks for ways to put smiles on the faces of her teammates.

"Marty is a real character," Derk said. "She is one of the jokesters who finds ways to make life lighter and putting smiles on everyone's faces."