Many of the top fast-pitch softball players from the metro-east will be competing in the 2014 Metro Amateur Softball Associations' Illinois vs. Missouri All-Star Games on Wednesday at the Billiken Sports Complex on the campus of St. Louis University.
Among the 44 players chosen to the Illinois squads are Columbia pitcher Brianna Weilbacher, the Belleville News-Democrat's Class 3A-4A Player of the Year, and Nashville pitcher Maci Ingram, the BND's Class 1A-2A Player of the Year.
The ASA will hold two games. A game for underclassmen will be played at 6 p.m. followed by a game for seniors at approximately 8 p.m.
It's the third year for the event, and Mick Cohen of the ASA said he'd like to see the games grow into something similar to the showcase for St. Louis area baseball players held each year at Busch Stadium.
"The bottom line is this: I know if I was that age and somebody picked me as the best in the metro area to come over and play ball, I would have been there with bells on," Cohen said. "Every year I only ask the girls one question: 'What do you think of this concept of you coming here and playing?' I get two answers across the board. They say, 'Great idea, Mr. Cohen,' and 'I always wanted to know what it was like to be on the same team with this girl or that girl.'"
To fuel even more interest, Cohen said a youth skills competition has been added this year.
Players in 10-and-under, 12-and-under and 14-and-under age divisions will compete in the 40-yard dash, bat speed, overhand arm speed and pitching speed competitions from 4:30-5:30 p.m.
The winners of the bat speed and overhand arm speed competitions will throw out the ceremonial first pitches before the games.
"We're hoping with the skills contest we bring in more people to watch the games," Cohen said. "I'd like to have 200 (girls in skills competition), but if we get 20, I'd like to get 40 next year. And, open up this venue to the people younger than participants. And trust me, these travel team coaches will be looking at that speed to see who has a live arm or not.''
Cohen said the 16-and-under game draws a lot of college coaches looking for potential recruits.
The senior game will feature players who have already committed to a college.
"One hundred percent of our past participants in senior girls have all gone on to play college softball," Cohen said.
Admission to the event is $5 for adults, $2 for students. All proceeds will fund umpire education.
"We have used this as a vehicle to send umpires to umpire schools, to pay for hotels, to pay for travel expenses," Cohen said. "When I started umpiring seven or eight years ago, we really had three umpires doing college softball at an extremely high level -- Big Ten, Big Twelve, SEC. We now are up to a dozen. We are really reaching out to find younger umpires, and we are working to get them well-trained.''
Parking is available in the SLU garage.