National Pro Fastpitch -- formerly known as Women's Pro Softball League -- has entered into a partnership with Major League Baseball, it was announced Thursday. The announcement of the partnership, as well as the announcement of the name change, took place during a press conference at Major League Baseball headquarters in New York City.

The press conference included remarks from Major League Baseball Executive Vice President for Administration John McHale and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who was in attendance at Major League Baseball meetings in San Antonio, Texas, and spoke via videotape.

The partnership is part of the Major League Baseball "Commissioner's Initiative on Women and Baseball," a league-wide initiative developed by Selig in 2000 "to grow baseballÕs fan base of women and families."

"Major League Baseball is very proud of our new relationship with National Pro Fastpitch," said Selig. "By partnering with National Pro Fastpitch, Major League Baseball is tapping into a large base of female athletes and fans. Our partnership with National Pro Fastpitch brings an exciting new dimension to our womenÕs initiative."

Those involved with the NPF says the announcement of the partnership with Major League Baseball gives the NPF a new level of credibility, evidenced by the press conference being held at Major League Baseball headquarters and the announcement being the lead story that day on

"We feel very honored to be embraced by Major League Baseball right here at their national headquarters," said Levine. "We couldnÕt have imagined a more impressive and warm welcome to be included on the agendas of Commissioner Bud Selig, Executive Vice President John McHale and the public relations staff. It just feels great."

The announcement was met with excitement by the NPF veterans in attendance, Julie Smith and Julie Crandall. Smith was also a speaker at the press conference.

"Before I went up to do my speech, I started getting a nervous excitement, like before a big game," said Smith. "This is a reality. Major League Baseball is recognizing that women's softball is here and they see this as an important part of their initiative."

"Piggybacking with Major League Baseball will give us a lot of media attention we deserve, but didn't get before," said Crandall. "And I can't wait to play. I want to throw my cleats on again."

The NPF is still planning to conduct a tour in the summer of 2003 and then resume league play in 2004.

Along with the announcement of the partnership with Major League Baseball, Levine announced the league's new name, and explained the reasons for eliminating two words in the title: "women" and "soft."

"We removed the name 'softball' because there's nothing soft about the sport," said Levine. "We're also pleased to remove the word 'women' from the title of the league. When we talk about fastpitch, it's clearly identified with women. There's no need to distinguish ourselves from another league. We felt we could use National Pro Fastpitch without using word 'women.'"

Levine says the partnership with Major League Baseball was the first Ñ and biggest Ñ step in the relaunching of the league.

"I feel that what we've done here today is historic and transformative," said Levine. "It gives the league a place to grow from that is entirely different from any base that weÕve had before. It puts our league squarely within the mainstream of professional sports and it's very gratifying."

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