Sammy Marshall is literally living the dream.
Born in Winfield, Ill. and raised in Naperville, Ill., Marshall – like a lot of other 12-year-olds – had a dream of someday growing up and getting the chance to play for her hometown team. Last year, that dream became a reality when the Bandits selected her with the 18th overall selection in the 2015 National Pro Fastpitch Draft.
Marshall has quickly become one of the new faces of the Bandits franchise – and leads a talented group of athletes who have integral tie-ins to the Chicago community.
For Marshall, it’s personal.
“Growing up in the Chicagoland area, I watched the Chicago Bandits when I was young – and at 12 years old, I was watching Vicky Galindo and Jennie Finch and all those huge names,” said Marshall, who attended Naperville North High School and Western Illinois University. “Being a prospect who could be drafted was special enough, but then to actually hear my name on TV … I’m still having a hard time putting words to it, because of how special and how monumental that moment was. It just really solidified all the hard work and everything I did that put me in the position where I am now. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was one of the greatest days of my life – if not the best day of my life. I am so happy to be a Chicago Bandit.
“This is what I get to do now. I get to wear a Chicago Bandits jersey. I get to be the one everyone else looks up to. I get to be the one that the girls want autographs from – instead of being on the opposite side. I was the one handing the ball to all of those girls when I watched them play when I was growing up. So to be on the other side of that … it’s humbling, it’s exciting, it’s emotions that I can’t even put into words.”
Marshall is one of eight Bandits with plenty of reasons to call Chicago home. Others who have spent significant time in the area include:
Marshall is truly a year-round Bandit. During the off-season, she worked in the club’s front office as the coordinator of high school events and affiliates – and spent most of her time running camps and clinics for area softball teams and organizations.
“I did a whole bunch of different things,” she said. “All the high school events that were put on here, I helped run those. Collect money … do all the odds-and-ends stuff … find teams. Our affiliate program – the travel ball organizations that are affiliated with the Bandits – I put on camps and clinics. I ran their practices. I made appearances. It’s so important to get people into the stands, and to build our brand, and to build our organization. In addition to that, I was a high school coach at Wheaton Academy for their softball program. So I was all local and I loved every second of it.
“When you’re in college, you don’t realize the impact you have on the community. But here with the Bandits, all of the things you can do … it’s just as important as what you do on the field. So going out there and spending time with the kids and doing those clinics … and being the lead instructor and having them look up to you and asking you questions and being excited to get your autograph – that was a new experience for me. The most rewarding thing of the off-season was working with the kids and seeing their faces light up when they saw us in our Chicago Bandits uniforms.”
Marshall said she still keeps in contact with her head coach from Naperville North, Jerry Kedziora – and recently had her Bandits jersey (#10) added to the school’s Huskies in the Pros display in a ceremony commemorating the professional athletes who have come through that high school. Because she went to a local college, a lot of classmates that she went to school with live in the Chicago area – and “they’re always at games and always coming by to say Hi. The local ties are awesome,” she said. “Just to have that home base, that home community, that hometown feeling of representing my city – that’s something awesome.”
And, of course, it’s always nice when your parents live about a half hour away from the ballpark.
“I think they bought their season tickets within 20 minutes of me getting drafted. They’re at every home game,” Marshall said.
While Marshall is an area native, Gascoigne has become a year-round resident thanks to her coaching position at Northwestern.
Gascoigne initially arrived in Chicago back in 2013 – after being selected with the seventh overall pick in the NPF draft. The California-native came to the Bandits after a stellar college career at the University of Oklahoma, combining with current USSSA Pride hurler Keilani Ricketts in leading the Sooners to the Women's College World Series title. In the championship game, Gascoigne threw a three-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory over Tennessee.
After spending two softball seasons with the Bandits – and two school years as a graduate assistant with her alma mater – the Northwestern position opened up late last summer.
“I think that coaching makes me a better pitcher, and I think that pitching makes me a better coach. I appreciate both sides. They go hand in hand,” Gascoigne said. “I wanted to coach … that’s what I’ve wanted to do for a while now.
“The opportunity to stay in Chicago opened up. It wasn’t something where I was only going to take a coaching job if it was in Chicago, but it was something I hoped would work out. And it turned out perfect. I’m really happy about that.
Gascoigne spent her first Chicago winter surrounded by “a lot of Cats” – with Blank on the Northwestern coaching staff, Filler on the Wildcats roster and Allard in town. She also talked about being close in proximity to the Bandits hierarchy – owner Bill Sokolis, general manager Aaron M. Moore and head coach Mike Steuerwald.
“It’s been great. I’ve heard we had a pretty mild winter … that’s what they tell me, at least. I really like the area. I feel comfortable here after three seasons, so it wasn’t too much of an adjustment,” Gascoigne said.
“I think that we are pretty lucky to play here. We have great fans and we have great support. Our coaches are here year-round. Aaron’s here. Bill’s here. We even got together this year for a little Christmas party. It was like a family Christmas party with all the Bandits who were here. It just feels like home and it feels like family. I think that’s because our management makes us feel like we’re at home no matter where we’re from. So I think it’s in the back of our heads to stay here.”
Nearly 40% of parents of girls report their daughters being inspired to take up a sport after watching professionals in action.
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