For most female athletes, the ending is all too familiar: Play four years of college ball and when it’s over get a job.
Melissa Dowling decided to take a different route. It took her more than half way around the world, but the Lakewood Ranch graduate avoided the one thing she dreaded — a 9 to 5 position.
About six months after her graduation from Jacksonville State (Ala.), Dowling hopped on a plane, flew to Italy and reached her dream when she signed a contract to play professional softball.
“I wake up some mornings and can’t believe I am playing the sport I love in another country and getting paid,” Dowling said through email. “It’s great to be playing again. After college, most girls think their careers are over.”
Dowling is playing for La Loggia, a small town about 10 miles outside of Torino. It is in a nine team league that is the highest division of Italian professional softball. Only the four foreigners on her 16 player squad get paid. Individual salaries vary, but they all receive additional money for housing, utilities, gym usage and a car, and bonuses for hitting homers and getting strikeouts.
The pay and benefits are icing on the cake for Dowling, whose only disappointment is that she is not pitching, which was her forte in high school and college. She won 20 games as a junior at JSU and was an All Ohio Valley Conference selection.
“Our top pitcher (Kelly Hardie) has so much experience in the league and softball in general,” Dowling said. “We always play double-headers and only Italians are allowed to pitch in the opener so that limits the opportunities. But Kelly is just pitching so well.”
Besides adjusting to a new language in a new country with so many cultural differences, Dowling has also had to change her ways as a player.
In college, she was strictly a pitcher. Now she plays third base and is batting in every game. It’s one reason she has been struggling a little with 10 hits in her first 36 at-bats.
“I am disappointed in my hitting, but I keep reminding myself that it’s been four years since I have seen live pitching,” Dowling said. “In my entire college career, I had one at-bat. To get back to hitting the way I can, I just need more at-bats. It really has nothing to do with the pitching being good or bad. I just need more repetitions.”
Adjusting to a coach who speaks a different language has also been a task for Dowling. It created uneasy moments that are still sometimes difficult, but the 23 year-old doesn’t let it stress at her out so much as in the beginning.
“It’s tough at times because it’s hard to read her and whether she is happy about how I am performing,” Dowling said. “As the season has gone along I have picked up on Italian sayings, and I can read her body language better. I listen for certain words and try to put the pieces together.”
In her first at-bat, Dowling had a strike called on her when she stepped out of the batter’s box not knowing that was against the rules. She uses the internet to watch American TV programs and movies and has mastered enough of the language to point to her favorite foods on a menu when she dines out.
Dowling’s path to Italy began her freshman season at Manatee Community College when she became good friends with teammate, Stella Turazzi, who was recruited from Italy by then head coach Jeff Roberts.
“After college, I wasn’t ready to stop playing, and I sent her a message. She set things up with the coaches, and in February I was off to Italy,” Dowling said. “I am not going to say the competition is better than or not as good as college. It’s just different. Our pitcher played in two Olympics with her Australian national team and our shortstop played in the World Softball Championships. A lot of players in our league have played Division I college in the United States or professionally.
“I would love to keep playing as long as my body allows me. It also depends on whether the team will have me back. I love the passion here from the fans and players. La Loggia is a very small town and a lot of people know us.”