NPF's Quiocho unlikely franchise player

Graham Hays/espnW

Angeline Quiocho, left, and the Pennsylvania Rebellion are in last place, but she says it's the most stable ownership that the troubled and itinerant NPF franchise has had.

Angeline Quiocho may be the unlikeliest franchise player in professional sports.

For National Pro Fastpitch, softball's four-team professional circuit, she is nonetheless one of the most indispensable.

Now in her fifth professional season, Quiocho isn't the sort of franchise player who is going to be the centerpiece of a championship. That isn't to say she can't play. A former NCAA home run champion who led Division I in home runs per game as a senior at BYU, she still has plenty of power. She is also a defensive asset who is able to play multiple positions. But she is also hovering around the Mendoza Line at the plate this season for a team in last place and losing sight of those above them in the standings.

Bill Diehm/Courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch

Angeline Quiocho hits for power and plays top-notch defense, but her contribution to team chemistry sets her apart.

What makes Quiocho as much a part of the fabric of the league as higher-profile peers is a willingness to keep smiling and an ability to keep others doing the same through circumstances that would make a skeptic out of a saint. In that regard, she is no less rare than Cat Osterman or Monica Abbott. It just isn't her burden to lift a franchise, but instead to keep it from falling.

In the past five seasons, Quiocho has played for the Tennessee Diamonds, NPF Diamonds, Carolina Diamonds, New York-New Jersey Comets and now the Pennsylvania Rebellion. In the process, she has played home games in more than half a dozen stadiums. She played a season that consisted entirely of road games. She has worn more uniforms than any other player in the league. Yet she isn't the journeyman in this story. The franchise itself is.

Quiocho is the only player to spend each of the past five seasons with NPF's problem child, the league's unstable fourth franchise that chewed through homes and owners and tested patience. She is the sole survivor, if you will.

She never changes teams. They just keep changing around her.

"She brings an enthusiasm and love for the game that you want veterans to have," said USSSA Pride ace Osterman, one on a long list of competitors and teammates alike who call Quiocho a friend. "For her to stay in the league just is a testament to the fact that she knows that's important. She's just as important to this league because if she's not on that fourth team every year, who knows what the environment really is like over there if she's not there because she brings that positivity."

It is fortunate, then, that someone in the league knew about Quiocho in the late spring of 2010 because she didn't know anything about it. Still processing the disappointment of BYU's NCAA tournament super regional loss against Arizona, Quiocho thought her softball career had ended when she flied out to end the decisive game in Tucson. That wasn't an easy concept around which to wrap a mind that had been fascinated by hitting since the day years earlier when coaches first took away the tee and started throwing pitches.

"I fell in love with even trying to hit the ball from that far away, with it coming at me instead of it being stationary," Quiocho said.

The college season finished, and presumably a career with it, she figured she would go home to California and find a summer job. Some friends worked at Disneyland, so the theme park seemed like a likely option. She was, after all, a natural entertainer, be it the Polynesian dances passed down as part of her heritage or the hip-hop moves she and her sisters imitated and recorded. But as the real world beckoned, her college coach told her about a team in Tennessee that was interested in the player who hit .403 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs as a senior.

Quiocho still didn't know much about the league, or even who her teammates would be, but it was a summer job with a paycheck and a plane ticket. And it involved playing softball.

Born out of the remnants of the Rockford Thunder, who won the NPF title in 2009 but were unable to continue operations the following season, the Tennessee Diamonds set an early tone for the meandering to come. Originally supposed to play in the Knoxville area, complete with former University of Tennessee star Abbott, the team ended up playing that season in Nashville under league control after the original owners failed to meet financial obligations.

Still under league control the following season, the Diamonds became a traveling team. Nominally based in Florida, they played games stretching from Alberta to Texas to North Carolina. An outside ownership group stepped forward in 2012 and moved the team to North Carolina, splitting games among several cities in the state, but was unable to continue for a second season. The same routine played out one summer ago, with home games spread around New Jersey and New York.

For the players who stuck around through even parts of the run, like a version of "Groundhog Day" without the laughs, each season brought the frustrations of playing through the same growing pains of travel, training, coaching and a dozen other logistical details that trip up teams starting from scratch.

"There's a lot of promises, and you hear their vision and it sounds great and you're all-in," said Amanda Kamekona, who joined the Pride this season after playing the past two seasons with the Diamonds/Comets. "And then when you actually have to go through it, it doesn't really pan out the way it was portrayed to you at the beginning of summer. Going through even two seasons of that was kind of rough."

Not to mention the emotional toll of feeling responsible for a franchise.

"We felt like orphans," Quiocho said. "We finally got a home [in North Carolina]; we wanted them to keep us. We wanted them to believe in the league."

Wins and losses had little to do with their fate. Ownership groups in Tennessee, North Carolina and New Jersey that lasted a combined total of two seasons were not healthy enough to succeed or fail based on results. It wouldn't have mattered if any of those teams had an Osterman. It did matter, at least to those going through it, that each team had Quiocho.

People tend not to just meet Quiocho and move on. They stick. All Osterman knew about her when the two squared off for the first time in 2010 was that the rookie had a reputation as a power hitter and wore the No. 8 jersey that had belonged to the pitcher when she led Rockford to the title the previous season. Now there isn't a week that goes by in the offseason when they don't talk at least once, and usually more often than that.

"She's genuine about how she approaches life, and it's infectious," Osterman said. "You can't help but smile and kind of adopt the same philosophy when you're around her."

Graham Hays/espnW

Angeline Quiocho scores a run for last year's version of the franchise, the New York-New Jersey Comets.

Kamekona likewise didn't know Quiocho until the two played together the past two summers. Now she relies on Quiocho for more than guitar and ukulele work on Kamekona's playlist. The head coach at Division II Brevard College in North Carolina, Kamekona hired her former teammate to be her assistant coach beginning this fall.

"She kind of is that person that is the glue to the team," Kamekona said. "She's very talented on the field. She can hit; she plays great defense. But I think one of the things people take for granted as far as what makes a team very successful is the team chemistry. Q brings a lot of intangibles, whether it's keeping you relaxed before a game or just making you feel comfortable on our road trips. I think my favorite time is when we take the bus everywhere; Q brings her ukulele and just sings. We just kind of hang out and bond. She's not afraid to be herself."

The Comets became the Rebellion over the winter and relocated, one more time, to Washington, Pennsylvania, where they share a stadium and ownership with the Washington Wild Things baseball team of the independent Frontier League. For all her optimism and all the pleasure she still derived from softball, Quiocho wasn't sure she was ready to deal with a fifth season of change. When the Rebellion reached out to her, she told them she was skeptical about committing, that she had heard the sales pitch too many times about why this time would be different.

"She was very good at always putting a spin on it -- that it's not that big a deal, that they still get to play softball," Osterman said. "And it's great and it's good to have that positivity, but at the same time you don't want them to worry about what bus they're taking on an eight-hour trip, or if they have rental cars, or what they're having to do when they get to certain towns and it being kind of up in the air instead of solidified."

New owner Stuart Williams, who has vastly more experience running a professional sports team on a limited budget than his predecessors, continued to recruit her. She was needed. She no longer breaks out the Beyonce-inspired dance routines that made her a cult favorite early in her career, at least not with the same regularity, but she remains the kind of figure who connects with fans, in addition to still connecting with her share of pitches.

A few days before players were to report, she relented. Skepticism is not her strong suit.

"He proved me wrong," Quiocho said of Williams. "Everything was taken care of. This is our best season so far with an owner who has come through with promises and who has taken care of us beyond what I thought was possible for this league."

That hope springs eternal is essentially the operating principle of NPF. Hope has certainly been in greater and more reliable supply than revenue. Maybe the early positive returns will prove true. Maybe the Rebellion will make it work. What the league could be remains the motivation for many in the present.

"I think that's why I came back for a second season, third season, fourth season, and now I'm here again," Quiocho said.

And it's why she has the blessing of her new boss at Brevard College to come back again next summer.

"With her saying that, I'm looking forward to another year, if asked back," Quiocho said. "If not, it's not going to be the biggest heartbreak. Maybe it's time to hang them up. But I'm just going to keep going until someone says no or my body says no, either one."

She has earned the right to invite herself back. She is the face of a franchise the league has struggled to keep but cannot survive without. And still it remains a smiling face.

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