The desperation to reduce strikeouts and get more balls in play has reached a point that Major League Baseball has a deal with the independent Atlantic League to move back the pitcher's mound a foot, to 61 feet, 6 inches, starting in early August.
There's a possibility this will cause more wild pitches on sliders in the dirt than cut into strikeouts, but there's also an example where moving back the pitchers did wonders to improve competition.
The pitching rubber on the flat ground of the circle was moved back from 40 feet to 43 feet in scholastic and college softball in 2011. Suddenly, fast-pitch became a contest with a degree of hitting rather than one where runs were more precious than soccer goals.
You could go four innings without seeing a one-out sacrifice bunt — an enormous improvement.
I signed up to cover the Gophers' surprise run to the Women's College World Series in May 2019 in Oklahoma City. It was outstanding for the fast pace, athletic excellence and Leo's BBQ down the street.
The Gophers went out to eventual champion UCLA (and the great Rachel Garcia) and Washington in double-elimination.
Two years later, coach Jamie Trachsel has gone off to Ole Miss, but a collection of juniors from that World Series lineup — infielders MaKenna Partain and Katelyn Kemmetmueller, outfielder Carlie Brandt (now the shortstop), and ace pitcher Amber Fiser — remain key components for a Gophers' team currently 25-7 and in second place in this spring's all-Big Ten race.
There's no Big Ten tournament, so the Gophers' clear entry into the 64-team NCAA bracket will be to remain in the top three in the standings.
"Honestly, it does feel like a second chance for me, to compete with these team leaders, after missing out on our World Series," Ellee Jensen said.
The 2019 Gophers became a story in the Twin Cities media when hosting and winning three straight in a regional, then following with two home wins over LSU in a super regional to gain the trip to OKC.
There were frequent mentions during the regionals that this accomplishment was taking place minus Jensen, an outfielder and a lefthanded, top-of-order hitter, who had hit a team-leading .401 as a freshman in 2018.
Jensen was an outstanding two-sport athlete in Watertown, Wis., as a setter in volleyball and a pitcher and infielder in softball. She did this while experiencing episodes of shin splints.
"There wasn't an offseason with two sports, and then summer softball, so I rolled with it," Jensen said Tuesday. "It wasn't really until my second season here that it got bad and we found out I had a bone problem. Unfortunately for me, that was our World Series season."
Jensen played in 13 games in 2019. The pain in her legs was such that she couldn't sleep. In mid-March, it was decided to write off 2019 as a redshirt season because of "stress fractures."
The leg problem remained in 2020, when she played in only four of the Gophers' 25 games before the pandemic ended the season.
She was ready for a return when indoor practice started this past January. And then she dived for a ball and broke a wrist. "I dived 10 times for catches that day," Jensen said. "One didn't turn out well."
There was wrist surgery, and a slow start to a season that began with a festival of Big Ten games in late February in Leesburg, Fla.
Athletic talent is a family trait for Jensen. Father Tim (baseball) and mother Teresa (volleyball and basketball) are both in the athletic Hall of Fame at Mount Marty University in Yankton, S.D.
Fiser, a first-team All-America pitcher in 2019, is a roommate with Jensen and Macy Gill, a softball senior and Jensen's closest friend.
"Ellee brings light to this team," Fiser said. "Every time she shows up, she has a smile and it's contagious."
Piper Ritter, the longtime Gophers pitching coach, was named as Trachsel's replacement last May. The choice was popular with carry-overs.
"Piper's funny and she loves to win," Ellee said. "That's the perfect combination."
Jensen could outdo this season's super seniors by being a super-duper senior. Ellee has both the redshirt season of 2019 and a pandemic do-over from 2020 available to her.
"I'm graduating in May in elementary education and I could be a sophomore in eligibility," she said. "I'm set for grad school to pursue a master's in education. The plan now is to play softball next spring."
And what would Ritter say if Jensen chose to exhaust her eligibility and return in 2023?
"Ellee Jensen is a wonderful athlete with the biggest heart for softball," Ritter said. "… Ellee never lets a situation or an outcome get her down."
She's proven that by being back for this second chance to make a run with Fiser, Partain, Kemmetmueller, Brandt and company.