About 300 fans and Florida State’s Marching Chiefs greeted the softball team upon its return to Tallahassee on Friday afternoon. Coach Lonni Alameda has helped build a connection to the community and it was on display as they welcomed the Seminoles back with open arms, extending smiles and hugs while players signed autographs and took photos with young girls and boys as well as fans of all ages.
FSU’s team charter arrived just after 12:20 p.m. and was welcomed by a pair of Tallahassee Fire Department trucks, which unleashed water canons over the plane as it turned toward the fans. As Alameda stepped off the plane, fans cheered, the Chiefs played “Happy Birthday” and everyone sang to the now 51-year-old coach.
“Family being a core value and it’s extended to the community and Florida State, Tallahassee and social media, it’s such a cool feeling,” Alameda said. “We definitely want to have fun, love for the program, love for the players. You can feel it with everything and everyone around us. It’s what makes Florida State special, just college towns in general, you get this connection with the people.”
Alameda and the players saw so many familiar faces, fans who cheered them on at JoAnne Graf Field during the 2021 season and then followed on TV as the Seminoles swept LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional before making their run at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. But she reinforced the fans are people who have been around the program for years and have built a long-lasting relationship.
“Our kids are so lucky to have moms, dads, aunts, uncles, so many people care about them here when their families are away,” Alameda said. “They could feel it coming off the plane today. They know everyone. It’s not (just) fans. We know personally people’s names, and they come to our games, and they’ve been around us. So it’s definitely an extended family and a really cool, special feeling.”
Softball is seeing rapid growth, with ratings surpassing 2 million fans watching FSU vs. Oklahoma in game 2 on Wednesday. More seats were installed as part of an upper deck in OKC to accommodate bigger crowds. FSU fans pack Graf Field, which has an official capacity of 1,000 but fans also set up in the berm beyond the left-field wall and up in the parking garage across Spirit Way. For much of 2021, capacity was limited to just 25 percent but the NCAA opened up for full attendance ahead NCAA regionals. Fans flooded back to the ballpark at FSU, enjoying the warmer weather and the sport they have embraced as well as the Seminoles’ three regional wins.
“The game of softball right now is fan friendly, It’s exciting, it’s athletic,” Alameda said. “I heard a lot of people talking about the strategies … These players, strong, inspirational young women right now that are inspiring young girls. And that’s the bottom line of what we’re trying to do through the game of softball.”
FSU had a core of veteran players who led the team in 2021, including super seniors who returned to lead and take on major roles. But the experience of OKC is crucial for the development of young players who now know how to face the challenges of a season as well as face the postseason pressure.
“When you start preaching, talking, educating on all the things that you want in the end of the season, and to actually live through it and see how much culture is a part of it, how much the love for your teammates is a part of it and then obviously the softball skills are a part of it,” Alameda said. “I think that they’ve lived that now. They’ve seen it. So now when you start speaking that in September, it holds a lot more weight. And it’s not just this as a coaching staff. It’s all the returning players. I think Kaley Mudge, she had a tremendous run in the World Series. And she’s always wanted to play on that stage. But it didn’t just show up there. She’s put the time in. And so she can speak to how much time she’s putting in to be able to be comfortable, and then let her skills play at the highest level.”
Alameda said the 2021 team will be known for its fight and also how it adapted through struggles and learned to “never give up. You don’t know when the secret sauces are coming together, something is going to blend and it’s going to be special.” Below is a video of the media’s interview with Alameda as well as photos of fans connecting with players: