Mark Allister’s introduction to fastpitch softball came at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in Minneapolis.
His niece is Jessica Allister, the coach responsible for building the University of Minnesota program into a top-10 program in the 2010s. She’s now coaching at her alma mater, Stanford.
He began going to games to watch her coach, and the rest was history.
It was a quick initation.
“The speed, the athletes in it, they’re so admirable. The way you can get so close to the game. It’s not like being in a big major league ballpark where it feels like it’s unfolding away you from and you’re just watching from a distance,” Mark Allister said. “I liked all those things about it and I thought someone ought to write a book on softball because I’m sure there have been 10,000 books written on baseball and very few on softball. I think I probably said that for a few months then I thought maybe I ought to write the book. Then it was the question of what kind of book do I want to write.”
That book is “Women’s College Softball on the Rise: A Season Inside the Game”. It was released late March 2019 and he will be holding an author event 7 p.m. June 20 at Content Bookstore in Northfield. The event features a Q&A session and the opportunity to talk with Allister individually.
Allister, a Professor of English, Environmental Studies and American Studies at St. Olaf, opted to hone in on the 2018 NCAA softball season. He intertwined issues and topics within the game with the narrative arc of the 2018 season.
He did some pre-writing before the season began and from there worked feverishly to write and keep up with the season in real time.
“I knew that was going to be the narrative arc, then I thought OK, now I’ve got to try to explain softball for people that don’t really know the game well. Or people who know but they’re curious about let’s say the changes in rules or the changes in hitting instruction and technology,” Allister said. “So there were softball issues I wanted to attach to that narrative. Softball issues, title IX, issues of gender, those kinds of matter. A good arc of the season and using moments in that arc to bring up these cultural issues. Do it in a way the book would be informative. I call it sometimes my professorial book meaning I’m still explaining things and I’m trying to give information, but there’s a narrative involved.”
Allister saw softball as a microcosm of the empowering nature of women’s athletics.
“One of my big points in the book is that women’s sports are very compelling,” Allister said. “What is happening, it’s not just about the sport. It’s not just about the winning and losing. It feels like there’s a lot more at stake. In part, because there aren’t professional teams. There isn’t a tremendous amount of media coverage and so forth. What female athletes do is just really great, and they’re challenging the social construction of femininity that can sometimes holds them back. So I think that these athletes being competitive, being aggressive, working on their bodies and mastering skills really helps them in their lives beyond when they’re playing sports.”
Allister’s work includes “Chasing the Light: The Cloud Cult Story” on indie rock band Cloud Cult, is a contributing writer to PopMatters and hosts a weekly radio show “Prof Rock with Mark Allister.” His scholarly work includes writing “Refiguring the Map of Sorrow: Nature Writing and Autobiography” and editing “Eco-Man: New Perspectives on Masculinity and Nature,” a collection of essays.