Monica Abbott draws comparisons to Nolan Ryan

Softball flamethrower signs unprecedented million-dollar contract

Monica Abbott draws comparisons to Nolan Ryan

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for National Pro Fastpitch ace Monica Abbott. In early April, she was a free agent approaching the upcoming NPF season without a team. Now, 37 years after Nolan Ryan signed MLB's first million-dollar deal, the 30-year-old California native and former USA Olympic team standout inked one of her own, a breakthrough moment for women's team sports.

"It's unprecedented money in female athletics across the board," Abbott said Friday from Japan.

In addition to playing National Pro Fastpitch for eight seasons beginning in 2007, Abbott has also played for Team Toyota in the Japanese Softball League since '09.

"The Scrap Yard Dawgs reached out to me and spoke to me about Nolan Ryan," said Abbott. "They said, 'We don't know when that contract is going to happen for women's softball, but we feel like the only player in the game right now that could possibly bridge that gap would be you.' I was in shock. When that happened, I laughed at first and thought, 'There's no way they are serious.' The timing just happened to be right."

While Abbott may have been in the right place at the right time, the Scrap Yard Dawgs -- a Houston-area NPF expansion team that will play its first season in 2016 -- are getting a player with an impressive pedigree. The 6-foot-3 southpaw set a record for the fastest pitch (77 mph) ever recorded in National Pro Fastpitch and authored a perfect game in the 2008 Olympics against the Netherlands, one of three in her post-college career. While at the University of Tennessee, she pitched six perfect games. Ryan accumulated seven no-hitters in his Hall of Fame career, but never a perfect game.

"That's unreal," Abbott said of the comparisons she's elicited to Ryan. "He's one of the greatest of all time. The original flamethrower. He's a Texas guy. I think that gave inspiration to the Scrap Yard Dawgs. They watched him when he was with Houston."

"What you're seeing from the Scrap Yard group is a very large statement that they believe in the sport and its potential," said Cheri Kempf, the commissioner of National Pro Fastpitch since 2007, which was also Abbott's rookie season. "They've made a commitment to backing that belief.

"In women's professional sports, you're always looking for recognition. For this to be the reason, it's a celebration. Monica has been very up front about wanting to really embrace the role that she's been given to break through some of the barriers that we face."

And it's a role that she'll assume through at least 2021, her age-36 season, when the contract with the Scrap Yard Dawgs expires.

"I feel such a duty and responsibility to my sport," said Abbott. "This type of offer I hope will create such an opportunity and such a platform for female athletes.

"I'm happy to carry this torch."

Allison Duffy-Davis is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.