TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It is hard not to compare the USSSA Pride's Kelly Kretschman to a bottle of fine wine. It may sound like a cliche to say she is getting better with age, but the proof is in the hardware she collected at the 2016 National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series Awards Banquet on Thursday night.
At 37, she is the oldest player in the league and still walked away with the following individual awards:
• All-NPF Team outfield selection
• Home Run Champion
• Offensive Player of the Year
• Player of the Year
At one point during the ceremony, NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf said to Kretschman, "Why don't you sit right there!" pointing to the table in front of the awards. "She is winning everything in the league and walks up like she's 100 years old."
There was a noticeable limp in Kretschman's stride, but whatever the injury may be, it did not stop this 5-foot-6 repeat Player of the Year from the first Triple Crown season in the NPF history. A two-time Olympic medalist -- gold in Athens (2004) and silver in Beijing (2008) -- Kretschman finished with a .466 batting average, 13 home runs and 45 RBIs. She also finished the season with league-leading marks in runs (42), hits (62) and second in doubles and walks in 48 games.
"It's hard for me to talk about the individual awards," Kretschman said. "Winning as a team is more important to me. My teammates are everything and we still have the frustration of losing last year. That is the only thing on our minds."
Kretschman leads the top-seeded Pride (37-13) into the 2016 NPF Championship Series semifinals Friday at 9 p.m. ET against the No. 4 Akron Racers (22-28) at University of Alabama's Rhoads Stadium. A four-time All-American with the Crimson Tide from 1998-2001, she returns home to avenge last year's loss to the Chicago Bandits.
"Winning in Tuscaloosa would be everything," Kretschman said.
Known as KK to her teammates and peers, Kretschman said she is a student of the game in explaining her success at her comparatively advanced age.
"I have made a couple of adjustments over the years," Kretschman said. "I try to keep myself in great shape. I lift, I workout and eat right. I have gotten smarter, understanding counts and patterns."
Who can argue?
NPF Championship Series begins Friday
The University of Alabama and the City of Tuscaloosa know all about throwing a championship party. They get the chance to do it again when the 2016 NPF Championship Series begins Friday at Alabama's Rhoads Stadium.
Professional softball's premier event begins at 6 p.m. with Game 1 of two best-of-three semifinal series between No. 2 Scrap Yard Dawgs (29-19) vs. No. 3 Chicago Bandits (23-25), followed by No. 1 USSSA Pride (37-13) vs. No. 4 Akron Racers (22-28) at 9 p.m. The games will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
The Scrap Yard Dawgs (Dallas) are led by Monica Abbott, the 2016 Pitcher of the Year, and the first woman to sign a million-dollar contract. She comes into the postseason with an 18-1 record, 0.72 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings pitched.
Andrews wins first female Gold Glove
Akron Racers outfielder A.J. Andrews became the first female to win the prestigious Rawlings Gold Glove Award. Andrews garnered national attention for more than one catch this season. Her highlights appeared on MLB Network, MLB.com and ESPN among others.
"I am astonished, honestly. I was so nervous when they called my name. I didn't think it was real." Andrews said. "If a ball is in the air, if I could get near it, I am going to go hard for it. It's really cool to get acknowledged for it."
"We're thrilled to partner with the National Pro Fastpitch League to celebrate and recognize defense with the introduction of the renowned Rawlings Gold Glove Award," said Mike Thompson, executive vice president of marketing at Rawlings. "As we reestablish the Rawlings brand in softball, it makes perfect sense to reward female athletes for their exceptional fielding ability and prowess."
Hall of Fame words of encouragement
New Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. made an appearance at the NPF Awards Banquet, spending time with the players and coaching staffs before the festivities began.
"This is truly an honor for you, and also for me to be here," Griffey said. "Having a girl that plays sports, I know how difficult it is for you always to be compared to the boys. You do a hell of a job. Take your hats off to yourselves. It is important for you girls to keep playing and to keep believing."
Jim Jenks is an executive producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.