The Akron Racers are the oldest team in the league currently known as National Pro Fastpitch. Seeing many, many teams come and go in their time as a professional team, the Racers’ staying power is rooted in a specific culture. A gritty, never-say-die attitude, embraced and embodied by every player who walks through the gates at Firestone Stadium.
Feature-length documentary “Burn the Ships” directed by Danielle Miller and Julia Thorndike of Think Media Studios brings that mentality to the big screen, and displays the many hardships that this team and this league have had to endure. The film, following a year in the life of the Akron Racers during their 2015 season, premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival in March to three separate sold out showings.
The reaction and feedback that the film received was incredible, leading to Miller and Thorndike receiving the ReelWomenDirect Award for Excellence in Directing by a Woman. The film is currently available for pre-order on iTunes, and is expected to be released on August 1st. Racers third baseman and senior member of the team, Kelley Montalvo, is the person primarily featured in the film, and she was blown away upon seeing the finished product.
“It was amazing to see a project that I spent so much time doing, and all the hard work of Danielle and Julia come together to tell such an inspirational story. It was everything I could have expected and wanted.”
The movie left such an impression on Racers outfielder Jenny Gilbert that she wanted to do something extra special for the team. In the film, Akron General Manager Joey Arrietta says, “we play for a different reason.” Kelley says that they do what they do for Joey. Jenny really took that to heart, and wanted something to remind herself and her teammates of that message.
“Jenny Gilbert took it upon herself to go and buy these for everybody,” Racers second baseman Ashley Thomas explained while showing off her new wristband. “On one side it says ‘AKRON RACERS’ and on one side it says ‘WE PLAY FOR HER’. We already appreciated Joey so much, but the movie really shows you how much Joey loves this team and loves this league. And we wanted to show how much we love Joey.”
“I just wanted a reminder, because I know a lot of us wear wristbands when we play,” Gilbert said about her creative idea. “I wanted to have a message there saying, ‘Remember who we play for. Not just the Racers, but we play for her.’ We play not just for each other, but we play for her. She is the heartbeat of this organization. She’s the heartbeat of the league.”
Joey truly is the center of all things Racers, and is one of the hardest workers you will ever meet. She loves her players, she loves this organization, she loves this sport, and that is very evident in everything she does. Her dedication, commitment, and passion is impossible to match, and is the key to the Racers longevity here in Akron.
“I love these wristbands because they remind us what the Racers are all about,” said Montalvo. “Everything we do, we do for her. Joey is amazing. She works so hard, and does so much for everyone else, that it’s only right that we show our appreciation and work equally as hard for her.”
Watching “Burn the Ships” as a team the night before the Racers’ home opener really opened the eyes of the players, and inspired them to give their all on the field for Joey.
Third year outfielder Shellie Robinson said, “Seeing Joey, and the effort and emotion that she puts in just shows how great of a person she is.”
Rookie Maddy Grimm added, “It’s really cool for other people to be able to see how much Joey sacrifices for us.”
“Joey has truly done so much for the Racers, and I’m blessed to be a part of it,” remarked second year catcher Hannah Day.
Joey has certainly touched the hearts of each and every person that has come to know her. Every player truly loves and appreciates Joey and everything she does. If they ever need a reminder of why they are out there on that field, they can just look down at their wrist.
“We do play for each other, but we also play for the person who has obviously seen something in all of us. That’s why we’re here,” Jenny explained. “Joey works tirelessly so that we can live out our dream, playing the game that we love. And we could never show her as much gratitude as she deserves.”
‘We play for a different reason.’ The Akron Racers don’t just play to win games. They don’t play for money or for fame. They don’t play for themselves. They play for each other. They play for the fans. They play for the city. They play for the love of the game… and they play for her.