In her boss' office on South 17th Street, Megan Gibson was sipping coffee, yearning for the caffeine jolt and jetlagged from 26 hours of travel from Japan to Philadelphia the day before.

Such is the life of a star pro softball player.

Gibson, a pitcher and first baseman for the National Pro Fastpitch's Philadelphia Force, had just returned to the States after a four-month stint playing in Japan.

"It was really good," Gibson, who picked up some Japanese while there, said of her experience. "It was definitely a cultural shock at first, but it was really good."

With the NPF season having begun a week ago, Gibson and fellow star pitcher Katie Burkhart will be joining their teammates five games into the 2009 season. The Force traveled to defending champion Chicago last week to play the Jenny Finch-led Bandits and lost four of five.

Tom Kleinman, who has owned the Force for four seasons, is excited to have Gibson and Burkhart, last season's NPF pitcher of the year, back on the squad. He said that with the duo, his squad is a championship contender.

Gibson and Burkhart will make their season debuts in the Force's home opener tonight against the Bandits. The game is scheduled for a 7:35 p.m. start at ECTB Stadium at Bicentennial Park in Allentown.

Although the five-team NPF is known as the top professional league in the world, several of its best players have gone to Japan to join one of the 12 pro teams to earn some extra cash. Some players get paid six figures - a huge increase from the usual softball player's salary in the United States - and Kleinman understands that.

"These girls really play for the love of the game," Kleinman said.

Those who go overseas come back for the NPF season before returning to Japan to finish the long campaign in November. Such will be the case for Gibson, who played for fourth-place Denso and used the competition as preparation for the NPF season.

The Force work closely with the Phillies to get their name out and operated a softball camp at Citizens Bank Park in May. In addition, the NPF will send four players to take part in the softball celebrity game during the MLB all-star festivities in St. Louis. Gibson and teammate Trena Peele are schedule to play in the contest.

Gibson's fastball runs from 68 to 70 m.p.h. (The pro baseball equivalent is 95 to 104 m.p.h.) In her first season with the Force in 2008, she posted a 9-4 record and finished tied for fourth in the league with a 2.22 ERA.