Covering Athletes Unlimited Softball in Rosemont, Ill. this weekend was a dream come true. Having the opportunity to connect with and learn from some of the best players in the world is incomparable. Heading into the weekend, I didn’t know what to expect. I have watched every AU game that I could in between travel softball and school ball. This was the first women’s professional sports venue I had the opportunity to experience live and in person.
As a teenage writer for Sports Illustrated Kids and mlb.com, I have always loved to highlight women in sports as we continue to create more equality across the board. But experiencing AU for myself as a writer was something so unique and special that I hadn’t been a part of before. AU has a unique scoring system that highlights the importance of every play. It is not only team driven, but also individually driven with points awarded based on offensive plays (single, double, triple, home run, stolen base, caught stealing, walk, hit by pitch, and sacrifice fly/bunts), pitching points (earned runs and outs), MVP points (voted on by the players at the end of every game), and team/inning wins.
The AU hashtag #BeUnlimited truly sums up the vision that its founder Jon Patricof had – to see racial, gender, and income equality across professional sporting events. To see fans come out to support 60 of the top female athletes in the world is incredible. The number of fans will only grow as the level of competition continues to rise at AU and the fan base expands in more sites across the country.
Janae Jefferson, four-time All-American at Texas, talked about what the transition from college to pro was like for her.
“It is a big jump just being out here with all of these professional athletes. Everybody is good out here, and I feel like that was the biggest jump I had was just realizing that everyone is amazing, pitching is better, and the speed of the game is different,” Jefferson said.
One of the highlights of my experience was meeting so many new faces. I had the chance to shadow Savanna Collins and Ci Michel (a former Great Britain volleyball Olympian), two leaders on the media side, and see their perspectives from the dugout, field, stands, and concourse. I spoke with Danielle Lawrie, a Canadian softball Olympian from Tokyo 2021, who has been a guest on my Speak Up Sports podcast, after she called one of the games. Collins took me to the dugout, a view I had never experienced before while reporting. Michel interviewed me; I’m rarely on the side of receiving questions! After every game, I had the chance to meet, interview, and talk with all of these incredible athletes.
Some of my favorite interviews from the weekend were with outfielder Aliyah Andrews, catcher Savannah Jaquish, and infielders Sis Bates and Sierra Romero. I loved learning strategy from them and talking to the game’s best athletes, especially when they were as down to earth as they were. Whether they were in the dugout, signing autographs after every game, or talking with the crowd in the on-deck circle, these ladies were engaging, encouraging, and passionate.
When speaking with the AU players, who represented four of the six countries from the last Olympics (USA, Canada, Italy, and Mexico) about what they like most about Athletes Unlimited, their reasons were very similar to mine. They all loved the people at AU. The player-first environment focuses not only on the athlete but also on the person as a whole which offers a unique facet of AU.
“My favorite part of it is the people, the environment, and the staff. Every single person here is so amazing. They make me feel like a true pro and I’m just so grateful for the environment they provide us with because these girls are awesome,” Romero said.
During this five-week season, all of the players practice at an indoor turf facility covered by a dome during the week and warm up there before their games. The dome is where the weekly Monday drafts are held, where the athletes’ locker rooms are, and where they can take batting practice. It was fun getting to see the home of where these professional players spend most of their time during their summer season.
All in all, my first weekend at AU Softball was filled with so many amazing memories. The games were filled with lots of scoring, stellar plays, and more! I love the fact that every play and every inning can impact the leaderboard standings. I can’t wait to see who will come out on top at the end of the season!
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