From changing teams every week, to drafts and navigating the points system, the Athletes Unlimited Softball format presents itself with a unique set of challenges for players.
But for the upcoming AUX Softball season, they’ll be tested in a new way. With doubleheaders and a shortened two-week season, there’s little time to delay success or dwell on failure.
Tori Vidales knows that her mentality going to be more important than ever.
“Instead of going back to the dugout, feeling down on myself, it’s trying to find those little wins within each at-bat so that you can go into the next week, the next practice, the next game feeling better than you did the day before,” Vidales explained.
She took a new approach during her time in the cage with her dad leading up to this season. After each session, she would pinpoint what she learned and needed to work on, such as squaring her hips to the plate more or adjusting her elbow a bit higher.
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Vidales would write those details down in a note to take them into the next session. She said, “We could just go straight to my notes,” which kept her from wasting any time trying to feel out what she needed to focus on that day.
“By the time I got ready and warm, I was ready to go,” Vidales added. “I felt like I was growing instead of staying stagnant and repeating the same things over and over again.”
San Diego 🤝 Sunshine 🤝 Softball
It's going to be a beautiful couple of weeks with great competition for the inaugural season of #AUX Softball. As players arrive for media day and preseason prep, plan your trips to the ballpark ⬇️#AUX | @AUProSports pic.twitter.com/0yeHJZ5kuK
— Savanna Collins (@savannaecollins) June 10, 2022
During AUX, there are just two days between each series of games. This leaves little time to adjust to live pitching or find comfort at the plate. Infielder Sierra Romero feels more confident in her game than she has in some time, regardless of the high-pressure environment.
“I think all of us probably have the same mentality: we’re kind of saying ‘just go’. You’re gonna hit the ground running and it may not be pretty at first, but just being ready to ride through it.”
Romero has been working to establish trust back in her left knee after tearing her ACL and meniscus in 2019. It’s been a long time since she’s played “sure” but her headspace ahead of opening day is to play free.
“It’s softball and things are tough, so I’m expecting it to be tougher,” Romero said. “And then just allowing myself to fail. I think that’s the thing too – remembering this is a game of failure. I’m gonna fail, just not allowing myself to get too frustrated.”
Players will also have to be mentally strong during AUX to be ready to play in doubleheaders. In each three-game series, teams will play a doubleheader on one of the game days. Romero talked about how it has been a while since some of the athletes have played in back-to-back games, especially against elite competition.
“Sometimes, I mean, you could take a game off, [but] you’re not gonna be able to take a game off here,” she said. “You’re gonna wanna bring your A-game; doesn’t matter if it’s your first or second game.”
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For two-way pitcher and Week 1 captain Aleshia Ocasio, the doubleheaders will require planning and strategy on how to utilize the pitching staff.
“I do think that we’re gonna have to pitch by committee a little bit more because we have so many games in a fewer amount of days,” Ocasio said.
A staple of Athletes Unlimited since season one, Ocasio prepared for AUX similar to how she has in the past: eating healthy, taking care of her body, and weight training to improve her velocity. Then there were a few things Ocasio added this off-season to step up her game.
She would give herself an “A” in the circle last season but feels her performance at the plate was subpar. She spent more time working on her hitting because she knows that in order to stand out and climb the leaderboard again she’ll have to utilize all the tools she has.
She even worked on adding another to her belt: steals.
“I made sure to replicate my workouts from last year but also add more agility training. That was important because… this year I wanna steal more bases.”
Ocasio is coming in off a championship after being crowned the winner of Athletes Unlimited Softball in 2021. She said she doesn’t allow finishing first on the leaderboard to affect her mentality now.
“Yeah, I’m the reigning champ, but at the end of the day I’m still here competing for another one.”
As with each season, AUX starts with every athlete on the leaderboard with zero points.
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The first series of this intense format with a compressed schedule starts Monday, June 13 at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT on ESPNU.
Savanna Collins is the Digital Media Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.
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