It could be at a conference table, where she is chairing a meeting of the Player Executive Committee and helping to shape the future of AU and women’s sports.
Or it could be in front of a camera, where she is surrounded by young softball fans in the stands or in “The Hot Seat,” where she gives her video take of the finer points of another Athletes Unlimited sport: lacrosse. Spoiler alert: She gets it somewhat right about “dangerous propelling,” “shooting space,” and “around the world.” Somewhat. But she was quite sporting about it.
In other words, Fischer may be the perfect embodiment of the spirit of Athletes Unlimited: hard play on the field, leadership off the field, and large doses of fun and laughter.
“I feel super lucky that I’m doing exactly what I want to do,” she said. “I can’t imagine not having the most fun every single day. It’s all real, too. I’m not putting on to make it look like everything is great. I’m just truly happy and truly joyful to be on the field. I don’t want to do anything else. This is it. It makes me really happy.”
A Chance to Keep Playing
Fischer joined Athletes Unlimited Softball for its inaugural championship season in 2020 after a successful college career at Loyola Marymount, an international journey with Team USA, and professional experience in the United States and Japan.
During the first AU season, games were played in an empty stadium because of COVID. Still, AU managed to complete a full season and announce its arrival as a new and serious player on the professional sports scene.
“I wanted to play softball,” Fischer said of what attracted her to AU. “I wanted to keep playing softball. It gave me the opportunity to continue. Once I got on the presentation with Cheri (Kempf, AU Vice President) about what it means, what it is, what it looks like, I thought, ‘This seems really interesting. It seems really cool.’ AU has full-time staff members. They have year-round salaried employees, so it seemed sustainable from the beginning, which we’ve never had in softball.”
Any skepticism Fischer might have about whether the new venture would make it was quickly dispelled.
“The only time I would ever have been skeptical was because of COVID,” she said. “That’s the only reason I thought maybe it wouldn’t happen in 2020. But they put us and our health first and still made it possible to have a season. If we could do that, we can do anything. We didn’t touch. We didn’t hug. We were all social-distancing. And we got up there (at the end of the 2020 season) and were like, ‘You guys, we did this.’”
Two historic homers
It didn’t take long for Fischer to make her presence known on the field with Athletes Unlimited. She recorded the first hit and home run in AU softball history on August 29, 2020.
“It was cool because I didn’t realize that it was historic until afterward,” she said. “I was just out there playing a ballgame and then, ‘Oh, wow, first this, first that. Whoa, all right.’ We lost by a lot that game. It was pretty cool, and regardless of if it was me or whatever, it was showing the power of softball across the country that a mid-major kid came out and was able to do something like that. So it feels pretty special.”
It wasn’t the first historic homer this “mid-major kid” had hit. In her final home game while playing for Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Fischer hit a walk-off grand slam.
“What’s crazy is that it was Senior Weekend because it was our last home weekend,” she said. “We were playing against our rivals, Sacramento State. We played doubleheaders on Saturdays and Sundays. On Saturday, we got in the first game, and then it rained. So we had a tripleheader on that Sunday. Our last day of softball at LMU was a tripleheader.
“We had beaten them the first two games and then we were beating them pretty good in the bottom of the fifth inning, and if I hit the grand slam, it was a mercy-rule (victory). It was just one of those days where you could just kind of feel it. The ball hit my bat and went out of the yard, and I’m like, ‘This couldn’t have been a more perfect cherry on top of the career that I was able to have there. It was really special. It was pretty cool.”
In a sport dominated by players from Power 5 college conferences, Fischer takes pride in starring in professional softball after attending a mid-major.
“I love it,” she said. “I actually got to say this on the broadcast the other night: I’m just proud I still get to represent LMU. Those four years were very formative. They were impactful for me as a person, as a player. Could I have gone somewhere bigger or maybe like a more reputable softball program? Maybe, but at the time, LMU was the place for me, and it was everything that I could ever have needed or wanted. Looking back on everything that I’ve been able to do in the softball space, I would pick it 100 times over. I feel very proud to represent LMU. They’re still so supportive, and we still have such a great relationship.”
A Leader Emerges
A vocal leader on the field, Fischer has quickly ascended into a leadership role off the field. Each Athletes Unlimited sport has a Player Executive Committee, which is made up of a group of players that helps set policy and gives recommendations for all aspects of the league.
I’ve never been in a space where I feel that I can be so impactful, as a player on a team, as a player in a group.Sam Fischer
Fischer is the chairperson for softball, a role she has truly grown into, even if she didn’t envision it when she first signed to play.
“I didn’t, but when they asked me in 2020 to be on the PEC, I was so gung-ho and excited to do it,” she said. “At the time, (outfielder) Victoria Hayward was the chair, and she did so well in setting a standard for, ‘Here’s where we want to go.’ So I wanted to take the baton from her when she decided to step down and continue the hunt for greatness. She left some big shoes to fill. When I got to talk to her more about her role and how it was as chair, I knew that if I had the chance, I would love to do that.”
Among Fischer’s goals is to continue the standard set by Hayward and others who have served on the PEC.
“Obviously, there are short-term goals, but ultimately, the long-term goal is that people can come and have a professional experience for the entirety of their professional career,” she said. “They can play softball and not have to worry about anything else. So I hope in my time in this position I can help make it to where people want to continue investing in Athletes Unlimited.
“I see people investing in it. I see people watching it more. I see us getting ESPN2 slots on broadcasts. I see these things happening in the present and know that we talk about growing the game. We’re doing the hard work in laying the foundation right now only to propel it up and get people to say, ‘Yeah, I am watching. I can’t go out tonight. I’m watching the game,’ whether it’s a women’s soccer game, women’s volleyball, women’s softball. And I do think Athletes Unlimited is really pushing that, ‘Look at what we’re doing. We’re popular, and we’re all women’s sports.’ I do think AU is creating a landscape that we’ve wanted and we’ve needed in the women’s sports space.”
I see these things happening in the present and know that we talk about growing the game. We’re doing the hard work in laying the foundation right now only to propel it up.Sam Fischer
Nearing 33, Fischer knows that the majority of her softball-playing days are behind her, but she’s not ready to call it a career yet.
“It’s a really hard decision because for me it’s like a head decision instead of a heart decision,” she said. “If I had to listen to my heart, I’m playing until I literally die on the field. It’s coming. I think the end is coming – not this year – but I think it’s soon because I know that there are other things knocking at the door. I’ve really enjoyed the position as chair. I’m starting to see what I can do, maybe off the field, that can continue to aid the work I’ve done on the field. I’m excited for the future, but the cleats are staying on for a little while longer, at least.”
When it does come time for Fischer to hang up the cleats, Athletes Unlimited could still be in her future. In addition to her time on the PEC, she also took part in assisting with the Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Exhibition Tour this past spring.
“I’d love to stay in softball,” she said. “I’d love to work for Athletes Unlimited full time. That’s ultimately the goal. But I don’t know. I’ve thought about coaching here and there. I live very near to Arizona State, so I’d love to get into a Power 5 position. But ultimately, I think doing the work for Athletes Unlimited has really lit a fire in me the last three years. I worked with (AU) volleyball, and they did a college tour, and I got to go on that with them. Getting on that Athletes Unlimited side rather than just on the softball side, that was really rewarding. I hopefully see myself doing something like that for the company when I retire. I would love that.
“I think this is unique. Athletes Unlimited is doing something new. They’re reinventing the wheel without reinventing the sport, which is really neat. I’ve never been in a space where I feel that I can be so impactful, as a player on a team, as a player in a group. And everyone around me, I think the impact is so great. This is very unique and very special in that way.”
Bruce Miles has covered sports in the Chicago area for more than 40 years, covering baseball, hockey, football, high school and college sports, and Athletes Unlimited softball. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.
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© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
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