Anissa Urtez has officially been on both sides of a team.
She spent the 2019 season as an assistant coach at Utah Valley University, where she experienced the daily organizational, recruiting and scheduling responsibilities that go beyond on-field instruction and game planning with players. While that exposure helped her gain immense respect for coaches everywhere, it also reaffirmed that, “Right now … I definitely want to play as long as I can.”
Urtez will get that opportunity with Athletes Unlimited, bringing professional and international experience when the softball league’s inaugural season begins in August in Chicago.
“You’ve never seen anything like that in professional softball, let alone professional women’s sports,” Urtez said of Athletes Unlimited. “It just seemed interesting to me, and it seemed like the professionals who are behind the scenes knew exactly what they were doing. They were very confident in what they wanted to do, and what they wanted to accomplish and succeed with this league.
“That definitely caught my eye. I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I would love to be a part of something like this.’”
Urtez grew up in Long Beach, Calif., then became a shortstop who earned All-Pac-12 honors at the University of Utah. She started every game of her career for the Utes, and ranks in the top 5 in school history in career doubles (42) and runs batted in (161). She also shared the infield with second baseman and close friend Hannah Flippen, who will also play for Athletes Unlimited this summer.
“She was a leader on the field, and it was always kind of me and Hannah,” Urtez said. “ … We kind of grew off of each other. I feel like life doesn’t want us to be separated.”
Professionally, Urtez has played for the Scrap Yard Dawgs and for the Cleveland Comets of the National Pro Fastpitch league, hitting .301 in 73 at-bats during the 2019 season. Yet playing for the Mexican National Team since 2016 — and helping it qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever — has been particularly gratifying.
“It’s very humbling for me, because I’m not doing it for myself,” Urtez said. “I’m doing it for my family. I’m doing it for the people of Mexico. I’m doing it for the softball community.”
I’m doing it for my family. I’m doing it for the people of Mexico. I’m doing it for the softball community.Anissa Urtez,Athletes Unlimited Infielder
That road to qualify for the Olympics, Urtez said, was the epitome of teamwork and resiliency.
In the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru, Mexico let a one-run lead slip in the bottom of the eighth inning of a semifinal loss to Puerto Rico. The crushing result left Urtez and her teammates “kind of just panicking” while crying in the locker room.
But Urtez noticed a “completely different mindset” when they all reconvened a few weeks later for the WBSC Americas Qualifier in Canada. Mexico went 8-0 in the tournament, including a 2-1 victory over favored Canada to clinch a spot in the Tokyo Games.
After the final out, Urtez threw her glove in the air, hugged her teammates and burst into tears of joy while praying around the pitcher’s circle.
“It just shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from and what your circumstances are,” Urtez said. “If you want to get the job done and you want to win — and you do it with people that you respect and that you love — you’re gonna get it done.”
When Urtez first got the news that the 2020 Olympics had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, her first reaction was “Are you kidding?” She then quickly shifted to a positive mindset, realizing she would get an extra year to improve her game.
But the months in quarantine have not always been easy.
She sometimes struggled with motivation while training with stability balls and resistance bands inside a garage. She took a break to spend time with her family in California when her grandfather died of leukemia.
When Urtez returned to Michigan with girlfriend Amanda Chidester (the NPF Player of the Year and Team USA member who will also play for Athletes Unlimited), they needed to find a local high school with open batting cages. Now, they’re in the process of moving to the Salt Lake City area, where they can hit inside the renowned D-Bat facility and train outside in a local park.
“We’ve been pretty much everywhere,” Urtez said with a chuckle.
Soon, Urtez will head to Chicago to begin the Athletes Unlimited season. She is encouraged by the television contract with CBS Sports Network and ESPN, and what this unique professional option can mean for softball’s future. With no team owners or coaches on the field, perhaps Urtez’s experience as an assistant at Utah Valley University can provide an additional boost.
More importantly, Urtez is excited to keep playing the game she loves.
“They’re gonna show, ‘We know what you’re worth. We know you’re just as good as the guys,’” Urtez said. “…I know that we have a lot of girls who are playing in this league who are determined to help grow the sport of softball. We just want to share the love with everyone as much as we can.”