WNBA | JWS
Jessie Warren on field / JWS

Jessie Warren is a professional softball player for Athletes Unlimited. At Florida State, she led the Seminoles to the 2018 Women’s College World Series title and was named Most Outstanding Player of the World Series. She spoke with JWS about what led her to Athletes Unlimited, her unique style of coaching, and how the league is working to keep everyone both safe and sane. 

What went into your decision to join Athletes Unlimited?

The idea was pitched to me in the beginning of December, and at first I was a little skeptical just because I didn’t understand the format and things like that. But then after talking to Jade Ray, who was actually going to come play but opted out to go to the police academy, I became really interested. And then Victoria Hayward reached out, and I didn’t know if my Pride season was going to run into this season. So, I was kind of a little bit like, “I don’t know if I can do it,” because obviously I already had obligations with Pride. But then once I realized that Pride season wasn’t going to run into AAU, it was an automatic yes.

And then after getting to know about the format, I thought it was really cool. It’s something different that nobody’s ever done before, obviously. And I think it’s a good difference, because it was grasping a lot of people’s attention, catching an audience’s eye about the differences in the game, obviously not the rules or anything, but just the point system. And it allows us as individual athletes to try to succeed as an individual, but also play to law and succeed as a team.

Your team went 3-0 in the first week. What are your thoughts on how the games went?

Right away I noticed that the people who were racking up the most points are those that are on a winning team. My team called ourselves the Cuties because of the orange jerseys we wore and in the practices that we had, we really focused on team runs and how we could get people in. We knew if we won innings, we would win points. And if you win innings you are going to win the game. It’s team ball. If you’re playing team ball obviously you’re doing something individually successfully, so you’re going to get some points too. I think we were most more focused on winning each inning and winning as a team than we were worried about getting ourselves points. And it kind of really showed that we were playing as a unit and not individually.

Now in the second week we will see all new teams. How do you plan to adjust to a new team dynamic and stay as consistent?  

I think that’s always the hard part. You know, if I could keep the team that I was on for the whole six weeks, that would be awesome, but it’s an even better opportunity as an individual to get to know other people and connect with them. I’m just keeping an open mind that everybody’s dynamic and their coaching style is going to be different.

Cat [Osterman] is a captain this week, and her coaching style is going to be completely different than mine, so her team will be a whole different dynamic. As a player, I’m just going with it and trusting that they know what they’re doing and just going out there and playing ball.

JADE HEWITT MEDIA
You were obviously pretty successful at balancing your role as a team captain, coach and player. Did you find that balance to be easy or were there any difficulties there?

I had a lot of help from Christian Conrad. He was kind of familiar with what I wanted to do and then Cat Osterman was a huge person for me to have on the team. For the experience that she has on the coaching side to help as well. But at the end of the day, I sat down with Christian, I talked about my strategy. And we kind of just all clashed minds and came up with a lineup. And then, for the girls, I was more of, “Hey, do what you guys do.” We’re going to just be laid back and chill. At the same time, we’re still going to be disciplined, but I’m not going to be someone that’s going to be down their throats or anything. That’s just not my style.

What do you think this type of a league will do for women’s sports at the pro level and specifically for softball?

This whole business is just such a great idea. And then John and Jonathan, our league founders, have done such a great job marketing this whole thing. And there’s so many people that I’ve heard from that have texted me and are just like, “This is so cool. It’s so fun to watch. I love seeing it on TV.” You don’t really see many women’s professional sports, and just the fact that this is going in the right direction, it’s just so amazing for the younger generation and the young girls that are looking up to us.

They have dreams and the knowledge that they can come play professional softball, professional volleyball, and they’re able to work at something that they may not have been able to work for before. I’m just blessed to be able to pave the road and start something for them. I’m excited for the future of all sports in AU, especially softball.

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention that I didn’t bring up?

I do actually really want to add that the hospitality and how they’ve taken care of us since we’ve been here has been great as well. We have batting cages, we have training facilities, our locker rooms are great, and we’re following the CDC’s guidelines. It’s great to feel safe with everything that’s going on in the world. I was kind of second guessing it at first. I know I had a conversation with my mom. Like, I don’t know if I want to go because of Covid. But the league has done a great job following protocols and being in contact with CDC and having great doctors here and things like that to keep us safe. I think that’s my number one thing is I feel safe.

And another thing is the mental health part of it all. You think about coming into isolation by yourself for six weeks, and then you think about your mental health being alone, because some people just aren’t good with things like that, but again, they’re doing such a great job to help us. We have trivia nights and things like that to keep us kind of busy so that we’re not going crazy in the bubble. Every Friday night we have this thing called Friday Night Lights, and last week was about mental awareness, this week it’s going to be something different, then next week it’s going to be something different. Again, they just have a bunch of activities for us to come and attend online or even in person, but in person is only for people that are in the bubble. But it’s just awesome and great to see so many athletes and know that I’m not the only one going through some of the things that I’m going through. Just being able to talk to them and relate with them has been such a great experience as well.