CHIBA, JAPAN - AUGUST 12: Haylie Ann McCleney #8 of United States reacts against Japan during their World Championship Final match at ZOZO Marine Stadium on day eleven of the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on August 12, 2018 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Haylie McCleney has been a member of Team USA Softball since 2013. She was a four-time All-American at Alabama, where she ended her career as the program’s all-time leader in batting average (.447), on base percentage (.569), walks (199), and triples (16). She spoke to Just Women’s Sports about how she’s handling the Olympics’ postponement and what it means for the future of her sport.

Softball gets put back into the Olympics for the first time in years. And then Tokyo 2020 is pushed back. Walk me through that. 

It was definitely better that it was postponed instead of canceled. Those two terms carry very different weights. I do think that we have a lot of really smart people in this world that are going to make health a priority at the Olympics, not only for the athletes, but for the fans and families that hopefully get to attend. I would have been a little bit nervous if we would have continued to go on tour and continue to compete and try to make the Olympics happen in a time where we’re under a global pandemic. So there’s a little bit of gratitude there.

Obviously from a completely selfish standpoint, there was an initial period of disappointment because your entire life is built around this week in July. I mean, I was supposed to get married after the Olympics, and now I have no idea when that is going to happen. Other players were going to move or buy houses or maybe retire and pursue a career outside of softball. All those plans have come to a halt.

But I think the more we just accepted the fact that it was going to be delayed, there were a lot of really cool opportunities and stories that came out of it. Most other Olympic athletes are waiting four years in between Olympic games. For softball, it’s a little bit different. We’ve been waiting 12 years and now we’re going to wait 13. So I don’t think patience is lost on us at all as a sport. We’ve had to deal with the adversity of not knowing if or when we’re ever going to be in the Olympics.

There has been some talk that the sport will be included in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, but there’s no guarantee. Does that make this time even more important for the team?

For us, it’s this Olympics or nothing because we don’t know what the future holds. Some of us still could be playing in 2028, but that’s if softball even gets back in. For us, it is critical that, for the survival of our sport, it needs to be in the Olympics. It needs to be talked about, it needs to be discussed. International softball needs to be covered not only in our country, but countries across the world. That’s why I think that we are so scared of the Olympics being canceled. Our one and only shot could be taken away from us. And obviously we understand that the priority is people’s health and safety and well-being. We do understand that. That doesn’t make it any less difficult to think that the Olympics could still be cancelled if things do not get better. We’re in a tough spot. For us, we might not be back, with or without next summer’s games. We don’t know.

Your team was one of the first to name its entire Olympic roster prior to the cancelation. And it has since been determined that the 2020 roster will remain intact for 2021. How do you feel about that decision?

We’re very happy with it. Very pleased with it. We had formed a bond as the Olympic roster, and softball is very culture driven and team driven. It’s not necessarily always about talent, but it’s about how a group of 18 can work together. And we were just starting to figure out that process when our tour was suspended. So I think it was the right decision by USA Softball. I think it was the right decision by the United States Olympic Committee to allow us to keep that same roster because we all earned the title of being an Olympian.

We’re meeting every week and talking with each other and continuing to build some of those relationships. Before the postponement it was six months to prepare for six games and I really liked our chances. Now you’re giving us 18 months as a unit saying, “Hey, this is our roster. This is what we’re sticking with. It’s up to you. Let’s get better. Let’s find a way to become closer. When we’re given our opportunity, let’s not waste it, let’s make the most of it and go for a gold medal.” I really like our chances.

There are a few players on the Olympic roster, including Bubba Nickles and Rachel Garcia, who will return to UCLA in 2021 to play out their final college season. Do you think that having some teammates miss training leading up to next summer will affect the team?

They took 2020 off already so I think you don’t want to take away from their college experience for two entire years. And I think having them play highly competitive college softball is going to help them and us in the long run. I don’t think it’s going to hurt them. They’re still going to be involved in our team meetings. They are just going to basically be training at a different location is how I’m looking at it. What’s good is that we did get to know them quite a bit. I mean Rachel has been on the team before. Dejah was on the team in ’19 and we have gotten to know Bubba while we were on tour and training so much together.

So I don’t think it’s going to be an issue whatsoever. We’re still trying to figure out as an organization what our tour even looks like. For us to be uncertain, it wasn’t really fair for them to sacrifice another year of missing out on a college softball season when we weren’t even sure what our training camps and schedule for training as a team is even going to be.

What happens now. Any talk about what training will be like leading up to 2021?

I’m still training completely on my own. So I’m at home. I’m not going to the gym. I’m not going to a park or anything like that. I’m trying my best to stay at home and still follow all of the guidelines. And I think the majority of the team is that way also. Some people are starting to get back into their facilities. I personally am not. I’m also in between houses right now. So it’s a little bit more complicated I think for me. But yeah, I mean, we’re used to this. We always train on our own. We’re usually on our own for nine months out of the year and then go compete for three months out of the year. So it’s not something that we are not used to. We are having team meetings every week, which I really, really enjoy. Just because it allows me to get to know my teammates a little bit more. We’re actually doing mini TED talk Tuesdays where one person on the team presents for 10 to 15 minutes on something that they’re passionate about outside of softball. It’s been cool to hear what people are interested in. But as things start to open back up, I think you’re going to start to see us kind of get back into that normalcy of what we’ve been used to for the past five, six, seven years of you’re on your own training, do what you need to do, be ready when your report date is. And I have all the confidence in the world that everyone on the team is doing their best to stay ready to compete at a high level still.

You are playing for the Scrap Yard Dawgs this summer. Can you talk to me a little bit about the league you are playing in and can you give updates on what the summer games look like given the pandemic? 

So with Scrap Yard and the Pride, we are basically going on a tour around two different travel ball events and we’re going to be competing against each other. The Scrap Yard and Pride are not a part of National Pro FastPitch. Scrap Yard and Pride are independent professional organizations. So that’s why they decided to come together and form the tour as all of these travel tournaments and things are starting to open back up. That’s the avenue that we took to be able to compete. And we’ve been assured that there are going to be plenty of safety measures in place, testing and sanitation, disinfecting, all of that fun stuff will be a priority when we play.