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Amanda Chidester on being the No. 1 Pick For Athletes Unlimited Softball

Baseball players on field / JWS

Amanda Chidester is a professional softball player who was selected as a member of Team USA for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Chidester is a catcher for the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch, and was named the 2019 NPF Player of the Year. Most recently, Chidester joined Athletes Unlimited, where she was selected as the first-ever No. 1 pick in the inaugural AU draft. 

What went into your decision to join Athletes Unlimited?

I was originally asked to be part of it from the beginning. At that time, for me, it was just like it’s an interesting concept, but I was really pushing to be on the USA team and make that final roster towards the Olympics. When the Olympics got postponed, I wanted to keep playing. I believed joining Athletes Unlimited would be an opportunity to grow this sport, and it would be an opportunity to play competitively against the best in the world.

The league format puts the power in the players’ hands. You are the ones choosing even coaching your team. How has that dynamic affected your mental approach? 

In the beginning, when we were doing the mock stuff, I feel like I was a little too invested. It was exhausting thinking about who drafted who. And I was like, “Okay, I cannot do this. This is way too much.” You have to find a balance, because you can get consumed in it, and then it takes away from you playing, and the fun of all of it, you know? At the end of the day, I realized we all are going to be on a team. We all are going to be competing, and it doesn’t matter, really, when you get picked. As much as this appears to be an individual game, it’s not, because you need to win innings. The most points you get is winning innings. You can’t win innings by yourself. Everyone is just as important, and everyone is so good that it really doesn’t matter when you get picked.

When I can put all of that into perspective, it’s going to make it more enjoyable just to go out there and compete. You need to fill the team with gamers —people who are just going to go out and grind each inning, because you need to win the inning. And then when you win the inning, then you win the game.

The season is six weeks with a lot of back-to-back games. What are your expectations in terms of maintaining that pace of play? 

We all love playing games, so I’m excited about it. As a softball player who’s been playing for a lot of years, one of the biggest things in our game is to find a rhythm and to find consistencies. In this case, you can’t do this easily, because you’re constantly switching teams. It’s challenging each of us players to figure out how to find a rhythm. You almost have to create a rhythm within yourself. For example, one week you might be batting fourth, and another week, you might be batting seventh. Those are all completely different spots in the lineup, so you have to be resilient, and be able to just step into that role and go. You can’t overthink it. That’s the name of our game, to not overthink it, but it’s almost impossible not to sometimes.

I know you just spoke about how it doesn’t necessarily matter where you’re drafted, but I can imagine getting drafted #1 overall in the inaugural draft was pretty exciting. 

I mean, it was fun. I think that it was pretty awesome of Haylie to choose me. It helped that she was a pitcher, because other position players would have probably drafted a pitcher first. But then Haylie even said it afterwards, “two Wolverines making history,” and I thought that was so cool. Later on, I’ll probably be able to appreciate it even more. But it’s awesome. I haven’t been able to find the words yet, because this is all so new, and it’s so amazing. The experience here has just been so great so far.

How much of an impact do the few team practices have before game play?

It really impacts the communication on the field. We did relays the other day, just for our middle infielders and our outfielders to get a feel for each other. You try to figure out all those different, tiny details of the game that make a difference, like figuring out whose arm strength is greater, or coordinating communication with fly balls, or figuring out our bunt defense. You’re playing with different people every week, and everyone plays at a different speed. You have to understand who you’re playing with, in addition to what you can and cannot do on the field. The practices are so important for this.

With the unique scoring system, there’s an emphasis on individual points. With that in mind, do you have any individual goals that you’re focused on this season?

No. I want to win the innings. I want to play my part each time up to bat to win that inning for the team. After the first day, I realized how important it is to win each inning. From that point on, it was just like, “I need to play my part to get on base or score a runner to help my team win the inning.”

Athletes Unlimited has redesigned the way you play pro sports. They just added volleyball and there are other sports in the work. What do you think this type of a league will do for women’s sports at the pro level? What does it mean specifically for softball?

It stinks that it’s only six weeks, but it means a lot for the sport. It draws traction. It’s going to gain interest. Nothing goes unnoticed, nothing goes missed. They’ve thought everything through. What they’re doing for women’s sports and the money investing in it is huge for us. I think it’s the start to growing an actual professional league that’s even longer than six weeks.