A new professional softball league where teams change every week and there’s a point system? The first thought I had when hearing about Athletes Unlimited was “Huh, that’s interesting”
I was given the presentation about the league in April, and my mind was blown. Teams drafted every week, individuals earning points alongside their teams, and a ranking system that would determine bonuses. It seemed like the wheel was being reinvented while still keeping the essence of softball intact. It took all but 2 minutes to convince me that I wanted to sign a contract.
I have been playing softball since I was 5 years old. I turned 30 this year, so it’s safe to say that my entire life has been dedicated to this sport. I’ve become accustomed to the way professional softball has been even though I knew it could be something more.
When I arrived on August 16, 2020, I knew immediately this experience was going to be different. I walked into my hotel room where there was a box of food waiting for me as well as a welcome package. Since we were in a global pandemic we weren’t able to leave the hotel room until we received a negative COVID test, and they made sure that we were set for our small quarantine before we could begin training. (We were tested a total of 11 times in 6 weeks to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us).
We knew this environment was going to be different purely because the structure of this league was different. Once we started training and went into our first scrimmage drafts, we were able to finally see what playing for Athletes Unlimited truly meant. Everyone was invested, involved, and on board with what we wanted professional softball to look and feel like.
We’ve known for a long time that we can put a competitive product on the field, but now we were given the chance to truly showcase that.
Going through the draft process was its own kind of stress, but once you were placed with your team for the week it was as if you’d been looking forward to playing with this specific group the whole time. Each week was completely different than the last yet equally as competitive. In just 3 practices with each group, team chemistry was developed, as well as team goals and camaraderie. Every team felt like the exact team you needed to be on.
More than the competition though was the social aspect. We were in our own Covid shield and weren’t able to go anywhere but the field and our residences. Back and forth to the same two places every day sounds a little monotonous, but it wasn’t.
Everyone embraced being in the shield and made the most of it. There were outdoor gatherings where people ate dinner together and talked about everything under the sun. Ice cream dates, game nights, and weekly educational pieces put on by Athletes Unlimited so we could learn and grow as people as well as softball players. Our racial equity working group put on an event called “Friday Night Lights” so we could talk about important topics we are facing in the world. I’ve never been a part of something in sports so driven to make the world a better place.
Leaving the shield at the end of the season felt like a sad goodbye because every piece of our 6 weeks together was incredible.
For me, there were times of extreme highs, like getting the first hit and first home run in Athletes Unlimited history. Were there frustrating times? Of course, but that comes with playing a game of failure. Was I happy that I led the league in strikeouts? Absolutely not. But playing in this league challenged me in every single way that I needed to be challenged. I am a competitive person and I want to win while being the very best player and teammate that I can be. Competing in this league lit a fire in me that makes me want to continue developing as a player and as a person.
I can’t know what the softball’s future holds, but right now what I know is this: It’s brighter than it’s ever been.