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Sami Fagan: After Two Years Away, I Forgot How Mad I Get When I Lose

Female pitcher ready to pitch / JWS
Female pitcher ready to pitch / JWS
What went into your decision to join Athletes Unlimited?

I don’t know if you know this, but I haven’t played softball in two years. So, a couple of my friends that are in this league reached out to me and were like, hey, would you be interested in this? And I wasn’t really, because I had been out of the game for two years, and I thought if I came here, I would just get embarrassed because of all the talent here. But they were like, you know what, just listen to the call, and if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. So I got on the call and AU presented the league and basically from that call, I couldn’t turn away because the structure seemed so cool and also because I was out of work from COVID. I needed income and I just thought about the whole presentation… they really sold me with everything this league is about. It’s pretty awesome.

And how has it felt being back on the softball field after taking some time off? Are you happy with your decision to return to the game?

I’m definitely happy I did it, especially because I miss these girls. I haven’t seen a lot of them in two years, so I’m definitely happy I did it. There are some days I feel really happy. Like wow, I miss this feeling of hitting a home run. And then after losing our first game, I was like, I did not miss this feeling. I forgot how mad I get and how depressing it is to lose. And I was like, God, I did not miss this. But for the most part, when I hit everyday I figured out something and I remembered something that I used to do, and it’s cool to get back into it again.

Your team finished out week 1 with a 7-6 win. Super exciting to end on that high note. What are your thoughts on that game specifically and about how the team made adjustments moving forward after your first two losses?

It was a really cool experience personally for me, because I had to make a lot of adjustments in the lineup, and I feel like the first couple of games I made decisions that I didn’t necessarily feel were right. I was advised by multiple people to do certain things that I felt iffy about. And I think game three, I was just like, nope, I want to win. We need to for our team. So, I’m just going to go with my gut decisions, and I did that. The first two games, we hit the ball well, but not when it needed to be done. So that last game players were like, let’s sacrifice more. Let’s just try to win each inning. That is how you get points. You can have great stats, but if your team doesn’t win, it kills you point wise. So as a team, we just played a little bit more unselfishly and just tried to keep moving runners on base and that’s how we won game three.

As a captain, you also acted as the team’s coach. You picked the lineups and made strategic decisions. Did you have any difficulties balancing your role as a coach and a player? 

There was some stress for sure. I feel bad for my roommate, Sam, because I was venting the whole weekend. It’s difficult because you’re picking nine players for a lineup, when you drafted all of them because they’re all good. So it was difficult. And it was hard for me too, because I had rookies on my team that I’ve never seen play before. And I had veterans who I know have played the best pitchers in the world. So the first couple of games I based my lineup on what I knew and then after that when certain people were not performing I had no choice, I had to take them out. It’s definitely hard because everybody knew my thought process when I was making the lineup, because it’s like, you’re good, but you didn’t do good today. So I know how good they are, but you have such a short time to prove yourself, and I have to go by who’s doing good on that particular day. It was tough.

Now you have seen who is playing well and how people mesh together. Do you think if you get the opportunity to captain a team again, you may pick differently? 

Yeah, I think I learned a lot about seeing other teams succeed. I feel like the players I picked are individually very strong. I was a hundred percent confident in my team. They were great. But everybody here is good, so you can’t really go wrong. You just have to trust that you can learn how to play with one another and make it work in a short amount of time. There’s a few adjustments that I may make moving forward just after having that experience.

With the new 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 really don’t to be honest. I kind of went into this with low expectations, and that might sound bad. But after not playing for two years, I don’t want to have high expectations for myself. I want to do the best that I can do with my skills at this time. I still work out every day. I just want to hit the ball and try to help my team. I just want to win, really.

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 and specifically for softball?

I think this league is absolutely huge for our sport. I think that it’s already growing so fast, and I think the fact that we’re on ESPN and CBS, and the fact that all the players here have close to a combined one-million followers. They are marketing it great. And I think the biggest thing is that we’re on ESPN and CBS. I think if you look at college softball, it’s huge, and I feel like it’s because it’s on TV and people want to watch. So getting us on TV so people see us is making it big. And I think the point system is awesome. People are like, oh, they’re doing that? It’s exciting for fans and obviously for the players.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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