The Women’s College World Series is the apex of collegiate softball, and the storied tournament is imbued with tradition.
One of the most joyous rituals is executed by the Oklahoma City ushers, who return home run balls to the families of the players that hit them.
Dave Wilson of ESPN chronicled the custom, speaking with John Pillow, an usher for the event.
“The people that work out here [in the outfield], it’s an honor to give it to them,” Pillow said. “Because they might not ever be back here again.”
Mary Koch, another usher, said this year’s tournament is her 20th. She worked the first-base side for Thursday’s contests.
“I like to run and hold it in the air,” Koch said. “Everybody’s always pointing to where the mom and dad are and it’s so fun to go hand it to them.”
Anthony Ulibarri from Colorado was getting a lemonade behind left field when Texas’ Mary Iakopo launched a bomb that hit the trailer. He’s here for a softball tournament in OKC with his daughter, who didn’t know yet that he nabbed it. “She’s getting this one,” he said. #WCWS pic.twitter.com/XoKgP2gcVh— Dave Wilson (@dwil) June 2, 2022
Anthony Ulibarri from Colorado was getting a lemonade behind left field when Texas’ Mary Iakopo launched a bomb that hit the trailer. He’s here for a softball tournament in OKC with his daughter, who didn’t know yet that he nabbed it. “She’s getting this one,” he said. #WCWS pic.twitter.com/XoKgP2gcVh
While no one is exactly sure where the tradition started, it’s an unofficial rule that fans and staff alike have continued to embrace.
“Most of the fans are pretty understanding about it,” said Ralph Soto, a second-year left field usher. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be here playing in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The ball is something that would mean a lot more to them than it would mean to me. So that’s why we do it.”
The ritual means a lot to families as well. Michelle Williams, Karli Petty’s mom, was awarded her daughter’s game-clinching home run ball in Oklahoma State’s 4-2 comeback victory.
“For them to get it for us, as a mom, that means a lot,” Williams said. “It’s special, because they work so hard to be here and it’s every girl’s dream to be able to do that.”
The WCWS continues Saturday with No. 1 Oklahoma taking on Texas at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.