Sydney (right) and Sierra Romero have teamed up with Athletes Unlimited Softball. (Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

Sydney and Sierra Romero have enjoyed getting to play on the same field again through Athletes Unlimited Softball.

After growing up in an athletic family — younger sister Sophia is an outfielder at Vista Murrieta High School and brother Mikey was a first-round draft choice of the Boston Red Sox this year — the sisters separated in college. Sierra, 28, went off to the University of Michigan, where she became the first player in NCAA history to record 300 runs, 300 hits and 300 RBIs and left as the NCAA’s all-time leader in career grand slams (11) and runs (302). Sydney, 25, starred at Oklahoma, winning two NCAA championships in 2016 and ‘17 and finishing as the Sooners’ all-time leader in at-bats (853) and second in hits (320).

The two reunited on the USSSA Pride in 2019, but Sierra was injured while Sydney earned All-NPF honors during the Pride’s run to a championship. Now, a year after Sydney joined Athletes Unlimited for her first season, she and Sierra are finally back on the softball diamond together with two weeks left in the 2022 AU campaign.

“I feel like AU has provided just such a professional background when it comes to being a professional athlete,” Sydney says. “I think it’s really important just for the future of softball, specifically because they’re hearing us out and they’re applying it to the next year.”

Sierra is grateful to be back playing after spending over a year rehabbing ACL and meniscus injuries. Used to having Michigan’s athletic resources at her fingertips in college, Sierra sought out treatment on her own and ended up having three different surgeries to repair her knee.

“I was kind of going in blind,” she says. “I had to do it all by myself. That was definitely the hardest part just because I didn’t know what I was looking for.”

She put the knee to the test earlier this summer during AUX, Athletes Unlimited’s shortened softball season in San Diego, just over an hour’s drive from the Romero family’s hometown of Murrieta, Calif.

“We just so happened to get drafted to the same team for the first weekend at AUX, which was just luck,” Sierra says. “I feel like it’s a full-circle moment, just being able to come back, play with her and be around her 24/7.”

Sierra and Sydney, after enjoying remarkably successful college careers, have leaned on each other through the challenges of the often unreliable and unsustainable professional and international softball landscape. As dual Mexican-American citizens, they both tried out for the Mexican national softball team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, with Sydney representing the team during its run to fourth place.

For Sierra, in her seventh year as a pro, Athletes Unlimited has reignited her love of the game. Having briefly contemplated retirement before the season, she no longer plans to do so this year.

“I feel like I’ve seen it at a lot of different levels and stages. After joining AU this year for the first time, I definitely think that we’re on the right path,” Sierra says.

Still, professional softball salaries don’t typically allow for year-round dedication to the sport. In the fall, Sydney will start as an assistant softball coach at Duke University after spending two seasons as a student assistant at her alma mater.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to honestly start out, going out there and meeting Coach [Marissa] Young and meeting the girls,” she says. “Taking this route, I think, is not only helping me as a coach, but helping me as an athlete myself. Being able to continue to play softball and play Athletes Unlimited for the five weeks in the summer, and then going into my coaching job it works out perfectly. I feel like it’s a dream job. I’m living in the best of both worlds.”

Before that, she and Sierra will finish out the Athletes Unlimited regular season. Sydney currently ranks 29th with 704 points, while Sierra sits in 42nd with 618 points. Sydney is also tied for third with nine runs on the season, two behind league leader Haylie McCleney. Sierra has four runs off six hits so far and, in the infield, has recorded 15 assists, 15 putouts and three double plays.

Both admit they are very competitive, especially in the batter’s box. But that doesn’t mean they’ve taken the same approach to AU’s unique points system.

“I don’t know the point system because I don’t look at it. I couldn’t tell you where anybody’s at on the leaderboard ever,” Sierra says. “My focus is just winning. And I feel like if I keep that mindset, then everything will fall into place.”

Sydney, meanwhile, has learned how not to let the leaderboard affect her mindset. Instead, she views each week as a different challenge.

“It makes you appreciate the little things a little bit more in the game, and really put the game into perspective,” she says, heading into Week 4 of the five-week season. “Because all of these things mean something like, a walk means something, a hit by pitch. Those little things that we kind of take for granted, in a game they all matter.”

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.