Women's Baseball Makes a Historic Debut
When we think of record-breaking professional sports teams, we often picture athletes who have dedicated their entire lives and careers to their sport — not necessarily a ragtag bunch made up of firefighters, nurses and a pair of high school teenagers. Yet when the USA Baseball Women’s National Team took the field on Monday at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, it was exactly that — and they took home the 10-6 win over Venezuela.
Not to be confused with women’s softball (a far more common sport that was sadly cut from the Olympics back in 2008, alongside with men's softball), this year’s Pan Am Games marks the first time that women’s baseball has been played in a multi-sport event. The USA women’s team is favored to win the Pan Am gold this year after taking home back-to-back second place trophies at the biennial Women’s Baseball World Cup in 2012 and 2014.
Women’s baseball has slowly been gaining ground in the last few years, as more and more women are choosing the sport over softball. Originally created to provide an alternative to the old boys' game of baseball, softball has shorter base distances, a larger ball and allows only underhand pitches. Women’s baseball, meanwhile, adheres to the same rules and equipment as the men’s game, except that women play only seven innings as compared to the traditional nine.
Despite being crowd favorites for the gold, it's been an uphill battle for the USA team, arguably one of the most relatively unknown professional sports teams in the country. There isn't a professional league for women’s baseball in America, like in other countries such as Japan, and the American team reportedly held this year's tryouts just one month before the Pan Am Games. But don’t think for a second that the team’s humble roots and its hodgepodge of players (ranging from age 16 to 41!) translates to an easy in for just anyone.
Infielder Malaika Underwood, age 34, played baseball on the La Jolla High School men’s team, before accepting a volleyball scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (since men’s baseball wasn’t open to her).
Meanwhile, pitcher Sarah Hudek is lighting up the pitcher’s mound and knows that she has the arm to take her team to the top. Hudek will be a freshman on the men's team at Louisiana's Bossier Parish Community College this fall. When asked how she feels she'd match up against her father, former MLB pitcher John Hudek, Sarah is nothing but confident — even telling ESPNW that her famous father wouldn’t be able to handle her pitches.
The USA team's next game is scheduled for Wednesday night against Cuba and women’s baseball games continue for the rest of the week.
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