By ANDREW WILLIAMS
Competing for a roster spot on a country’s national team in any sport is a taxing endeavor and one that requires around-the-clock training for an extended period of time.
The USA Women’s Softball National team selection camp invitees took some time away from that training for a few hours Monday morning to put on a clinic for area youth players at The Marathon Diamonds.
Findlay is the second of three stops for Team USA as part of the selection camp process that will determine who makes the 2014 squad.
The national team will play an exhibition doubleheader against a group of Ohio college all-star players today at 6 p.m. at The Marathon Diamonds. Tickets for the game are $10 and there will be an hour-long autograph session with players at the conclusion of the contests.
With the amount of training the team has been doing since the selection camp began June 8, it was a nice change of pace to get to do something different and give something back to the youth players in the area.
“I think it’s awesome for the little kids to do it,” outfielder Destinee Martinez said. “I would have loved it growing up. I didn’t get to do stuff like this so I feel honored to get to be here for them. And I know that just having USA across our chests gives them more reason to actually listen. Hopefully we’re preparing our next generation of softball.”
Players provided instruction in hitting, bunting, baserunning and defensive techniques for both infielders and outfielders during the three-hour session. More than 150 youth players participated in the clinic and just getting to spend time with the stars of the future is what makes it enjoyable for Team USA players.
“Being around the kids. I think it’s the greatest thing,” infielder Samantha Fischer said. “I remember being this kid, big-eyed, wanting to hang out with the big leaguers and everything like that. I want the girls to feel like we care about them which we do. For me that’s my favorite part is hopefully inspiring them or helping them to better their game.”
After this evening’s games, the national team will travel to Purcellville, Virginia for its last scheduled exhibition contests before the final team roster is announced Sunday.
Of the 24 selection camp invitees, only 17 will make the final squad that will represent the United States in the World Cup of Softball July 7-12 in Irvine, California. The team will also play in events in Canada, Italy and The Netherlands later this summer.
Despite the highly competitive nature of the top-level athletes battling each other for a spot on the final roster, the players are enjoying the experience of just being around each other.
“I know that we all want the best for each other,” said Martinez, who won an NCAA national title with Oklahoma in 2013. “Just being able to be here is what I’m really honored for.
“I know that there’s a lot of outfielders that could have been selected so just being selected is awesome. But I know that the competition never really ends no matter where you go. Even if I do make the team, the competition for a starting spot is never going to end. And I love it. We all love to compete, that’s why we all chose to be here.”
Said Fischer: “I think that once you get to this level, yeah you’re competing with everybody, but you also realize what they’re doing as well. So you want to see everybody succeed and whatever happens, happens. You’re competing really with yourself. If you go out there and give your best and they go out there and give their best, let the chips fall where they may.”
Martinez is attempting to secure a spot on Team USA for the first time after just completing her senior season at Oklahoma with a fourth consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series. Fischer is vying to make the team for a second time after being a member of the 2012 World Cup champion squad.
Whether it’s the first time or the 10th, though, the opportunity to represent the United States against teams from around the world in international competition is a prestigious honor which the players are happy to be considered for.
“The team is awesome. I love everybody out here,” Martinez said. “Laura Berg is a coach here and I watched her growing up and I just idolized her. It’s awesome to be able to learn from her and just getting to see Jackie Traina. She’s one of the best pitchers and I had to face her in college. So just getting to spend time with the best players is just awesome. I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Fischer, who was the first Loyola Marymount player to earn National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American honors in 2012 and finished her career with 65 career home runs, echoed Martinez’s thoughts and said sometimes she still has to remind herself that she isn’t dreaming anymore about getting to wear USA across her chest.
“When I first made the team two years ago, I still had to keep reminding myself,” she said. “It seriously still feels unreal because you think about all the years of the lessons and the practices and the tears. All the hard stuff that you’ve been through and you get to here and it’s all worth it.
“Getting to wear USA, I don’t think I can compare it to anything else because it’s something that you literally dream about. There’s 22 girls out here. How many girls play ball in the country? And there’s just 22 here. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps I don’t know what will. It’s pretty amazing.”
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