VIERA, Florida — It seems like ages since Monica Abbott fired a softball in the Olympics.
“A funny thing about 2008, I was the youngest player on that team (22),” said Abbott, laughing, recalling the days of Beijing, China, when Team USA settled for silver in a loss to Japan.
Now 34, the 6-foot-3 left-hander with the intimidating long stride and the literal “million-dollar” arm is still throwing 70-plus mph rockets. Monday night, she fired three scoreless innings as fast-pitch softball became the first professional team sport in the United States to play a game since the COVID-19 pandemic halted nearly all athletics.
“It’s really cool to be back playing,” Abbott said, who crackled Taylor Edwards’ catcher’s mitt on several occasions. “It’s been hard, really hard. But someone has to start it up again. We’ve got a lot of new procedures and a lot of changes.”
The return of pro softball Monday night in Viera, Florida, marked the comeback of the first pro sports teams to play a game since the COVID-19 shutdown.
When the pandemic ended Team USA’s national tour and the training camp that was to be set up at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Abbott stayed home in Salinas, Calif. — without a catcher. So she started throwing into a net.
“Then my fiance (Jeff) started catching. He’s not a real catcher, of course,” she said, shaking her head. “But I’m super grateful for how he helped me through this. I mean, there would be days I was going around the house asking, ‘Anybody want to put on a glove?’ ”
Since the 2008 Games, Abbott has stayed busy, playing in Japan, then with Chicago in the National Pro Fastpitch league before signing a much ballyhooed six-year contract, believed to be worth $1 million, in 2016 with the ScrapYard Dawgs out of Conroe, Texas.
The Dawgs, this season, have added plenty of firepower with eight full-time Team USA Olympic players and all three replacement players.
“We’ve got some rust to work out,” said Abbott, whose team lost to the host USSSA Pride, the two-time reigning National Pro Fastpitch champions, 4-0, in a battle of independent teams.
Pride third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish enjoyed a perfect night at the plate, clubbing a loud double off Abbott in the second inning, launching a three-run homer that curled 10 feet inside the left field foul pole off Ally Carda, and then taking a walk against Cat Osterman, the former Texas legend who is coming out of retirement for the Olympics.
The USSSA Pride defeat a Texas team loaded with Olympians as softball returns from the COVID-19 shutdown.
“It felt so good when that ball came off the bat,” said Jaquish, the former LSU standout who happened to be wearing the No. 27 jersey of another former Tigers star, Bianka Bell. “That’s probably why I hit it so far, wearing her jersey,” she laughed.
Jaquish, who has learned to play every position but pitch (“Well, I’ll pitch if you want to lose,” she said) actually toured with Team USA all of 2019 but missed the final cuts.
Monday night, she said she had no extra motivation.
“Nope, I just play the best I can for whatever team I’m playing for,” said the Denver, Colorado, resident. “Right now, I’m playing for fun and, literally, Pride,” she added, pointing at her jersey.
Pitchers Jailyn Ford, who went six innings, and Jessica Burroughs combined on the two-hit shutout.
Softball’s return was a big hit for some 300 fans who were on hand on a beautiful, but warm, evening at the USSSA Space Coast Complex, the former spring training home of the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins.
Bob Lockhart was on hand to cheer for the local star, Alex Powers, a former Florida State University and Eau Gallie High standout, where he had played baseball.
“It’s cool seeing these players out there again,” said Lockhart, who used to play Wiffle ball in the back yard where Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Tim Wakefield, another Eau Gallie grad, lived.
Chuck and Karen Guth sat directly behind home plate on the second level, enjoying a night at the park.
“We used to follow the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds (minor league baseball at Ripken Stadium) back when we lived in Baltimore,” Karen said. “But we enjoy this. This is amazing.”
“Just the speed of the game, the athleticism, the competitiveness,” Chuck said. “Love it all.”
And, even for legendary players like Abbott, it was a great night to be back at the ballpark.
“I just feel blessed to still be a part of it,” she said.
Contact Grossman at 321-242-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support our work by subscribing to FLORIDA TODAY.
Having the apt skills to play with words to put forth various updates and news relating to the field of technology in an interesting way has made Adrian is a contributor in our organization. He is dedicated to writing articles related to all the up-to-the-minute inventions, launches, updates, and much more happening in the world of technology. In his free time, Adrian offers a guest lecture to kids about the latest inventions.