International Women’s Day – Plenty of trailblazers on and off the softball diamond

International Women’s Day – Plenty of trailblazers on and off the softball diamond

Since the beginning of the sport, women have always played a leading role in softball history.

Since the beginning of the sport, women have always played a leading role in softball history. Two of the many milestones of the sport are proof of it. The first-ever Softball World Cup was played by women in 1965 (the inaugural Men’s Softball World Championship was played a year after); and for 12 years softball was the only team sport played by women in the Olympics, and was one of three women-only disciplines in the Olympic Games (along with rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming).

The name of Bertha Tickey is always among the list of greatest players in history. Before the era of international softball began in 1965, she dominated the game in USA from the circle. From 1956-1968, Bertha pitched for her team, the Brakettes, and won 285 games and lost only 26. Bertha’s lifetime record of 757 wins and 88 losses includes 162 no-hitters.

Esther Deason was regarded as the leading lady of international softball. She not only played an instrumental role in the organisation of the first ever Women’s Softball World Cup in 1965, but she was also elected as one of three ISF Vice Presidents in the first Executive Board of the international body, also in 1965. Along with Merle Short and Marjorie Dwyer, she attended the ASA Women’s Major Fastpitch National Championship in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1962. They met with Don Porter, the executive director of the ASA at the time, and Jiro Iwano, the head of the Japanese delegation, and discussed the possibility of holding an international tournament with each country sending a team. Three years after that meeting, the first official softball world championship was played.

Among the U.S. players who made the trip to Melbourne for the first WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup, Donna Lopiano has a special place. She was the losing pitcher of the first-ever final, but it didn’t tarnish a Hall of Fame career that includes many accolades. After she retired, she served as the Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Texas in Austin from 1975 to 1992 and as Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 1992 to 2007.

As part of the Olympic Games, softball has made a strong contribution to gender equity, being the only team sport dedicated for women. Many softballers have made history on and off the field during the 12-year Olympic tenure. Ivelisse Echevarria (PUR, 1996), Maria Soto (VEN, 2008) and Lai Sheng-Jung (TPE, 2008) were honoured by walking in front of their country’s delegation at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, proudly bearing their nation’s flags. By carrying their national flag during the Parade of Nations, these women became an enduring symbol of their nation’s values and Olympic ideals, not to mention an inspiration for future generations.

On the field, four players have made the record books by medalling in all four editions of the Olympic softball competition. The most decorated softball player in the Olympic softball history is Laura Berg, from USA, who has won three gold medals (1996, 2000 and 2004) and a silver medal (2008). Australians Tanya Harding, Melanie Roche and Natalie Ward have also won four Olympic medals, including a silver medal (2004) and three bronze medals (1996, 2000 and 2008).

Chelsea Forkin and Leigh Godfrey, also from Australia, are other examples of dedication and willingness. Their versatility has allowed her to defend her country both in baseball and softball world cups in the same year. They are also pursuing a spot in the Australian Olympic roster for Tokyo 2020.

Forkin has played in three different WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cups (2004, 2016 and 2018) and also in five WBSC Women’s Softball World Cups (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018), winning a bronze medal two times.

Godfrey participated in four WBSC Women’s Softball World Cups (2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018), and also played in the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup 2014. In that year, she earned a bronze medal both in baseball and softball flagship events.

However, they are not the only softball players to shine in other sports. Joan Joyce (USA) had a brilliant softball career recording 150 no-hitters, 50 perfect games and recorded more than 10,000 strikeouts. She won a gold medal with the U.S. National Team at the 1974 WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup, posting a 5-0 record while pitching 36 scoreless innings, over which time she struck out 76 batters and hurled three no-hitters – two of which were perfect games. However, in 1975, Joyce traded her bat for a golf club and two years later became a member of the LPGA Tour, where she played until 1995. She also played in the U.S. National Basketball Team in 1965.

Jessica Mendoza is a two-time Olympic medallist (gold in Athens 2004 and silver in Beijing 2008) and one of the biggest names in the recent history of the game. In 2015, she became the first woman to serve as an analyst for nationally-televised MLB games for ESPN. She has since become one of the leading voices in ESPN’s Major League Baseball coverage. She also is an analyst for the Women’s Softball College World Series.

Visit wbsc.org for more information on the international game.