Awareness, empowerment and unity take center stage as pro softball returns to USSSA Space Coast Complex

This Is Us team defeats Pride 3-1 after emotion-filled week


Published:

Members of the USSSA Pride and the team now known as This Is Us stand arm-in-arm during a moment of silence following Saturday's game at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. It was the first game since a controversial tweet on Monday.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

They played their hearts out on the field … then they poured their hearts out in front of the crowd that came to watch them.

Members of the newly formed professional softball team This Is Us held a panel discussion Saturday night after defeating the USSSA Pride 3-1 in a game that marked the end of a long, emotional week that several players said had changed them forever.

“Just because something may seem negative, we showed you can always turn it into a positive,” first baseman Sam Fischer told the crowd.

Five days earlier, Fischer and her 17 teammates walked out of their locker room vowing to never represent the Scrap Yard Dawgs organization again following a politically-charged tweet by general manager Connie May that was posted to the team’s Twitter page.

On Saturday, they were back, dressed in all black with the words “This is Us” written across their chests. On the backs of their jerseys were the names of current and past Black softball players to whom they wanted to acknowledge and honor.

They also came together with a mission to raise awareness, to empower and unite.

“I’ve been so proud to be part of the conversations this group has been having,” catcher Aubree Munro told the crowd. “Being really intentional about what we want to say, what we want to stand for and how we want to move forward -- having the tough conversations and just really honing in on what we believe in

“For the future of our sport, I want all the young girls here to know that you have a voice. People can’t speak for you. I think a lot of us in this sport have fought really, really hard for that voice.

“We fought for a platform. We fought to be heard and I think a lot of us were really hurt by that being taken away from us. To take a stand, to take our voices back and to stand for something for the future of our sport, has changed me. And I hope it inspires all of you to know you can stand up, be counted, know your voice and really make a change with it. That’s what I hope to see.”

It was after losing Monday’s season opener 4-0 to the Pride that the now former Scrap Yard players learned about their general manager’s tweet after being bombarded with text messages from friends and family.

The post included a photo of players standing for the national anthem and read: “Hey @realDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live @usssaspacecoast @USSAPride Everyone respecting the FLAG!”

Fischer, who is married to an Air Force veteran, explained the players were caught off-guard by the post and were upset because of its obvious political tones.

“We were spoken for on an extremely sensitive, extremely personal topic,” Fischer said. “That right there was the main issue. The underlying things, of course, I think to us are very obvious. But just to take a stance like that on a public forum from an organization’s page, it was wrong in our eyes.”

Kiki Stokes, the first player drafted by the Scrap Yard Dawgs in 2015 and the only Black player on the roster, explained to the roughly 250 fans what she was thinking when she found out about the tweet.

“In that moment, I felt very alone, isolated,” Stokes said. “And I was very confused as well because I just didn’t understand how … I’ve represented that organization for the last five years. A team I trusted. To kind of be let down, I felt like I was betrayed.”

Stokes may have been the first player to walk out, but it only took seconds for her teammates to follow her. Because that’s what you do for your family.

“It was the right thing to do … in my heart, I knew it was right,” teammate Sam Show said. “It’s made some relationships really rocky. I have a following on Instagram and Twitter and I’m OK with losing those people and maybe losing friends because I know what I’m doing is right. Being a good person is something I’m about. Love others like you want to be loved. That’s how I’ve gone my whole life.”

Show joined Stokes and USSA Pride players Shay Knighten and A.J. Andrews in taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Following the game, players from both teams stood together arm in arm for a moment of silence, then posed for a combined team photo.

After all that has happened in the past week, both teams were happy just to get out Saturday night and play the game that they love.

“It was a release,” Pride pitcher Dallas Escobedo said. “It was nice. It was just something I think we were waiting for and making sure it was the right thing to do for all of us. It was meant to be.”

Escobedo, who played for the Scrap Yard Dawgs the previous two seasons before being traded to the Pride, said she and her USSSA teammates have supported members of the This Is Us team throughout their ordeal.

“We knew it was wrong,” Escobedo said. “We were just thankful that we were able to support and feed off the energy that they want to empower and unify the entire softball community. I think what they did with the panel tonight is the start of something that can continue to go on and grow throughout other sports, not just the softball world.

“It’s going to be interesting and exciting to see where it can go. It needed to be done.”

As for the game itself, the Pride got a solo home run from Amanda Lorenz but wasted two other scoring opportunities and made six errors as Team USA pitchers Keilani Ricketts and Cat Osterman – two of 11 Olympians playing for This Is US – combined for seven strikeouts.

The two teams are scheduled to play again Monday at 6 p.m. at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. A remaining schedule for the rest of the summer is being worked out and will be made available on the USSA Pride website. It’s likely that any other games between the two teams will be played in Viera.

The This Is Us team has been accepting donations through online ticket sales at http://thisisussoftball.com/donate and as of Saturday night, had raised $36,454. Their jerseys, which were originally to have been used for batting practice, were donated by 5 Tool Sport, which is based in Texas.

While the future, such as whether or not a new sponsor will come in and support This Is US is unclear, the fact that they were able to come back and play Saturday night sent a powerful message about unity, empowerment and raising awareness of issues they care deeply about.

“I’m so grateful for this team and what we’re going to continue to stand for and continue to do in our softball community,” Stokes said.