Team USA softball to play twice in state
By Tim Gayle
Team USA will make just four stops for exhibition softball games in 2017, but two of them are in the state of Alabama.
The softball team made a stop in Montgomery in 2004 and in Birmingham in 2008 as a tuneup for the Olympics before softball was dropped as an Olympic sport. With the announcement last August that softball will be included in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Team USA will be making exhibition stops at the University of Alabama and Auburn University in July.
“With the buzz of going back into the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, it just crossed my mind as USA state commissioner, I wanted them in Alabama,” Natalie Norman said. “I want them here every year if I can get them every year. They’re making four stops in Irvine and Sacramento, Calif., and then they’re going to be in Tuscaloosa and Auburn.”
Team USA includes former Alabama center fielder Haley McCleney, current Auburn third baseman Kasey Cooper and a pair of Florida pitchers, sophomore Kelly Barnhill and senior Delanie Gourley, on the 20-member roster. The team is coached by South Florida head coach Ken Eriksen.
The team will open its tour on June 13 and 15 at Irvine’s Deanna Manning Stadium, then will participate in the World Cup of Softball XII in Oklahoma City on July 5-9. After a stop at Sacramento’s Raley Field on July 13, the team will travel to Tuscaloosa for a doubleheader at Rhoads Stadium on Thursday, July 20, starting at 6 p.m.
The team will travel to Auburn for a doubleheader on Saturday, July 22, at Jane B. Moore Stadium beginning at 5 p.m.
“They will be playing a collegiate team made up of different Alabama players,” Norman said. “The head coach will be in charge of (selecting the players), along with USA Softball of Alabama. We want to spread it around. This is a great opportunity. We’ve got great players in the state of Alabama. Those coaches have not been named.”
While she offered no candidates for the position, she said the coaching staff would not involve coaches at either Alabama or Auburn and added, “I really would like to see a high school coach on each (collegiate) team, just to give them a little experience. It’s competition but it’s an exhibition game and a chance to see the best players in the world.
“We want to give as many as possible the experience of a lifetime, playing against Team USA. Probably, some of those same players will be on the Olympic team in 2020.”
The stop in Alabama includes a scheduled training camp, which is listed on Team USA’s web site as falling between July 19-23. Norman said it is likely the players will conduct only one camp in Alabama.
“They’ll have a camp in Auburn for the girls,” Norman said. “A lot depends on their travel schedule (whether they will conduct one in Tuscaloosa). When they arrive, they may want to practice, they may want to do a camp. They will get at least one camp in on the tour (through Alabama).”
Tickets will go on sale in mid-May at usasoftballofalabama.com.
“I’m predicting a sellout at both parks,” Norman said. “We’d like to get some sponsors involved so we can do some things for those players, not only Team USA but the collegiate team. We want to roll out the red carpet for both of them.”
Norman said potential sponsors could contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. USA Softball of Alabama is a non-profit organization.
While the 2017 tour only lists four cities, others may be added at a later date. There will be future exhibition games on future tours leading up to the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“It would be outstanding if they would come here every year,” Norman said. “But a lot of it depends on their tournament schedule and what they’re doing on a national level. They like to spread it around, give other states an opportunity to have them there. As we get prepared for July and are certainly excited about these tour stops, we look toward 2018, 2019 and 2020 as well.”