Two-time Olympic softball gold medalist and current ESPN Analyst, Michele Smith has certainly made a name for herself in the world of women’s sports and fastpitch softball.
During her days at Oklahoma State University (1985-1990) the pitcher dominated the mound, posting a school record, 80-20 overall record, an ERA of .75, a .343 batting average including 15 home runs and 87 RBI’s, and was named the MVP of the Big Eight Tournament in 1989. She went on to become a 10x All American and 4x Bertha Tickey Award for most outstanding pitcher. She won three consecutive national championships with the Redding Rebels (1993-1995) during her time in the Women’s Major ASA Fastpitch league and spent 16 seasons playing pro ball in Japan where she earned 8 MVP’s and 8 championship victories.
In addition to her two Olympic gold medals, Smith has also earned three gold medals in the World Championships (1994, 1998, 2002), and two gold medals in the Pan American games (1995 and 1999).
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Despite the busy schedule of her second career as a broadcaster, Michele Smith took the time to chat with us about softball, community involvement, the growth of women’s sports, career highlights, advice for athletes, and more.
Youth1: Last month, you put on the Michele Smith Pediatric Cancer invitational, featuring some top D-1 programs. Can you tell me a little bit about that tournament and how it started?
Michele Smith: We are in our 4th year of tournament. The Pediatric Cancer Foundation was founded in Tampa, FL. Ped. I do a lot of charity, and ended up running into them. Softball is a very grass root sport so it made sense to team up. Most people do not realize that less than 4 percent of federal funding goes towards pediatric research. It affects the majority of people who play our sport.
Y1: Some of your community programs include Batters Up USA, Athletes for Hearts, and your involvement with Little League. Can you tell me a little about these and why they are important to you?
Michele: For me, it’s about giving back and making a difference. Softball has given me a lot so I feel like important to help out charities in numerous ways. Part of it is financial but a big part of it is raising awareness, and being a part of something bigger than themselves is important. As an athlete, it’s so easy to be focused on yourself and the way the game affects you, instead of the way you can affect the game and the world.
Y1: You’ve done a lot with the Women’s Sports Foundation and Title IX. What is your involvement with this and why is it important to you?
Michele: Title IX has been important for women’s sports and women in general. The Women’s sports Foundation has done a great job of raising awareness through the ‘80s and ‘90s when we really needed it. Nowadays, I think today’s generation of young female athletes don’t realize that there was a time not long ago where female athletes weren’t receiving the same benefits male athletes were. So it’s important for the history of women’s sports and movements that people remember there was a time just a generation ago where my mom didn’t have the opportunity to play team sports just because it wasn’t organized. For me it’s educational, always remembering where you came from, and then we need to keep building and giving opportunities to everybody.
Y1: What is your advice to someone just starting out with competitive fastpitch?
Michele: The biggest advice I could give you is to be passionate. You have to love it. If you don’t love it than you need to look for something that you do love to do because it’s a competitive world out there and the people that want to be involved and work their hardest to be involved and be on the field, are the ones that are going to shine. You don’t have to be the best athlete, but you can be the most motivated, the one that gives the most, and because of that, the one that makes a difference. It’s a team sport and nobody wins our game on their own. So, I think it teaches young girls life lessons.
Y1: What is your advice to someone looking to play D1 college ball and beyond?
Michele: There are a lot more opportunities outside of Division 1. We see the 1% of athletes on TV or that are at the D1 level but for me it’s really about all of the division 2,3, junior college, etc. that still really make a difference in a young woman’s life. The main thing is if you’re looking to play D1 softball, you have to realize that even if you’re a big fish in a little pond on your travel ball team or high school teams, you get to college and you learn really quick that you are going to be one of many who are really good. And it takes a lot to be great. It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight. The skills for baseball and softball develop over time and if you’re not willing to be patient and work hard for a long time, you’re going to struggle in the sport.
Y1: What are your thoughts on the importance of the fundamentals of the game and re-enforcing the fundamentals regardless of the level of play?
Michele: The best athletes in any sport perform the fundamentals of their sport at a very high level and I think sometimes people forget that. They want to learn the rise ball, they want to hit the home run, and they want to do the things that really aren’t what make kids successful. The goal is to be fundamentally sound 99 out of 100 times. Not doing the one thing 1 out of 100 times isn’t really going move the pendulum that much. I think it’s continuing to work on a sound base of being able to throw correctly, pitch correctly, run correctly, and swing the bat correctly. The little things always win games.
Y1: How was it being a part of the ’96 Olympics when softball made its Olympic debut, and then winning gold?
Michele: It’s always an honor to play at the Olympics games. Being able to play on the first Olympic team that ever step foot on a softball field was definitely for the history of our sport, and was an honor to be a part of. Anytime you’re playing in a championship game; the Olympic Games, pan American games, being able to win a gold is an honor. You don’t forget it. Tokyo 2020 is big step in getting back on the Olympic program but now we have to stay on top of it because Paris is 2024 and back to LA in 2028. We need to figure out some way to see if we can get on the Paris program.
Y1: Getting through slumps and overcoming obstacles are part of the game, and something athletes need to work through. Getting through these are both part of sports and life. What is your advice on overcoming obstacles?
Michele: I think you need to embrace them. I think obstacles and adversity are the things that make you great. Life is not about smooth sailing. It’s about sailing smoothly through the waves and the rough winds, and I think sometimes athletes become complacent. The adversity is usually what wakes you up and shakes you up, and allows you to really find out what you’re made of.
Y1: Here’s a two-part question. What is your favorite softball memory from playing, and what has been your favorite memory as a sports analyst?
Michele: As a player, being a part of the Olympics and winning two golds is definitely up there, but I have just as many amazing memories playing with my professional team in Japan. Playing 16 years professionally in Japan was an incredible experience. As a broadcaster, last year’s 17-inning game between Florida (University of Florida) and Oklahoma (University of Oklahoma) really was epic. That was a game I don’t think that will ever be repeated, and it was an honor to be able to call that game. And to see the athletes working so hard and fighting, that was pretty special.
Y1: Last question. What are you up to these days, and do you have any events coming up that you are looking forward to?
Michele: Broadcasting. The next three months are pretty much my broadcasting season with ESPN. I can do a little more in the fall, so that’s when I typically hold my Softball for Hearts charity tournament, camps, and clinics. I am also involved with other charities. I sit on the charity Clearwater for youth out of Clearwater FL. Clearwater for youth does a lot for the local kids in the Clearwater area. We give away college scholarships to local athletes and help local kids who may not be able to afford the sports fees. Clearwater is a great community that comes together to keep kids involved in sports and that is really important.