Michele Smith Interviewed By Erin Goettlicher
Erin: Let’s get back to the beginning. When did you get into softball? How did you get into it?
Michele: I was about six or seven years old, my mom was coaching my older sister. Of course I begged them to let me play and, that’s how I first got started. I didn’t start to pitch though until I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school. I started pitching really late.
Erin: What other positions that you play other than pitching?
Michele: I played first base, and I played outfield. I actually was a left-handed shortstop for a while, but I knew my career wasn’t going to probably go real far being a left-handed shortstop so I started pitching.
Erin: Now, you mentioned your mom. Was there anybody in particular that really helped to inspire you on softball?
Michele: I just love the bat, and ball sport since I was a little kid. It didn’t matter if it was playing in the neighborhood with the other kids, or playing in organized games, Just anything that had to do with baseball, or softball. I was loving it.
Erin: If you are to go back and you had to pick another position other being than a pitcher, what would you be the best at?
Michele: Well, if I wasn’t left-handed, I would probably love to have played one of the middle infield positions. So if I was right-handed, middle infield. Being left-handed, I probably would have set first base. Although I did love the outfield as well. I’m one of those people, I’m happy if I’m just on the field.
Erin: Absolutely. Well, in your time, you played against a lot of great players. Who would you say is the toughest hitter you’ve ever faced?
Michele: I’ve faced a lot of great hitters because my career was so long. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. Yvonne Gutierrez, who is a great hitter for UCLA, played in women’s major fastpitch was a very good hitter. Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson, Kim Morrell. Everyone who’s ever played on the Olympic team. You could probably name everyone of those athletes.
As a lefty, I always had a different look at batters than what right-handed pitchers had. Another one, Jen Brundage, very good hitter. There are a lot of them. You always had to try to figure out a way to give them out. They beat you sometimes, and then sometimes you beat them.
Erin: Well, I think one of the most well known names right now would be someone like Crystl Bustos.
Michele: Being a lefty, I would just throw her my curve ball low and inside, she hated that pitch. She would always say, “Smitty, stop throwing me that darn curve.” It’s a different game too depending on if we’re playing on forty feet or forty-three feet. When I started playing with her, we were still at forty feet. She was a tough hitter at forty feet. At forty-three feet, her game just goes to a new level because she has so much power that extra 3 feet. It’s tough to beat her.
Erin: So would you say, you or Crystal has the upper hand?
Michele: I think because I’m left-handed, I had the upper hand but only because I’m left-handed. I think against anyone else, and again, I’d mostly threw at her when we were at forty feet so it was a different game. I mean most pitchers have the upper hand at forty feet. But Crystal Bustos, when she’s on, if you have to throw the ball at her forty-three feet, more times and not, she’s going to beat you. So you just have to hope she gets herself out.
Erin: Well, now you mentioned the change in the pitching distance, throughout the years that you’ve played, what do you think is one of the craziest rule changes.
Michele: Yeah, internationally, the twenty second clock to speed up the game although it helped a lot. It made a difference in Beijing. For athletes, for those of us that played that elite game at forty feet, it was so difficult to pitch, to hit at that level that when they went back to forty-three feet, it opened the pool up. There were many more athletes that can play at the elite level at forty-three feet than they can at forty feet.
So that’s really why the US was just so over-powering in Athens besides the fact that we are great. The rest of the world wasn’t used to playing softball at forty-three feet. I think that one of the things about our sport is that we’re kind of like always moving, like an amoeba, kind of always moving around and always changing things. Baseball is so traditionally. You never see it changes. .
Erin: Absolutely. You mentioned the international scene. You’ve been to a lot of great places throughout the world. If you had to pick one of your favorite places whether be a city or a stadium to play, what would that be?
Michele: The Olympic arenas is just always something special. Any Olympic games, when you walk into that Olympic stadium, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in, when you represent your country, it’s a special thing. Playing in Sydney was always a lot of fun because you knew that every Australian fan was just going to give you the hardest time ever, so that’s always a lot of fun.
I loved playing in Japan. I played professionally there for sixteen years and the Japanese fans are wonderful. They’re great people, and appreciate really good play. It’s always fun to play in Europe although the Europeans don’t understand the sport as much. But I would have to say my favorite two places would be to play in Australia or, Japan.
Erin: Very good. Now, do you have any superstitions or traditions that you follow?
Erin: Before you take the field?
Michele: Yeah. I’m more traditional. I’m real big on having a routine. So I do always jump over the foul lines but, instead of that being a superstition, it was my way of saying, “Okay, it’s time to go to work.” It was my cue, physical cue to say, “Okay, it’s time for me to play ball.” So that was always my thing. It was like I was jumping into my arena almost like it was a three dimensional. Did I have favorite things I like to wear? Absolutely. These sliders were more comfortable than my other sliders so I wore those.
Did I wear them because I’m a superstitious? No, they’re just were the most comfortable ones I wore. So for me, it was more about routine.
Erin: In your equipment bag, on game day, what’s always in your equipment bag?
Michele: Always two gloves. Probably, about ten pairs of batting gloves. Three or four bats. Probably, some gels in case my arm gets tight, to keep it loose. Probably, some sort of food because I love to eat.
Erin: What iare your during the game snacks that you like?
Michele: I think bananas are always great. Honey is also really good pitchers because it’s a very natural.
Erin: Okay. You’ve played with many different teammates over the time. If we could go back and ask those players what they remember the most about you, what would you want them to say and how would you want them to describe you as a teammate?
Michele: I was probably tough, intense, but willing to help anyone if they needed extra BP, I throw them BP. If they needed extra practice, I work with them. So I tried to really make my teammates better. I don’t know if they always got that when I was playing but I was real big like that. That’s one of the things that the Japanese knew about me really well.
One of my biggest goals was to help my teammates become the best athletes that they could be.
Erin: Very good. Now, you mentioned that you keep some gels in case your arm gets sore. You’ve been playing for a lot of years. What is the toughest part about keeping yourself in great physical condition to play at such an elite level?
Michele: Well, the game isn’t just the four or six months you’re on the field. It’s a year round. If you want to be a great athlete, you have to train year round and that’s physical fitness. A lot of athletes think that they can work between the lines and that’s going to make them a good ball player. It doesn’t cut it anymore.
If you want to be an elite athlete, if you want a scholarship, if you want to win a state championship, a college championship, a gold medal, you have to learn to work really hard in the off season so that means running, cycling. It means cardiovascular fitness. It means building lean body mass as well as also having a level of fitness where your endurance just can take you further, and allow you to compete longer than the other people that are on the field with you.
Erin: Right. Now, when you finish your career, you’ve been playing for quite a while and I’m sure you’re going to continue to play as long as you can. When we look back on Michele Smith’s legacy, usually on the road, what are some of the things you’re most proud of that you want us to remember your legacy as?
Michele: That I never stop learning. I love to teach the game when I’m broadcasting for ESPN. I love to teach the game as if I’m speaking to one student athlete out there that is trying to become a better ball player. So for me, it’s about teaching the game, sharing my passion of the sport with potentially new fans of the game that are watching for the first time but really about learning and teaching and just feeling like every day I step on the field, I’m going to be a better athlete.
Erin: Great. Well, if you are going to leave us with a few words of advice for those young players out there that are chasing their dreams today, what would those be?
Michele: Few words of advice that would to persevere, to never give up. If you have a passion, if you have something that you love, whether or not it’s softball or Math or religion or whatever it is, just to never give up. That means in Japanese, to always fight hard.
Erin: Well, there you have it folks. Michele, thank you very much for joining us today.
Michele: Thank you.