By: Alexis Brudnicki
AJAX, Ont. – There really is nothing better than this.
The Canadian Women’s National Team is on home soil competing for its country for the first time in a multi-sport event at the Pan Am Games, getting a chance to share the experience with family, friends, fans, and hopefully even more future supporters.
Bradi Wall, Team Canada’s shortstop from Swift Current, Sask., has been with the national squad for five years and competed in multiple World Cup competitions, but has never experienced anything like the sentiment she’s had since being at these Games.
“It’s an awesome feeling because this is the first time we are in the Pan Ams or any multi-sport event,” Wall said. “At World Cups, it’s always been women’s baseball and that’s it. Here, not only are we women’s baseball, but we are also representing Canada as a whole.
“It’s the best experience knowing that you have so many athletes behind your back, going for gold in their event, exactly like you. You can’t have anything better than this – playing on home soil, having athletes, having fans, having family come all this way. It’s a great experience.”
While the women’s team has competed on home soil before, with the first-ever Women’s Baseball World Cup taking place in Edmonton, Alta., in 2004 – the year the program was born – and then Edmonton hosting again in 2012 when the host country won bronze, this experience has taken on a feeling of its own.
“Fan-wise, on the field it’s pretty similar,” Wall said. “We have the fans and the crowd with us. Going home to the Athletes’ Village where you are surrounded by other athletes and you see your country and you see other countries, it’s a sense of pride when you go back knowing that you won for your country.”
Right away, the roster of 18 women who are donning the red-and-white uniforms in Ajax, Ont., noticed the difference of being around athletes from all other sports and disciplines. They’ve most enjoyed getting to cheer on their fellow countrymen, starting with watching Baseball Canada’s Senior National Team capture its second consecutive Pan Am gold on Sunday before getting their tournament underway the following night.
“It’s been great,” Wall said. “We came up to the [Athletes’] Village on Wednesday and then got to watch the men play a couple times, we got to practice, and then finally [Monday] was the day that we got to play and got to showcase ourselves. We had a good start, a good game, so we can’t expect anything more than this.”
In Monday's tournament-opening matchup against Cuba, Team Canada manager Andre Lachance got exactly what he expected out of his shortstop. Wall was defensively strong, to go with a three-run double in a two-hit performance at the plate. Through three games, she has five hits and leads the tournament with six RBI.
“She’s been great since she’s been playing with this program,” Lachance said. “She’s been outstanding. She had the key double to clear the bases [on Monday] and that’s what we expect. When you see Bradi Wall on the field, you expect she’s going to make all the routine plays.”
With the team taking centre stage in Ajax throughout the final week of the Pan Am Games, Wall and the rest of her team hope that the tournament will help to build their reputation as baseball players, and spread the word that there are women playing and thriving in the sport.
After 16-year-old Melissa Mayeux of France was added to Major League Baseball’s international registration list, making her eligible to be signed by a big league club, a little bit more attention was drawn to the fact that women are, indeed, playing baseball. Having instructed the young shortstop before, Wall was excited for Mayeux, but also for what the news might mean for the sport in general.
“That’s awesome for Melissa,” the 23-year-old infielder said of Mayeux. “I actually coached her in Cuba one year when I went down with Andre. It’s great knowing that we have girls and we have women who are out there and are fighting for a spot with men, just like the rest of us.
“We are out here showcasing our sport, showing that we are just as good as the guys, and showing that we can battle pitch by pitch. Having Melissa doing that same thing internationally is awesome for women’s baseball as a whole.”
With three games - and three victories over Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico - under the Canadian women's belts, they know their work at the Pan Am Games won't be done until they walk out of the tournament with a win. After a less-than-ideal fourth-place finish at the most recent World Cup in Japan in September, Canada is now guaranteed a Pan Am medal and the squad is hungry to make an impression here and now.
“We play now,” Wall said. “We play inning by inning, and we play pitch by pitch. What happened last year is what happened last year. We are in the Pan Ams this year, so that’s what we are focusing on…We know that we have to hit from inning No. 1 with the tougher teams coming up.
“[Against] every single team, we have to play our best and know that we can hit from inning one all the way up to inning seven.”