Good morning…relatively speaking. The build up of anticipation and stress to set up and get my podcast interview with Michele Smith to go smoothly came and went. I navigated the normal work day and made a side trip to acquire a data cable to attach my iPhone XR to the speaker successfully. I arrived home after work and tested the setup for about 20 minutes to make sure everything seemed correct and viable with no issues. With the exception of the blue tooth function with the speaker disconnecting, everything else seemed OK. To circumvent this, I simply plugged in the data cord from the speaker to the iPhone and it worked like a charm.
With the testing and troubleshooting done, I recorded the interview pre-amble and sent Michele a text message to call me when she was ready. She responded that she would call in a few minutes and all that was left to do was wait. After a brief few minutes, Michele Smith calling popped up on my phone! We spoke for a minute or two to get acquainted as this was literally the first time I was talking to her. With my adrenaline flowing, we were now set to record!
Michele Smith Interview
Today we are thrilled to bring you an interview with fast pitch softball superstar Michele Smith. Michele was a talented high school performer that launched her softball career at Oklahoma State. Her extraordinary talents allowed her to compete for Team USA Olympic Softball – not once – but twice in the years 1996 and 2000. In addition to that honor, Michele played softball professionally for a number of years. Now she spends some of her time as an analyst for ESPN. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of Michele as a published co- author and you can find her work on Amazon.com: Michele Smith’s Book of Good Softball Cheer.
Hi Michele and welcome to the show.
Thank you for taking some time with us today. How’s your week going so far?
## She jumped in and talked about the great weather in Florida today and recently and how much she loves it there. Also she noted how she likes to keep busy. (no grass growing under her feet)
OK where to start, how about you give the listeners the 30-second elevator speech about yourself?
## She mentions that she is a former All-American collegiate athlete at Oklahoma State University, two-time Olympic gold medal winner representing the USA, she has played softball professionally, won 8 JPL championships, she works as an analyst for ESPN and she is a chairperson for multiple charities and foundations.
For those who may not be aware of your dominating career that came to prominence in your high school years (Voorhees High School) in New Jersey, what was the really young Michele Smith athlete like from the age of five until about high school? Were you an unstoppable force from the first moment someone put a ball in your hand? Who pushed you into softball?
## From an early age she saw her sister (3 years older) playing ball and she wanted to play ball. Michele played every possible form of softball in her early years and started out as a left-handed shortstop! She didn’t move into pitching until her sophomore year of high school. She really enjoyed playing the infield and outfield as well. She viewed herself as a gap to gap hitter. She remembers fondly in her early years, grabbing a ball and her glove and hitting up her dad to play catch as soon as he would get home.
So let’s fast-forward to your injury. To set the table for our listeners, you were an up and coming star athlete with the door of opportunity wide open on the future. One day you were asleep as a passenger in a vehicle and by a freak occurrence you got thrown from that vehicle. You suffered some pretty scary injuries including very significant damage to your pitching arm. I guess the glass half full upside is that your spill from the vehicle was not fatal. But all your natural talent and hard work to that point were put in limbo. Who helped you the most emotionally and physically put yourself back together with goals focusing on returning to normal everyday life and making softball happen again?
## The injury happened between her freshman and sophomore years, right after she had a stellar freshman season. Michele describes graphically how destroyed her (pitching) elbow was and how the ‘meat’ of her muscle on her bicep was torn away. After surgery to graft the remaining muscle to her bone she was in a hard cast for three months. When she returned to school (pre-smart phone era), training staff and coaches and administration were aghast. Michele credits her stubbornness for her recovery and comeback. She vowed to her coach that she would return and play. Michele also notes that her academics suffered during her recovery as her writing hand/arm were in a cast and she tried to carry on by writing with her right hand but had a hard time keeping up and most of the time in reviewing her notes, she was unable to decipher what she had written down. She greatly credits her family, friends and the training staff at the university for helping her heal and work back towards her goal to play ball again. Also during this time she was introspective, realizing her window to play softball was always going to be limited but her value as a person was a lifetime opportunity. Incredibly she acknowledges that her injury was probably actually a blessing and if given the choice, she would’ve gladly suffered the injury a thousand more times because of all the perceived benefits she gained from it. (Amazing woman right here!) “I’m going to be me a lot longer than I’m going to be a softball player, so I better work on being a better me.”
A little trivia fun fact for the listeners: The first ever Tommy John surgery happened in 1974 to fix baseball player Tommy John’s elbow of course. Was the procedure to repair your arm and elbow anything along those lines?
## Michele said her surgery was actually quite different from the TJ surgery as that was dealing mostly with tendons and nerves, whereas her surgery involved bone removal, muscle grafting and some other medical jargon that I didn’t understand (along with more gruesome injury details.)
After your extended rehab and physical re-training, how were things for you mentally back on the pitching rubber? At first did you have trouble trusting your arm was healed and working with your new mechanics?
## Michele noted that getting back into competing was difficult but very educational for her. With her reworked mechanics and still not being 100% completely healed, she had to be precise with her body positioning and staying within her new mechanics or else the pain would tell her she was doing things wrong.
Did the hitting side of things come along a little faster than pitching, as your right arm, the lead arm when batting left handed didn’t sustain the level of trauma as your left arm?
## Surprisingly she indicated quite a bit of pain while batting – most notably when trying to hit outside pitches or in cold weather. She noted that in her sophomore season even though her pitching was strong, it was probably one of her worst hitting seasons.
I know this is crazy to ask, but do you think the injury possibly helped with your strength and focus once you were able to return to competitive play?
## She notes that once she was back to competing and a little further down the road to being completely healed, her pitches were clocked three (3) miles per hours faster than she was before the injury. She notes that she spent extensive time in the weight room and focused on her fitness to put her body into the best shape possible to help her get back to that elite status she was ascending towards before. She took great pride in trying to be the most fit person on any field when she played.
In your opinion, would you say women’s college and professional softball players have a comparable skill set to Major League baseball players?
## (with no hesitation) She says, “Oh for sure.” She goes on to explain about the smaller field dimensions, closer pitcher’s mound, defensive mindset and pressure with shorter bases, having to hit a 70+ mph pitch from only 40 or 43 feet away. Fielders have to play clean and fast on the infield with good reactions. Their game is more defensive minded in her opinion. As a pitcher with the smaller dimensions, there was added pressure of not making ‘hittable’ mistakes or the possibility of losing the game for her team.
–> From here I noted that as someone who has begun to pitch (slow pitch) in the last handful of years, I find being involved in every aspect of every play from the start as something I relish. That along with the responsibility of trying to control the game and give my team a chance to win. ## Michele echos my use of responsibility and agrees that as a pitcher you are perceived as a leader. Also the pitcher carries a won-loss record like the team, but no other position on the field does so. That enforces how critical pitchers are to the game.
I wanted to ask you about challenging MLB players because I’ve seen so many videos of women’s fastpitch pitchers challenging male baseball players…and frankly making them look helpless. Have you yourself pitched against baseball players (besides John Kruk) and if so, how did that go?
## She laughs and mentions in addition to John Kruk, she faced Barry Larkin, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker, Bret Boone (or was it Aaron?), Wade Boggs and a slew of others. Of the MLB hitters she faced, she said Wade Boggs probably did the best against her, probably because he had a very direct and flat swing. She also said Wade Boggs called her change-up pitch the ‘Bugs Bunny Change-up'(harkening back to the old cartoons where Bugs Bunny would throw a pitch and it would appear to move inexplicably in slow motion and be completely unhittable).
Let’s talk about the sweet spot of your career when you considered yourself at the top of your game. When do you think that was from your own perspective?
## She said probably from when she was 30 until about 38 (approximately 1997-2005) – which would have encompassed the time just after her first Olympic appearance, through her second Olympic appearance (2000) and spanning a large chunk of her career professionally in Japan.
Some players are very gifted on the defensive side or the offensive side but maybe not both. Obviously from a pitching standpoint, you were pretty darn fantastic but what people may not realize is that you were a very formidable hitter in your own right. You could’ve probably gotten by your whole career just on your pitching and defense alone but what motivated you to be such a dual threat? Who were some of your most influential coaches that brought out your best?
## She notes that her hitting success was derived from being a softball athlete first (left-handed shortstop and other positions) as opposed to being a softball pitcher first. Playing all the different positions and developing her hitting approach made her a more well- rounded player.
I’m a little bit older so I remember growing up before ESPN. Back in the day there was really no softball of any kind on TV. Virtually none. Now we get to see quite a bit of college softball and some exhibitions televised. As someone who played before the social media age, I would imagine there would have been countless events you would have liked to have had televised or have had live stream coverage for the fans. What is one specific event you were part that you wish would have been broadcast for mainstream viewing?
## She really likes this question. She states that years and years ago the only women’s softball of any kind on TV was the Women’s Majors. She noted that after college seasons were done, all the best college athletes jumped onto the major teams and competed against one another. She mentions competing against and with: Dot Richardson, Lisa Fernandez, Jessica Mendoza and about 15-20 more!
I’ve seen a few different nicknames for you on Twitter and the web. As a personal preference, what nickname do you prefer or are most comfortable with?
## She rolls through a few: Smitty, Lefty, Mikey, The Lioness (Japan) – because she didn’t put her hair up in a ponytail and her hair looked kind of like a lion’s mane with her visor. But ultimately she said her ESPN colleagues call her Smitty and that’s the one she mostly prefers.
In general, the percentage of people who can say they took part in an Olympics is very tiny. But you were able to do so – twice. Can you speak a little bit about what you liked most about the experience and what maybe you liked not at all?
## What she really liked was being on a grand stage alongside other elite athletes (some with like 2% body fat she says) but just knowing that all her dedication and hard work had given her the opportunity to stand alongside those other great athletes. And the one thing she noted that was hard was constantly being away from family and friends. Missing birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc because of the travel, training and playing schedule leaves so little down time. But she gladly accepted the trade-off for the experience and to get to do what she loves.
Staying on the Olympic thread, is it harder to be part of a team of elite athletes that may not have 100% of the chemistry of a team that has been together for a while or does the collective talent level just overcome the x-factor that chemistry brings?
## She noted that many of her teams in Japan had tremendous chemistry and that may have covered for any flaws or shortcomings the squads had and brought them a lot of success. With the Olympic teams and all-star teams, where virtually everyone is a terrific player, the chemistry took a little longer to build but the longer she was around them, she thought the chemistry developed very well.
Just a few more questions before we let you go.
Most people who know me know that I met my wife on the softball field, albeit playing slow pitch softball. But she and her sisters used to play fast pitch for years upon years. Her dad was very instrumental in getting her fundamentally sound and mentally ready to play catcher. And from what I understand, she was in softball terms a BEAST both with the bat and behind the plate. So as a pitcher, what were some of the critical things for you in working with a catcher?
## Over the years she worked with so many talented catchers stretching all the way back in her career. The catcher controls the pitcher who controls the game. Keeping the pitcher in rhythm and having the same idea of how to attack hitters in thinking along – the catcher helps control the fate of the game and takes on the responsibility same as the pitcher. (In all honesty she named like 13 or more catchers she has worked with over the years and how instrumental they were in her success.)
As I mentioned, I play some slow pitch softball in league and in local tournaments. But I also have friends who play and some of their kids are starting to play. For example, the best man at my wedding Matt, his daughter Lexie is starting to get more and more involved in her middle teen years as a pitcher. Matt and a few other parents who know that I play ball come to me with questions about equipment, training and hiring recruiters to try to get them to the next level. For developing players, besides being honest with their real upside capabilities, how should they go about getting noticed and putting the word out for coaches and potential schools?
## It is important to really understand the player’s skills and strengths to know what the future potential could be. She recommends focusing on a handful of schools (about) that the player is really interested in their program (colleges). Same for baseball too. Follow those programs, visit their campuses, get familiar with the coaches, try to personally interact with them: at games, at practices or with calls. She hedged on the use of social media (tweeting to coaches, Facebook or Instagram shoutouts, etc.). While she did say having an Instagram account dedicated to your videos and pictures as a player is a nice tool, coaches are like everyone else. They are busy and probably don’t get on those very frequently. What they really respond to are personal interactions and communications: Hey coach nice comeback win on Saturday! Hey coach, good luck against your rival on Friday! — Things like that to show interest, not just that you are ‘fishing’ for somewhere to go.
Now that we are into the early part of 2019, the softball season has already kicked off. What are you most excited about in the early going and in the months to come? Any programs that you really have your eye on – besides OSU? Who are some of the dominating players on the horizon that we should jot down their names to follow?
## Again she really liked this question. She rattled off a bunch of schools to follow, including: Washington, UCLA, Alabama, OSU and the Florida schools. She mentioned some of the other programs coming on and about 8-10 student athletes she was excited to get to see play. She mentioned that she would be calling the game between OSU and Texas on March 30th for ESPN2 at 7:30 pm Central Time. So check her out then!
Finally, I have to say it’s been quite an honor to speak with someone who sports the impressive softball resume you have. All the shutouts, home runs, college pitching triple crown, perfect games, wins in the Olympics and the list goes on and on. Are there any projects you are working on presently or foundations you would like to mention for the listeners to check in on?
## Michele mentioned she is part of many charities and sits on the board for several foundations. She talked about being involved with these foundations to give back to families who are dealing with serious medical conditions. She supports a number of charity events. Michele helps with the event Softball for Hearts (under Athletes for Hearts) and also works with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. There are more and can be found on her website.
Again thank you very much for coming on the show today and hopefully we can do this again sometime. <<wrap up>>
That was sports analyst Michele Smith who you can follow on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is: @MicheleSmith32
Hope everyone enjoyed this interview. Please comment and share with your softball and sports friends!
As an epilogue, it grieves me greatly that the 50 minutes I was able to have a conversation with this humble and amazing woman was wiped out by whatever technology glitch between my iPhone and the Podbean app happened. Even though I am not able to share those fun and enlightening Q&A’s that Michele shared, I feel very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to be able to have that hour of her very valuable time. Some of the tidbits not captured above included:
* Her talking about riding her bike like 350 miles a week or around 12,000 miles per year.
* Her noting that she missed like 12 Thanksgivings in a row to play ball.
* She is inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame along with the ASA Softball Hall of Fame.
* She was injured on July 21, 1986…and she made her Olympic debut on July 21, 1996 – exactly ten years later!
* I didn’t know she won 8 JPL Championship titles…or 8 MVP’s!
* She announced her retirement from softball at the age of 41…but played the last two months of that season with a broken foot suffered
during a base running snafu. She didn’t want to go out not playing her final games so she played injured.
* Throughout the interview, she mentions the pain from her arm injury, but she was more focused playing ball to her highest capability and being an all-around good person. For someone with her obligations and also her past accomplishments, she is very patient and humble and so relatable.
* I initially reached out to her on Facebook via InstantMessage on August 13, 2018 and the interview finally came to fruition last night (March 13, 2019).
* Michele was very accommodating and spoke very passionately about the sport of softball, bike riding, her charitable endeavors and trying
Thank you Michele and if we can do this again, I’m going to have a backup recording option and a backup-backup recording option!
@MicheleSmith32 – Twitter
College: Oklahoma State Cowgirls
Born June 21st
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmq3a3svb7M — Rip-It Sports Facemask
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT9ntDaFu1M — Vs John Kruk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR4YKYl9pJA — Proper Hitting off of a Tee
https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/Team-USA/History/Women/2000 — 2000 USA TEAM
https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball/Team-USA/History/Women/1996 — 1996 USA TEAM
<< 03-14-2019 >>