You’ve probably already heard the news about Olivia Pichardo, who this week became the first woman to make a Division I men’s college baseball team. However, it’s not the first time the player of Dominican descent has been at the center of the attention.
In 2019, when he was 15 years old, he hit triple digits at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field. (She clarified to me that she really was measured in kilometers, but either way, we’re talking almost 70 mph for someone her age.
That video spread all over social media. Several blogs and pages talked about her at that time.
But unfortunately, as is the case with most women in a male-dominated sport, any kind of doubt was raised. There was hate. A ridiculous dynamic.
“It was my first time reading negative comments,” Pichardo told me in a Zoom call. “People were like, ‘His arm is strong enough to wash all those dishes in the kitchen.’ Things like that.”
Pichardo’s interest in baseball comes from his father.
Max Pichardo, a native of the Dominican Republic, loved the game and wanted his daughter to do it too. He moved to the Bronx when he was 12 and eventually put down roots in Queens, where Olivia played only baseball, not softball, from the age of five.
“Yes, they instilled it in me,” Pichardo said. “For my part, all I wanted was to continue playing baseball.”
Pichardo played Little League in Forest Hills, Queens, about 10 minutes from Citi Field. He’s a Mets fan – his favorite player is Jacob deGrom. He plays other positions, like the outfield, but he’s primarily a pitcher since the start of his career.
Pichardo attended a small, independent school in Queens called the Garden School. It was so small that they didn’t have enough boys to put together a baseball team. So the talented teenager played mostly in one league on Long Island. Her dad documented most of her games on her YouTube. For Pichardo, her best moments were a golden hit when she was 16 and a seven-inning no-hitter at 14.
“Fourteen strikeouts at 14 years old,” Pichardo recalled. “That strikes me”.
During those years, Pichardo was the only girl on the land. Although she confesses that she has not received much criticism, it was difficult. The thought grew that, as the years passed, she would have to give up the sport she loves. A girl playing baseball in high school? In college? Impossible, right?
“Throughout my entire career, every time I went to the next level, they told me, ‘You’re not going to be able to compete,’” Pichardo told me. “Growing up, people wanted it to stop. But I am stubborn. So every time they said something like that to me, I said to myself, ‘Well, now I’m just going to do it because you told me not to.’
Pichardo found baseball heaven in one place. In 2018, she participated in the MLB Breakthrough Series – a program that serves to elevate women to national teams and college acceptance programs while helping them develop their skills on the field.
“It was my first experience with women’s baseball,” she mentioned. “It was a surreal experience and it made me feel so excited to see all these girls from all over the country and the world. It was a good thing to see. A lot of us grew up the only girls on our baseball teams, so we had that bond.”
He took the mound for the national team during a short series against Canada last summer. Pichardo struck out five in three scoreless, two-hit innings. His fastball was in the low 80s.
Until college came.
Although the number of college players has grown in recent years, none had made it to the highest level, Division IA.
When she was admitted to Brown this fall, the 18-year-old right-handed pitcher (left-handed hitter) decided to try out for the baseball team. Manager Grant Achilles was aware of Pichardo’s abilities prior to the trial.
“I had heard about Olivia over the summer,” Achilles told me via Zoom. “I saw a lot of content on social networks and on the sites where we organized our events. Without needing to see her in person, doing it on video gave me a good idea of her abilities.”
When they finally saw her play in person, the decision was easy.
“What stood out to us the most was his preparation,” said Achilles. “He did exactly what the rest of the players do. It is something that draws attention in these tests, because it shows the level and talent that he has shown in the past. Defensively and offensively, he made every play like it was routine.”
Achilles said he will have a lot of veterans on his team next season, so like any first-year player, it will be hard to get Pichardo playing time. Either way, it’s something very important.
“It feels great,” Pichardo said. “I know girls dream of playing D-1 baseball. But now it’s a tangible goal, instead of just a dream.”
Pichardo has tried to answer all the congratulatory messages he has received. However, he has also continued to see the negative comments coming his way.
But she doesn’t hold any grudges.
“To me it’s funny. It’s something I can look at and laugh at.”