Jamie Gray, creator of the SaveSoftball.com petition drive to reinstate softball into the 2016 Olympics and star of the "Saving Softball" documentary produced by The Softball Channel, is the subject of an article in today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
An Olympian Effort
14-year-old fights to get softball reinstated for the 2016 Games
BY ETHAN J. SKOLNICK | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 12, 2008
Cat Osterman remembered her. Monica Abbott, too. Crystl Bustos, her favorite, gave her a warm hug.
Last Tuesday marked the first time Jamie Gray had seen her heroes in person since October at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, when she first solicited their autographs, participated in their clinic, distributed stickers and familiarized them with her cause. By now, the Delray Beach resident with braces had become a celebrity of sorts herself—Web site creator, video star, screenplay reader.
So after the barnstorming U.S. Softball team beat Florida International University 14-0 in an exhibition at Hollywood's Osceola Park, the 14-year-old catcher felt comfortable making the rounds and her pitches. She told the U.S. coach, Mike Candrea, who also coaches Arizona, that she was his future catcher.
The message for Olympic players?
"I told them that they were playing for girls like me," Gray said. "I told them that they need to win and they need to help save it, because girls like me have a dream of playing in the Olympics."
That currently stands as a dream deferred, and not simply because Gray remains a few years short of eligibility. In 2005, the International Olympic Committee voted to cut baseball and softball starting with the 2012 Olympic program, the first sport eliminations since the removal of polo in 1936. The vote on softball was 52-52, with a majority required for retention—a majority that would have been achieved had American equipment manufacturer Jim Easton not abstained because of his concern about a conflict of interest.
Even tougher to take?
That Team USA's dominance apparently contributed to the disappointing tally. The American squad has cruised to the gold medal in all three Olympic competitions (1996, 2000 and 2004). In 2004, opponents scored a total of one run in seven games. The team, largely intact, is heavily favored to win in Beijing in August.
Gray and her mother, Tammy, will be there, cheering, after having won an Olympic ticket lottery. The irony, however, is that those victories are likely to do little to contribute to softball's reinstatement for the 2016 Games because they may just reinforce the contention of European voters that the sport is too tilted toward the Americans.
The reality is that Gray—and girls like her—may prove even more important to softball than softball is to her.
And, to her, the sport is everything.
Gray also plays soccer, basketball and volleyball at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton. She has a 175 bowling average and she plans to start running track as well.
Softball, however, is her obsession. In her room, you'll find bobblehead dolls of Major League Baseball players, a framed photo of Red Sox and former Marlins star Mike Lowell and a slew of trophies she's earned playing for the Caloosa Park Crush and other teams. There's also a ball that lost its laces when she smacked it for her first grand slam. In the living room, you'll find a large photo of her, from the first time she wore catcher's gear in a game.
"We were without a catcher, and so I tried it," Gray said. "And right when a girl tried to steal on me, I threw her out, and I was like, 'Oh my God, this is fun!'"
As for the day of that Olympic vote...
Not so much fun.
"I found the information on the Internet, and I couldn't even tell her," said her mother, Tammy. "So I just wrote the Web site on a piece of paper and handed it to her. And she went and looked at it. And she's like, 'No, Mom, no, this is my dream. What can I do? What can I do?'"
Mom was a catcher for her high school softball team. Dad pitched in high school.
"But I was never as good as she is," Tammy Gray said. "I kid you not, when she first started playing baseball at YMCA in Boca, and we had to move her out of the YMCA sports and put her into city ball because we were afraid she was going to hurt someone."
Tammy wanted to help her daughter get softball back into the Olympics for 2016. She asked a friend to design a Web site so Jamie could start a petition.
That petition, on savesoftball.com, now has more than 5,200 signatures, including some from athletes abroad. The Web site also links to a six-minute documentary about Jamie on TheSoftballChannel.com.
Many in the softball world know her story. A movie producer recently sent a screenplay titled Fast Pitch, about high school girls playing softball. Jamie, who will attend Park Vista High, deemed it "really cool" that someone sought her opinion.
Nothing would be quite as cool, however, as the reinstatement she seeks. She will be 22 in 2016. The Olympics could be in Chicago, close to where her mother was raised. She wants to be on the field.
What will she do if her cause succeeds?
"I don't know," Jamie said. "Jump for joy, start crying. I'll call everybody, I'll call and be like, 'I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it!' I'll run outside and scream 'I did it' at the top of my lungs."
The members of Team USA should recognize her voice.