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Olivia Pichardo on making history on her Division I baseball team

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Olivia Pichardo from Queens, N.Y. is, a freshman at Brown University. Now, that achievement alone is impressive, but Pichardo has made it historic. She's the first woman to make the roster for an NCAA Division I baseball team and will be suiting up for the Brown University Bears in the spring.

Pichardo has been playing baseball with and against boys since she was 5. I got a chance to speak with her this week about the challenges and encouragement she's felt from collegiate baseball camps in the eighth grade to her acceptance to an Ivy League school without a sports scholarship.

OLIVIA PICHARDO: Brown is the school that also most fit me academically. So I got in on my own. And then for the other schools that I had offers for, they had very good baseball programs, and the coaches all really valued me as a person and as a player. But I just had to make that tough decision of thinking about my future career options.

MARTÍNEZ: Your dad put you in collegiate baseball camps in the eighth grade. When was the moment when you're at these camps when you're thinking, you know what, maybe I can do this?

PICHARDO: At these camps, there are a lot of eyes on me, from the coaches, the parents and also the players. Hearing their reactions whenever I did the most mundane things, that was pretty crazy. And then during the actual games, I'd get extra base hits and get a lot of cheers, more so than when other players would do it. And every year, I just kept getting better.

MARTÍNEZ: So let's be clear here, Olivia, you're outperforming boys at these camps, right?

PICHARDO: Yes.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So, I mean, do you think the cheers were coming from people who maybe didn't expect what they were seeing out of you?

PICHARDO: Yeah. I think that there is definitely a lot of surprise because it's not very common to see a girl playing baseball, much less at the collegiate level, which is what I was trying to do at those camps.

MARTÍNEZ: Did anyone ever try to maybe discourage you or maybe make you think, well, OK, don't count on this, Olivia, I don't know if this is in the cards for you?

PICHARDO: Countless. Like, a lot throughout all of my baseball career. Every time I progressed to the next level, more and more people would ask me about maybe switching to softball. And, I mean, there's no shade towards softball, but it's just that I've never played softball before.

Even some former coaches of mine were just like, oh, well, season's over. So that was a great baseball run for you. And yeah, just, like, focus on academics now. It just feels very good to know that they also know that I'm doing this.

MARTÍNEZ: So these people would actually basically close the door on you, right? I mean, that's essentially what they're saying, right? It was a nice run, Olivia. You know, nice, you know, run for what you were able to do. They were essentially closing a door on you.

PICHARDO: Yeah, exactly.

MARTÍNEZ: So how did you react to that?

PICHARDO: I remember what people say to me. Like, I'm not going to snap back at you, but my actions are just going to prove otherwise.

MARTÍNEZ: Your coach at Brown called what he saw out of you the most complete walk-on tryout that he had ever seen from a player since the time he became a head coach. So what do you think impressed him the most?

PICHARDO: What comes to mind immediately is when I was doing my infield evaluation. And I was at shortstop, and he hit a ball up the middle towards second base. And I made a forehand catch and did, like, a spinny (ph) move and made a perfect throw to first base. So I was just trying to show off my athleticism, show that, you know, I - my smooth mechanics. And I think that that was probably pretty impressive for him.

MARTÍNEZ: When I saw the headline of what you accomplished, I got really excited when I saw your position listed as utility, which means you're going to be at short, at second, in the outfield and maybe even pitch. What do you think will be your biggest challenge playing Division I baseball?

PICHARDO: I would probably say not allowing the moment to get too big and trying to - really just about the - my mentality. I think that might be probably the biggest challenge for me.

MARTÍNEZ: I would bet a lot, Olivia, that you're a hero and a role model. Has anyone reached out just to try and make contact with you?

PICHARDO: Yeah. A lot of the other girls who I know who play baseball have reached out to me on Instagram DMs. And I've taken the time to go through every single one of my DMs that - congratulating me and making sure that I get back to all of them. So it definitely - it feels very good to know that I'm now opening up this door for them.

My reason for playing baseball isn't to be a pioneer, but just by me doing this it - by default, it makes me a pioneer. So it's definitely a strong motivator for me to keep going and to be my best.

MARTÍNEZ: Are you worried at all over negative reactions? How have you thought you might handle that?

PICHARDO: I've already dealt with that, to be honest - not on a stage as big as this one, but I have pretty good tunnel vision, which is not an invitation to test that. But I'll have to see how I am in the moment. But I can probably say that I will not give much of a reaction and I'm not really...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

PICHARDO: ...Worried about it very much. I mean, there's already lots of arguments going on on Twitter and Instagram, which I'm ignoring.

MARTÍNEZ: So February 24, the Brown University Bears, they open the season at Georgia State. Now, what you've done is real now, definitely. But I think that day, opening day for you, is when it'll get all really, really real. So how do you imagine that first at bat might feel for you when you technically will make history again?

PICHARDO: I'm just going to focus on my breaths, don't let the moment get too big, even though the moment will be big, and, yeah, just try to focus on myself and be in the moment.

MARTÍNEZ: So I'm just going to give you a piece of advice as a broken-down old baseball player. If it's a first pitch fastball down the middle, Olivia, just rip. Just swing. Try to pull it. Do whatever you can to take that thing out of here.

PICHARDO: OK. I will listen to that.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Olivia Pichardo from Brown University, first woman to make it on an NCAA Division I baseball team. Olivia, congratulations again, and thanks for joining us.

PICHARDO: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MINGUS MAPPS")

ARMS AND SLEEPERS: (Singing) OK. OK. OK. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.