It was never a tough decision for Olivia Pichardo.
The Queens, N.Y., native’s father, Max, would not allow his daughter to let doubt creep into her mind. He grew up playing baseball in the Dominican Republic. Never organized ball, but on the streets or in sandlot games. He made it his mission that Olivia would play organized ball.
Roughly three months shy of her 19th birthday, the two have executed that mission, etching the younger Pichardo’s name in a stratosphere only they foresaw.
Pichardo made history Monday, becoming the first woman to make an NCAA Division 1 baseball roster. Pichardo, a freshman at Brown, received the news from her head coach, Grant Achilles, in front of her new teammates, who cheered the announcement.
“I definitely feel very good,” Pichardo said Monday evening. “A lot of people have been hyping me up and sending me their congratulations. So I’ve been taking the time to get back to every single one of them who congratulated me.
“I’m still going through all of them throughout the day, but I’m getting an overwhelming amount of support and it definitely feels very good to feel supported like this.”
There were no guarantees that Pichardo, who came in as a pitcher but will serve primarily as an outfielder for the Bears, would make the team. Achilles knew who she was before she touched down on campus. Through the school’s standard application process, Pichardo informed Achilles that she wanted to try out.
So he gave the 5-foot-7-inch lefthanded hitter, who throws righthanded, the fall to show what she could do, giving her a chance to walk on.
Pichardo did not disappoint.
“She’s just a confident person,” Achilles said. “She would be very strategic in her preparation. That was the first thing I noticed about her. Her tenacity from Day 1 has been something that stood out, just from staying and hitting in the rain to showing up before classes.”
It wasn’t just about her work ethic, though. Her performance clearly played into Achilles’s decision, one he assured wasn’t easy. From a talent perspective? Sure. But that wasn’t all that was in play.
“Olivia, having to be honest with you, the only reason why we wouldn’t have kept her was because of the unknown,” Achilles said. “Because of adding a girl. Because talent-wise, if she wasn’t a female, then it would have been really easy. I think she made it a really difficult decision in some respects, but in other respects, it couldn’t have been easier to add her.”
There were times at every level, Pichardo said, when she would be pressured toward softball. She ignored that.
There’s a mental block between her and that sport, Pichardo said, because she has committed so much time to baseball.
But maybe rugby?
“I just knew that it would not be softball,” Pichardo said.
She never had to make that choice. The trek her and her father made toward baseball from the time she was 5 has added another piece of success to its journey.
This time, history.
“My goal in playing baseball wasn’t really to directly inspire the next generation,” Pichardo said. “It’s kind of something that comes with being a girl playing baseball by default. By default, you become a pioneer.
“I love baseball. But knowing that I may be inspiring the next generation of female baseball players was definitely a strong motivator to keep me going.”