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Abbott reminisces on Beijing with hometown

Posted: Monday, Dec 22nd, 2008


Salinas High graduate and U.S. Olympic softball team member Monica Abbott poses with her silver medal Saturday night at a homecoming party at the Salinas Sports Complex. About 50 people showed up to congratulate the former University of Tennessee pitcher for her performance.


By I.A. STEWART

OF THE REGISTER-PAJARONIAN

SALINAS — “Little-known fact,” started Monica Abbott, as a crowd of family, old friends, and wide-eyed youngsters gathered around her to inspect the Olympic silver medal she won with the U.S. softball team in Beijing this summer. “The silver’s actually worth more than the gold. That medal’s just gold-plated.”

The Salinas native was humble and, truth be told, a bit self-deprecating Saturday night during her homecoming party. The tall lefty started a video-and-picture slideshow she made in Beijing with a clip of her sending a pitch up into the crowd, drawing a nice chuckle from the crowd of 50 or so supporters who came out to offer their local Olympian a hearty attagirl.

But the hugs and photo ops and jokes couldn’t hide the simple fact that, as wonderful a time as Abbott had donning the red, white and blue, the story didn’t end right. The U.S. softball team, which had won 22 straight games in Olympic play going into this summer’s gold medal game, did the unthinkable: It was felled. Perhaps the most dominant national team, in any sport, settled for silver, as Japan beat the mighty USA 3-1 in the final.

“When you go through something like this, you don’t ever forget it,” she said. “You remember it for the rest of your life. I had one goal there: to make sure I didn’t have any regrets. That I prepared completely, so that when I walked off the field I could feel confident with my performance. …”

And then she slowed down, as if searching for exactly the right words.

“Sometimes that’s what the Olympics are about.”

The tragedy for Abbott, a North Salinas High graduate and the 2007 collegiate player of the year for the University of Tennessee, is that she may never get a chance to go finish the job. Softball won’t be an Olympic sport at the 2012 Games in London — an irony, since one of the criteria that led to its demise was a perception that the sport was dominated too thoroughly by the Americans. Even if softball is reinstated for the 2016 Games, which may end up being played on American soil, Abbott will be 31 years old by then, with her best days likely behind her.

So for now, Abbott will continue to tour with the U.S. National team, and in the spring will play for a professional team in Japan sponsored by Toyota Motor Corp. (teams in Japan use their sponsors as their names). But the reality seems to have struck Abbott that at only 23 years old, she may have already climbed as high as she can in the sport.

“It definitely hurt me,” she said of the Olympic letdown. “After we won silver, (teammate) Vicky Galindo said to me, ‘Now we have to play for another eight years.’ I want to go back. I’d still like to play for awhile. Hopefully eight years from now, I’ll still be playing; I’ll still be one of the best.”

But the night, for the most part, wasn’t about Abbott’s silver. The mayor of Salinas, as well as former coaches, teachers and family friends, all spoke about how they were given a hometown hero to root for at the biggest sporting event in the world. And for her part, Abbott got to brush shoulders with Michael Phelps in the cafeteria, play Guitar Hero with Chris Paul in her Olympic dorm room, and pull a team prank on President Bush at practice. And she pitched a perfect game against the Netherlands. Not bad for a 23-year-old.

“There’s a saying that once an Olympian, always an Olympian. You can come back 20 years later and meet another person who was at the Olympics, and both have that forever.”

After returning from Beijing, Abbott went back to school at Tennessee to finish her degree in communications. The real world — or at least the world outside the dirt diamond — is waiting; she knows this. And she seems ready.

She said she’d like to pursue sports broadcasting, either on television or the radio. “That, or maybe just do the weather,” she said with a smile.

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Photo by I.A. Stewart/Register-Pajaronian

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(Published in 12/22/08 edition)



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